Almost half the world’s habitable land is now farmed to feed our global food production system. What happens on these farms will determine our biodiversity, climate and future health.
A unique opportunity exists to harness the power of farming and land use to address the challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and declining public health through the introduction of a common framework to monitor farm sustainability.
However, there are barriers that prevent farmers becoming drivers of positive change.
There is no common language for on farm sustainability. There is no consistent definition of on-farm sustainability, limiting understanding of issues and where to start.
Existing definitions often overlook the interconnectedness of the farming system. Unless sustainability is understood holistically, taking into account environmental, social and economic outcomes, the pursuit of a single target can have unintended consequences on the rest of the system.
Sustainability frameworks are not developed for farmers. Often they are tools used by governments, companies and supply chains for data collection and impact reporting. This limits their ability to provide useful insights for farmers.
Focus on farm practices. Agriculture is context specific, so practices that deliver positive outcomes in one location may not do so in another.
No consistent way of measuring and monitoring sustainability
at farm-level. Farmers are asked to collect data in different ways, increasing the time-burden and complexity of assessment.
With the transparency of a common language, we connect and empower all stakeholders in the food system to drive this much-needed transition to planet friendly farming.
The Global Farm Metric defines on-farm sustainability and supports farmers to understand, measure and monitor the state of their farming system in a consistent way.
Evidenced based and evolving, the framework is supported by our coalition of researchers and farmers so that data collection is both practical and useful for farmers, and so that it generates a common language between farmers and other food and farming stakeholders.
The framework provides a holistic overview of farm sustainability. The 12 central categories of the framework make up all of the elements of the farm system so none is considered in isolation and farmers are better equipped to mitigate negative consequences in other areas. The sub-categories describe each of these in more detail and, together, encompass all aspects of farm sustainability. The indicators go one step further and demonstrate how farm sustainability can be evaluated in assessments so that farmers can track their progress towards environmental, social and economic outcomes.
The Global Farm Metric is designed to be embedded into farm assessments, audits, certification schemes and management tools. When adopted, a common framework aligns existing data-collection systems and establishes a baseline of farm-level data, reducing duplication and encouraging their use by farmers. Real progress towards positive change can then be benchmarked and monitored against sustainable development goals at a local, national and international scale.
As well as helping farmers reduce negative impacts and unintended consequences, a common framework facilitates the collection of harmonised data which can be used as a basis for farm support payments, provide access to new markets and support sustainable investment by the finance and food industries. This will shift the balance of financial advantage towards more sustainable production.
This collective action can drive positive change to accelerate the transition towards more sustainable food and farming systems.
Click here to explore the Global Farm Metric categories, subcategories and indicators.
Global Farm Metric
Measures environmental, social and economic indicators
Designed to be understood by all food and farming stakeholders
Developed with farmers, for farmers
Measures the state of the farming system and changes over time
Applicable to all farming systems and landscapes
Evidence-based and evolving
Grounded in data and built on the latest scientific evidence
Supports farmers to collect primary data on their farms
A common language drives positive action. It enables shared understanding, a supporting policy and economic environment and informed consumer choice.
For farmers to be a driver of positive change, they must have a holistic understanding of sustainability and be financially rewarded.
A common framework enables consistent monitoring of the environmental, social and economic state of the farm. This helps farmers identify and manage risks, improve resilience, increase positive impacts and mitigate the negative impacts of the farm on the wider world.
Government and policy
For farming to be part of the solution, governments must create an enabling policy environment and monitor progress at farm level.
The Global Farm Metric provides a baseline of farm-level data which can be aggregated to track change at a local, national and international scale.
The holistic nature of the GFM framework also helps governments to identify the unintended consequences of policies that are focussed on one aspect of sustainability. It can also identify issues beyond the agriculture sector which need addressing to enable effective change.
For financing the transition towards more sustainable systems, we must have a common baseline of data.
A common framework can support sustainable investment by the finance industry, informing farm support payments, access to new markets, and ESG reporting.
This helps to create a supportive economic environment that rewards farmers who are actively improving the environmental, social and economic state of their farm.
For food businesses to support more sustainable producers, they need comparable information on whole-farm sustainability.
A common framework and baseline enables food businesses to assess the sustainability of the farms from which they source their products across social, economic and environmental indicators.
As well as streamlining internal reporting, this can create a positive market incentive that rewards more sustainable farming.
A common framework of measurement and pool of on-farm data can also help agri-tech companies understand the impact of practice change and develop appropriate technologies.
For citizens to mobilise consumer power, we need consistent and verifiable information.
A common language enables transparency and accountability across the supply chain. It can align food labelling and raises awareness of whole-farm sustainability.
For knowledge exchange that inspires innovation and drives change globally, we need a shared understanding of sustainability at farm-level.
Expressed through the Global Farm Metric framework, a common understanding of on-farm sustainability will enable dialogue between educators, learners, consultants and farmers.
Frequently asked questions
Still have questions? See this document for further FAQs. You can also contact us via email@example.com or @GFMCoalition on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.
The current industrial farming model is contributing to escalating climate change, biodiversity loss and adverse public health. But farming is also unique. Not only can it protect biodiversity and support health and wellbeing, it can remove carbon from the atmosphere and become a nature-based solution to climate change.
For farmers to become the agent for this change, they must have the information they need to manage this transition, a common understanding of the impact they are having over time, and a strong business case for change.
The Global Farm Metric framework provides a consistent way to measure whole-farm progress towards sustainability. Farmers and farm consultants can use this to improve their understanding of sustainability, identify where further information may need to be gathered and create better environmental, social and economic outcomes.
Consistent measurement of a holistic set of outcomes creates a baseline of farm-level data that can be used as evidence for certifiers, government and the supply chain. Governments, for example, can use this baseline to monitor progress towards sustainability goals; as the basis of farm support; to evidence the delivery of public goods; and to see the impact of policy. The finance and supply chain can similarly use this information as the basis of investment and loans and evidencing ESG progress.
This shifts the balance of financial advantage towards more sustainable production, enabling all stakeholders to drive change from the ground up and top down.
At farm-level, the categories of the framework encompass all aspects of sustainability, so none are considered in isolation. The sub-categories explain the categories in greater depth, providing focus for the subsequent indicator level. The indicators identify how to measure the sub-categories and encourage further investigation.
The framework is to be embedded into existing farm data collection systems to create a common language for sustainability that helps farmers to understand and communicate their impacts in a holistic way. It also establishes the common thread of data to align existing farm assessment and management systems which will reduce duplication and encourage their use by farmers. For more specialist applications, additional data will still be required. For example, a carbon calculator may need more information on sources of emissions and sequestration to evidence carbon net gain and access new markets.
It is not a new assessment tool, standard or certification. A common framework starts and ends with consistent data collection.
The GFM, is not a new farm management tool, certification scheme or audit. It is a common framework to be integrated into existing tools, assessments and frameworks that measure on-farm impacts. By doing so, it connects all food and farming stakeholders and aligns new and existing frameworks around the world to create a common language and baseline of data.
We recognise the need for us to demonstrate the value of using our indicators to collect data across sustainability categories and to enable us to do this, we are developing and using a ‘proof of concept’ Global Farm Metric Engine for use in farm trials.
Some key differences:
- The engine is used only to test the framework with farmers
- The engine is a ‘window’ into the framework – it is not a direct duplication
- The engine has an online platform, scoring, calculations and data interpretation – the framework does not
- The framework currently does not define the methods and ways in which farmers should collect data – a tool that has the framework embedded might recommend these
- The framework is to be embedded into existing data collection systems so all farmers measure the same data points and everyone has a consistent baseline of farm-level data
The Coalition is supported by over 80 partners, including farmers, consultants, researchers, educators, environmental groups, certifiers, food companies, financial services and government agencies – all working together to develop the Global Farm Metric and drive adoption.
Delivering the Global Farm Metric is not only about defining a framework to measure on-farm sustainability, it is about ensuring all stakeholders use the same framework to assess impact that belongs in the commons. The priority therefore has been to work with a broad set of stakeholders, all of whom are looking for their own answers on sustainability, and to unite them through this standardised approach to measurement.
Each of our coalition partners have signed up to this, understanding that the Global Farm Metric is an independent, transparent and robust system of data collection, and bring with them the potential for adoption across their supply chains and networks.
The Global Farm Metric framework includes all impacts of the farm (including emissions and C sequestration), negative and positive. Indicators in the ‘Impacts’ category include these impacts. The framework includes and highlights the need for carbon footprinting, and the indicators include it, but it is not a carbon calculator or farm management tool in itself.
The GFM ‘proof of concept’ engine (our assessment tool) focuses on the sustainability of the farm itself using outcomes based indicators. To fully calculate all farm impacts on the outside world (like emissions) requires – in addition to outcomes based data – detailed information about farm practices.
The data collected using the GFM framework can be used to populate specialised online carbon calculator tools like AgreCalc or Cool Farm Tool, which can give a more comprehensive carbon calculation that can be used as a starting point for deciding the best way forward to improve farm sustainability with regard to greenhouse gas emission.
We believe that net zero – however that is defined – needs to be achieved in a way that also delivers benefits to biodiversity, our water systems, human health, rural communities and more.
While net zero schemes can help farmers reduce their emissions, the pursuit of a single outcome in isolation, such as carbon reduction or biodiversity gain, can come at a cost to other parts of the system. Furthermore, in countries with net zero targets like the UK, the implementation of net-zero at scale could significantly reduce domestic food production and force farmers to produce food more intensively. This could increase overall global emissions by driving up ’cheaper’ imports from parts of the world where agriculture has a relatively greater carbon footprint than the UK.
The Global Farm Metric defines and measures whole-farm sustainability in a holistic way, providing balance to the net zero agenda. It also provides a common framework for carbon calculators so that each captures the key emissions and sequestration in agriculture consistently. This creates alignment and gives farmers a head-start when filling in carbon calculators, tackling key barriers to knowledge and engagement.
The Global Farm Metric can therefore help deliver net zero, without compromising on other factors which are also key for planetary and human health.
The GFM framework identifies the main tenets of farm level natural capital – including biodiversity, natural habitats, healthy soil, clean water, air, carbon capture as well as the social benefits of access to the countryside (social capital). The framework also identifies these as points of impact that need to be identified, monitored and improved (or maintained).
As we finalise the third layer of the framework (indicators/data collection) we will be able to articulate more precisely how the GFM data informs natural capital accountability.
The GFM frameworks aligns with the the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is relevant to and supportive of 16 of the 17 SDGs, and 94 of the 169 SDG targets.
The GFM recommends a common framework to consistently measure on-farm impacts in a way that is practical and useful for farmers. When embedded into existing data collection frameworks and tools, a common baseline of farm-level data can be collected to monitor progress towards the SDGs at a local, national and international scale.
Data collection on whole-farm impacts is the only way to fully understand the sustainability of food production. Collecting primary data consistently is essential for reliable and transparent reporting of impacts along the supply chain, from farm to fork.
Farmers, government, finance, business and consumers can then use this information to make more sustainable and transparent choices – whether it be on farm, public and private investment or purchasing decisions.
Reducing our impact on nature, climate and health is dependent on everyone being able to make more informed choices.
Farmers: enable understanding, reduce complexity, save time and improve sustainability outcomes
Government: consistent data to evidence and monitor public goods
Certifiers and consultants: increased take up by farmers
Finance: evidence ESG targets, net zero goals and sustainable investment
Food industry: evidence, transparency and communication