The challenges

It is important to tackle sustainability as a whole and understand the interactions among environmental, economic, and social aspects

Growing concern on the sustainability of current agricultural systems –and livestock farming in particular– has triggered intensive research in the field. However Sustainability is a complex issue composed of a number of aspects (environmental, economic, social) strictly inter-related. A management action aimed at improving a sustainability aspect might have unintended consequences on another aspect.

The project AnimalFuture addresses the sustainability of European animal production systems by undertaking three main challenges

Which are the innovation practices applied in European animal production systems?

A part of the project was aimed at inventorying the main innovation practices applied by European farmers in 7 case study regions in different animal production system types. This was done via a number of workshop organized with local stakeholders

How to measure sustainability of European animal production systems?

Within the AnimalFuture project, a big effort was dedicated to the definition of sustainability indicators for measuring the performance of animal production system on the different aspects of sustainability. While some indicators could be easily quantified (for example, the feed self-sufficiency of a farm or the fraction of subsides in the farmer revenue), other indicators were more subjective (for example the stress as perceived by the farmer). Systems could be characterized by a cost-benefit portfolio, which is the performance of animal production systems on the different aspects of sustainability.

How to measure the impact of innovation practices on animal production systems?

Measuring the impact of innovations requires keeping an eye on all the dimensions of the cost-benefits portfolio. First of all, farmers that applied innovation practices were an important source of information: we discussed with them the impacts of the innovation practices on different aspects. Second, we used models for simulating the quantitative impacts of innovation practices at different scales (from farm to region). Third, we interacted with experts for having a qualitative idea about the impacts, in order to consider also mechanisms and indicators that could not be measured.

We believe that, in order to become more sustainable, the European livestock sector requires public support – from consumers to policy-makers. The public needs to be informed about the benefits livestock farming provides so as to enable a constructive dialogue between agriculture and society. In addition to this, AnimalFuture aims also at improving farmer’s self-image.