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Jan 14, 2014

Toward improved indicators of agricultural sustainability: The OECD Agri-Environmental indicators

Efforts are being made in Europe to gather better data on good agricultural practices. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/User Pelle Frederiksson

Over the past decade, member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – those countries generally considered wealthy and developed – have collectively reduced the amount of pesticides, water, irrigation, and surplus nutrient runoff from agriculture. This improvement was made possible through a new effort to establish a set of agri-environmental indicators that assess the environmental impact of agricultural practices in OECD countries.

In June 2013, the OECD, in conjunction with Eurostat and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, released the OECD Compendium of Agri-Environmental Indicators to measure environmental performance in agriculture. The compendium provides data for 34 OECD countries from 1990 to 2010 and allows users to compare performance trends among countries. The indicators provide a measure for the most critical topics when examining environmental performance as it relates to agriculture, including agricultural production, land use, organic farming, transgenic crops, nutrients, pesticides, energy consumption, and biofuels, among others.

These indicators are more comprehensive than those used in the 2014 EPI and are better suited to assess the various environmental impacts of agricultural practices in these countries. The relative economic comparability of OECD countries and their similar data measurement and reporting capabilities contribute to the project’s success. While similar measures could lend insight into global agricultural sustainability and environmental performance, they do not yet exist for many countries, or at the global scale. This is why the OECD agri-environmental indicators are not appropriate for the EPI.