Extreme weather and natural disasters have put more people in danger of going hungry. Sustainable agriculture—practices that are good for consumers, farmers, and the planet—offers a resilient approach to growing the food we need. Many IAF grantee partners have adopted sustainable agriculture practices to improve access to healthy food in their communities while providing dignified incomes for producers and protecting the local environment. Grantees are rebuilding how people make and buy food locally, connecting producers and consumers to strengthen local markets. These approaches are promising but we still lack a good way of measuring their economic, social, and environmental potential.
To fill this gap, a group of organizations from across the Americas have come together to research scientific evidence that the IAF and other institutions can use to develop a consistent way of measuring the impact of sustainable agriculture systems. These organizations have been sharing ideas and best practices in a network since 2016, supported by the IAF and coordinated by a Brazilian organization that promotes sustainable agriculture through networks of communities, Centro de Estudos e Promoção da Agricultura de Grupo (CEPAGRO).
Their IAF-funded pilot project will engage farmers and nonprofits to define social, economic, and environmental indicators that measure how sustainably they are farming. The team will consider factors that affect the sustainability of farming operations, like participating in cooperatives, using diverse marketing channels, producing food for personal consumption, and depending on external inputs like seeds and fertilizers. Organizations and policymakers can use these indicators to make better decisions about how to promote agriculture that works with the local environment.
This method of gathering information is called “participatory action research” because it draws from participants’ knowledge and focuses on producing information they can use in their daily lives. Each participating organization will work with at least 15 farming families who have three or more years of experience in sustainable agriculture. The families will gather data using LiteFarm, an agricultural management app developed by a team of scientists, farmers, developers, and students from the University of British Columbia with feedback from farmers’ organizations. As an added benefit, farmers can also use the information to monitor and manage their farms better.
So far, the nonprofits have learned to use LiteFarm and shared feedback to help adapt it to farmers’ needs, including making it available offline. They have also met with participating farming families to explain the project’s goals.
Rosa Murillo, an Ecuadorian farmer and member of Movimiento de Economía Social y Solidaria del Ecuador (meSSe), believes that this pilot project will allow her organization to strengthen sustainable family farming in the medium and long term by identifying areas for improvement. This project will also “make it possible to seek state support for sustainable production, which can mean technical assistance for farmers in sustainable agriculture, product development, and market access,” adds Rosa.
Victor Hugo Morales Hernández from Centro Campesino AC. in Tlaxcala, Mexico, looks forward to having information and data available that will allow family farmers to position their products on the market and educate the public about the special value and challenges of family farming.
At the IAF, we hope this pilot initiative will strengthen sustainable agriculture at its roots, drawing from the knowledge of hundreds of farmers and organizations across Latin America. We also hope it will bring us closer to a future in which sustainable agriculture is the go-to solution for emerging environmental crises.