Natural Resources Management and Environment Department
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Twenty years have passed since the principle of sustainable development received almost universal agreement at the 1992 Earth Summit. Recent years have seen impressive progress in the realization of a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable development. Stakeholders in the food and agriculture sectors have been at the forefront of this progress, improving agricultural productivity, protecting human and natural resources, and conceiving and implementing frameworks, standards and indicators*1 for assessing and improving sustainability across the sector and along the value chain. Yet, enormous challenges remain. The world is confronted with a multitude of crisis, from food and fuel crises to climate and financial crises. To further enhance the efficacy and efficiency of the various initiatives in tackling these challenges, a common language for sustainable agriculture and food systems is needed.
As a contribution to developing such a common language, and as part of its efforts for the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), FAO built on existing knowledge and, through a transparent and participatory process, developed the present voluntary Guidelines for Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems* (SAFA). A SAFA is the rating of a company’s or production site’s sustainability performance*. The Guidelines specify the procedure, principles and minimum requirements for a SAFA. They are goal-oriented and serve as a benchmark stating what sustainable agriculture entails. The guiding vision of SAFA is a globally sustainable food and agriculture sector, characterised by environmental integrity, economic resilience, social well-being and good governance* throughout the sector. The SAFA Guidelines are meant to support a sustainability management that facilitates progress towards this vision all over the sector, from production to processing and distribution of food and agricultural products.
The target audience of the SAFA Guidelines are agricultural producers, food manufacturers and retailers who wish to substantiate sustainability claims, as well as entities doing sustainability analyses on behalf of these stakeholders. The Guidelines are a globally applicable template for assessments of the sustainability of food and agriculture systems, providing guidance on the procedure of developing and applying a sustainability assessment system, and including a generic* set of core sustainability categories, possible indicators for performance assessment, and minimum criteria for sustainability. They set a frame to which existing systems can be related and on which new assessment methods can be based. Furthermore, companies, organisations and other stakeholders who want to improve the sustainability performance of their supply chains are encouraged to take up the SAFA Guidelines as a framework for developing their own product* category rules for supply chains. This will enable others to benchmark their activities and eventually allow a dynamic improvement of food chains. The methodological principles of this frame are relevance, simplicity, goal-orientation and performance-orientation. At the instutional level, the Guidelines build on and acknowledge existing standards, attempt to add value rather than duplicate, and represent an open and learning system.
Sustainability assessments based on the SAFA Guidelines shall primarily serve purposes of internal management and business-to-business communication. For internal sustainability management as well as for a start, assessments based on the Guidelines can take the form of a self-evaluation. Where sustainability performance is to be reported to business partners, consumers or authorities, independent third-party measurement, reporting and verification will be necessary.
Draft Form for a SAFA description (see section 3.6.8) 94
Annex B 98
The structure of these guidelines draws upon ISO2 14040:2006 (ISO, 2009), the ISEAL3 Code of Good Practice (version 1.0; ISEAL Alliance, 2010) and the Sustainability Reporting Guidelines and the Food Sector Supplement of the Global Reporting Initiative4 (version 3.1; GRI, 2011a; 2001b). Taking these widely acknowledged guidelines as a basis, those parts which are relevant for the food and agriculture sectors were chosen and selected, along the whole supply chain from farm to retailer. The structure of the category protocols in chapter 4 is based upon GRI (2011), the RISE5 method (Grenz et al., 2011) and the description of the German KSNL6 method (Breitschuh et al., 2008).
Paragraphs, in which principles of SAFA development and implementation are conveyed, are highlighted in blue.