Permaculture on a Commercial Farm: Using the Sustainability Assessment Tool SAFA for an Initial Evaluation

Commercial farming enterprises open to transforming their practices in accordance with permaculture principles may sensibly invest in such practices only if a benefit can be shown through documented and compelling evidence. Field data drawn from a first assessment using the FAO SAFA Tool (SAFA: Sustainability Assessment for Food and Agriculture Systems) on a farm in Southern Spain are presented as a case study.

The study is being conducted on approx. 50 ha organically managed farmland in the Huelva province with a subtropical-mediterranean climate, roughly 50 rainy days per year mostly in the winter, and very hot winds from the Sahara.

The region is known for its mild winter climate and intensive horticulture production, especially strawberries. However, due to industrial farming techniques, the area also suffers from soil degradation and excessive water consumption.

The farm´s main products are avocado, persimmon, orange and pomegranate. Water is being supplied from across the border in neighbouring Portugal. Main measures taken are: bringing drop irrigation to the ground, applying mulch and compost together with a bio-fertiliser produced on site, planting hedges on the boundaries and terracing along contour lines. The measures improved soil quality, reduced water consumption, provided windbreaks and natural habitat, and reduced erosion. An increase in the quality and quantity of soil and yield already showed.

The assessment tool provides information on the degree of sustainability of the farm using an international reference for assessing trade-offs and synergies between four dimensions: Good Governance, Environmental Integrity, Economic Resilience and Social Well-Being. The questionnaire and evaluation tool can be used by the farm management to gain insight into the sustainability of the food and farming system. Being issued by the FAO, it is likely be widely recognised by policy makers and other stakeholders as holistic global framework fostering partnerships for the long-term transformation of food systems. An adaption of this tool to the specifics of permaculture will be discussed.

Authors: Fiebrig I, Schmutz U, Wright J, Pimbert M


Immo Fiebrig works at the Centre of Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR, Coventry University, UK) as Postdoctoral Research Fellow. His research focusses on rigorous evaluation of permaculture systems that include water retention spaces as key element. He comes with a research background in analytical validation, biopolymer sciences, and healthcare product development. Intrigued by nature and its conservation since his early childhood, fascinated by evolutionary biology later in life, he has fully immersed himself into agroecology after obtaining the Sepp Holzer Permaculture Certificate in 2011.

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