Sustainability Pathways

Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture systems (SAFA)

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. Today, 106 countries have National Sustainable Development Strategies and over 200 voluntary sustainability standards are being implemented by the food and agriculture industry. 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.

With a view to offer a fair playing field, FAO built on existing efforts and developed a universal framework for Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture systems (SAFA). After 5 years of participatory development (History of SAFA), SAFA has been presented to FAO member countries on 18 October 2013; the SAFA Guidelines, Indicators and Tool and App are freely downloadable from this webpage.

Watch the SAFA video in: English / French / Spanish / Italian

Download the SAFA publications:

SAFA applied: The SAFA framework provides a common language for sustainability that can be adapted to suit different users' needs. The Cacique Guaymallén water management programme in Mendoza, Argentina, in partnership with the FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, is using SAFA to assess the sustainability of the local hydrological system across each sustainability dimension. During the planning phase of the project, sustainability polygons were created for the current situation, the future situation without the programme, and for each alternative intervention. Comparing the different polygons, it was possible to select the most sustainable alternative in each area of work, using SAFA to provide technical support to decision-making.

Watch the SAFA applied video in: Spanish / English