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CAB Reviews

A reviews journal covering agriculture, global health, nutrition, natural resources and veterinary science

CAB Review

How useful is sustainability as a paradigm to shape agriculture.


Sustainability meets the criteria of a paradigm. Agricultural research oriented to sustainability has risen since 1975 to about 3500 publications per year. A working definition of a sustainable agricultural system is one that maintains or improves the environmental, human (social) and economic capitals of part or preferably all the food chain involving farm inputs, on-farm activities and transfers to the consumer. This review asks three questions to evaluate whether the paradigm is having a major influence in shaping agriculture. To what extent has it altered the nature of agricultural research? To what extent has it become embedded in rural development? And has its rise coincided with the solving of some obvious large-scale problems of non-sustainability? It appears that in the majority of government extension programmes and the scientific literature there is a gap between the professed generic goal of sustainability and the recommended innovations, practices or suggested monitoring, if any. Organically certified systems are the best example of operationalizing the paradigm. To increase the impact of the paradigm in shaping agriculture will require the essence of sustainable systems to be described simply and more rigorous analysis of the impact of an innovation in terms of some measures, or sampling, of all three (human, social and economic) capitals.

CAB Review details

  • History
  • Published: 18 June 2008
  • ISSN
  • 1749-8848
  • Publisher information
  • CABI Wallingford UK
  • Record Number
  • 20083133928