Title of document: Assessing farm sustainability with the IDEA method - From the concept of agriculture sustainability to case studies on farms.

Authors: Frédéric Zahm, Philippe Viaux, Lionel Vilain, Philippe Girardin, Christian Mouchet

Ministry/Government Agency/Organisation: The French Ministry of Agriculture

Year of publication: 2008

Geographic focus: ASEAN


The IDEA method (Indicateurs de Durabilité des Exploitations Agricoles or Farm Sustainability Indicators) is based on research work conducted since 1998 and is one way of giving practical expression to the concept of sustainable farms. Based on 41 sustainability indicators covering the three dimensions of sustainability, this method is designed as a self-assessment tool not only for farmers but also for policy makers to support sustainable agriculture. The scientific approach is based on identifying three different scales of sustainability. The application of the IDEA method is illustrated using French case studies. Linking the IDEA method with the Farm Accounting Data Network is noted as an interesting possibility to assess the sustainability level of different farming systems. The conclusion is that there is not just one farm sustainability model, and therefore the indicators must be adapted to local farming before using the IDEA method.

The IDEA method seeks to give practical content to the notion of sustainability and has been tested for 7 years. The method is capable of observing differences in sustainability between production systems. Indeed, even though certain principles are common to all sustainable farming systems, there is not just one single farm sustainability model. The proposed system of indicators does not claim to be final or to establish a model of sustainability that must never be changed.

An extension of the IDEA method to other Member States or types of agriculture could be possible as long as the following points are considered:

- The need to adapt the method to local context and specific agriculture. It would be unrealistic to believe that a single method could cover all different types of production (from the Mediterranean to boreal climates). The indicators will have to be adapted to local contexts while continuing to comply with the key principles regarding their scientific construction;

- The need to add specific points to take better account of the links between the particular issues of a landscape and its farms;


- The need to adapt the method to the specific aspects of the farms in certain new EU member States.