Topic: Implementation and performance of multi-stakeholder sustainability metrics in US agriculture
Keywords: multi-stakeholder initiatives, sustainable agriculture, governance, sustainability transitions, standards and metrics
The governance of sustainable agriculture is increasingly moving from standards and certifications towards metrics as the main regulatory instruments and from the state to private multi-stakeholder initiatives as the main drivers behind them. Although these initiatives hold the potential to improve sustainability in agriculture, their implementation poses questions regarding the social consequences of this shift in commodity chain governance. Who gets to decide how sustainability is defined and operationalized? How are the costs for measures and new technologies distributed? What changes in farming practices do these metrics stimulate? Finally, can these metrics be effective in advancing sustainability? We begin to unpack these and other questions through qualitative interviews with key stakeholders and participating farmers of Field to Market and the Stewardship Index of Specialty Crops, two US-based multi-stakeholder initiatives. Our preliminary analysis suggests that the two metrics as they are currently conceived predominantly serve retailers and brands to verify claims on sustainable production with little change of practices on the farm level. Where new production methods and technologies are adopted, this is largely triggered by the accompanying measures with which metrics are implemented rather than by the metrics themselves.