To help farmers make sustainable decisions; internalise the hidden cost of food; governments set and monitor progress towards international sustainability targets for agriculture; and build a more sustainable future together, we need a common approach to measuring a farms impact on the environment, economy, and society (both positive and negative!).
What is the GFM?
The Global Farm Metric (GFM) is a harmonised measure of on-farm sustainability that can be used by land-managers to monitor their impacts on the environment and inform sustainable decision making.
Our framework is unique because it measures the impact of farming in a common way: we’ve taken existing audits of on-farm sustainability and merged (or, as we like to say, ‘harmonised’) them to find gaps and places where practices are taken as proxy for outcomes. This has produced a tool that is both comprehensive and accessible to farmers and will be able to save them a significant amount of time and money when assessing their impacts on nature, climate, natural resources, and wellbeing.
This is significant because farmers are currently subjected to multiple audits a year (including certification, regulatory requirements and sustainability assessments required by buyers) with as much as a shocking 60% overlap in data and information inputs. This makes sustainability repetitive, time-consuming and bureaucratic and doesn’t actually help inform decision-making.
The GFM can then be used as a baseline for other stakeholders to build on as needed, providing a common language for sustainability and linking up key players in global food systems. Banks and investors, for example, may need to gather further information on business models and finances – but no matter what additions are made, that strong foundation remains the same with sustainability at its core.
This feature also allows the tool to be adaptable to different climates, cultures and contexts, no matter the size, scale and income of the land. A farmer in India can then have a conversation with a farmer in North America about how they’re doing on their soil indicators in a way which is genuinely comparable and meaningful to them both. This is critical if we are to act globally against environmental degradation, empower farmers to make sustainable decisions and ultimately re-frame agriculture as a solution to climate change.
Based on evidence
Importantly, the foundation of the GFM is scientifically robust. Each metric has gone through a rigorous process of testing and research to limit the use of qualitative and values-based measures which often use practices as a proxy for impacts. Further, the process of harmonisation and peer review means the GFM is comprehensive and includes all key indicators of sustainability.
What does the GFM look like?
After four years of hard work and collaboration with numerous farmers, organisations and experts, we have refined the metric to 11 categories of sustainability:
– Air and climate
– Human capital
– Social capital
– Plant and crop health
– Livestock management
– Nutrient management
– Energy and resource use
These categories contain multiple measures which land managers carry out on their land and then input into our tool. A combination of calculations and comparison to major benchmarks then produce a sustainability score for each category. This gives a clear indication of the areas which are doing really well, and where there’s room for improvement. This helps farmers make tailored, meaningful and incremental improvements to their land, governments to know which systems of production to incentivise, food companies to source more sustainable products, and consumers to understand what to buy to be sustainable and healthy.
What isn’t the Global Farm Metric?
Our metric, however, is not another certification or assurance scheme – the GFM is a self-assessment tool for farmers and land-managers which aims to achieve a balance in terms of data requirements and workload for farmers and use existing schemes where available and appropriate.
It’s important to stress that we are not trying to re-invent the wheel here or create a ‘one size fits all’ certification for farming – in fact the SFT has no ambition or interest to hold ownership of this work at all. What we’re trying to do, is to be a catalyst for the process of harmonisation, by bringing the best minds together to consider what the lowest common metric denominators are that we can all agree on – that way we can all start singing from the same hymn sheet, whilst at the same time allowing for a healthy diversity of farm assessments to continue to take place.
See ‘Work Streams’ for details on how we’re delivering the GFM.