Sustainable development has been defined by FAO as “the management and conservation of the natural resource base, and the orientation of technological and institutional change in such a manner as to ensure the attainment and continued satisfaction of human needs for present and future generations. Such sustainable development (in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors) conserves land, water, plant and animal genetic resources, is environmentally non-degrading, technically appropriate, economically viable and socially acceptable”. (FAO Council, 1989).
Sustainable development has numerous definitions and its ecological, economic and social principles received universal agreement at the 1992 Earth Summit. One of the summit’s major outcomes, Agenda 21, includes a whole chapter (Chapter 14) on sustainable agriculture and rural development. However, developing and implementing an integrated approach to analyzing different sustainability dimensions as a coherent whole and integrating them in development or business strategies remains a major challenge.
At international, national, regional and community level, along the value chain, and at farm or commodity levels, many institutions and experts have invested years in developing a multitude of sustainability assessment frameworks, standards and indicator sets. More than one hundred countries have established national strategies for sustainable development, with sustainability targets and aligned indicators. The food industry has adopted the concept of corporate responsibility reporting, methods to quantify environmental impacts of products and services are now widely used, social standards are available and several tools exist to measure farm-level sustainability.
At the operational level, many stakeholders strive to create income while safeguarding natural resources through more sustainable, ethical or “green” products. Several food companies have taken steps to assess their performance, but with different emphasis on the various dimensions of sustainability (i.e. environmental, economic, and social) and within these, with different criteria needed to substantiate a “sustainability claim”. To date, there is no international framework defining what a sustainable supply chain actually entails.
With a view to offer a fair playing field, FAO built on existing efforts and developed guidelines for food value chain analysis that are to serve as a template for food chain sustainability assessment, for the use of food producers, manufacturers and retailers. Ultimately, a universal framework for Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture systems (SAFA) will be established.
SAFA has been evolving in the last four years in a participatory process through expert meetings and E-forums. The history of SAFA explains in more details how SAFA has been developed so far. The Test version 1.1 of the Guidelines has been piloted in selected countries and agriculture, forestry and fisheries supply chains, including small and large enterprises involved in food and non-food commodities. Lessons from the field were shared and discussed in a SAFA Practitioners and Partners Workshop, FAO, Rome, 18-19 March 2013, with a view to finalize the SAFA Guidelines. The Report of the Workshop summarizes the changes that are currently being implemented in the Guidelines.