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Measuring agroecology and its performance: An overview and critical discussion of existing tools and approaches

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Agricultural and food systems (AFSs) are inherently multifunctional, representing a major driver for global crises but at the same time representing a huge potential for addressing multiple challenges simultaneously and contributing systemically to the achievement of sustainable development goals. Current performance metrics for AFS often fail to take this multifunctionality into account, focusing disproportionately on productivity and profitability, thereby excluding “externalities,” that is, key environmental and social values created by AFS. Agroecology is increasingly being recognized as a promising approach for AFS sustainability, due to its holistic and transformative nature. This growing interest in and commitment to agroecology by diverse actors implies a need for harmonized approaches to determine when a practice, project, investment, or policy can be considered agroecological, as well as approaches that ensure the multiple economic, environmental, and social values created by AFS are appropriately captured, hence creating a level playing field for comparing agroecology to alternatives. In this contribution to the special issue on agroecology, we present an overview of existing tools and frameworks for defining and measuring agroecology and its performance and critically discuss their limitations. We identify several deficiencies, including a shortage of approaches that allow for measuring agroecology and its performance on landscape and food system scale, and the use of standardized indicators for measuring agroecology integration, despite its context-specificity. These insights highlight the need for assessments focused on these overlooked scales and research on how best to reconcile the need for globally comparable approaches with assessing agroecology in a locally relevant manner. Lastly, we outline ongoing initiatives on behalf of the Agroecology Transformative Partnership that aim to overcome these shortcomings and offer a promising avenue for working toward harmonization of approaches. All readers are invited to contribute to these collaborative efforts in line with the agroecology principle of participation and co-creation of knowledge.

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