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Indicator Facts

Focal Area: Sustainable Use

Headline Indictor: Areas under sustainable management

Key Indicator Partner:

Data Available: National case studies

Development Status: Ready for sub-global use


It is generally recognised that protected areas alone are inadequate for preventing biodiversity loss in much of the world and that ‘sustainable management’ of the entire landscape, including agriculturally productive areas is needed. The indicator ‘area of agricultural ecosystems under sustainable management’ reflects the well established cause-effect relationship between the presence of resources-conserving “sustainable” management practices and improvements in biodiversity status. The indicator therefore provides insights on relative pressures on biodiversity at landscape scale within countries.


The extent of resources-conserving management practices within countries is generally unknown and special purpose data collection is necessary. A major challenge is to distinguish which approaches are considered ‘sustainable’ from those that are not, taking into consideration changing socio-economic contexts and the fact that stakeholders’ acceptance of the long-term social, economic, and environmental impacts of land management practices is a key factor in determining sustainability.

In order to develop a practical methodology for a global assessment which would yield results within a reasonable time frame, the proxy indicator “Area of agro-ecosystems under management practices which support sustainability” is used as a substitute for “area of agro-ecosystems under sustainable management”. This is in acknowledgement of the fact that the presence of resources-conserving interventions alone does not necessarily imply that the associated agro-ecosystems are under sustainable management. It is also necessary to evaluate the acceptance by stakeholders of their impacts.

The data collection procedure for the proxy indicator is that developed by the LADA project for the global assessment of land degradation ( In this procedure, estimates are made, based on expert opinion, of the extent of various types of resources-conserving interventions undertaken in different land-use systems as well as directly related impacts covering social, economic and environmental aspects. The proxy indicator is subsequently derived by selecting the subset of those land management interventions which, based on stakeholder responses, have had simultaneous positive social, economic and environmental impacts, within the previous 10 years.

Currently, country-wide data for this indicator is available only for 6 pilot countries (Argentina, China, Cuba, Senegal, South Africa, and Tunisia) of the LADA project which ends in 2010. Building a consistent global indicator would require an adequately funded international initiative to support similar special-purpose data collection in all countries.


The global assessment will be a compilation of sub-national level data from each country. This approach facilitates inter-linkages of assessments over a range of scales, from sub national to global.

The Indicator

Extent of management practices support sustainability
Area of agro-ecosystem under management practices supporting sustainability i.e. practices which are associated with positive trends in the LADA impact indicator ‘food security, health and poverty’ (Note: percentages refer to the extent of all management practices within a given land use system in an administrative unit).
Source: FAO-LADA, CSE (2009).

How to Interpret the Indicator

The “area of agro-ecosystems under management practices supporting sustainability” informs on the extent of resource-conserving interventions with reported positive impacts on social, economic and environmental conditions and, thus, expected to be “sustainable” over time. The indicator provides insights on relative pressures on biodiversity at landscape scales within countries. In order to determine trends in time, it will be necessary to carry out first a baseline survey followed by repeat surveys at appropriate intervals in time. The possibility that stakeholders’ perceptions of the impacts of a given intervention may change over time, which has a direct influence on the value of the indicator, should be taken into account in drawing conclusions.

Generally, an increase in the area of agro-ecosystems under management practices supporting sustainability would indicate a reduction in the threats placed on biodiversity at landscape scale that are directly attributable to the management of agro-ecosystems. However, since overall biodiversity loss within the landscape is threatened by many interconnecting factors, an increasing trend for this indicator does not necessarily imply a reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss.

Current Storyline

For Senegal, one of the pilot countries of the LADA project, a total of 287 management interventions covering 9.1 million hectares were inventoried in the country-wide LADA baseline survey carried out in 2008. Only 12 percent of these cases, covering 1.7 million hectares, were judged by stakeholders to have had concurrent positive social, economic and environmental impacts over the preceding 10 years, and would therefore be considered ‘sustainable’. Of the major land use systems in the country, rainfed cropping recorded the highest percentage of management interventions which support sustainability (39 percent). In contrast, low values were associated with agropastoral areas. Future repeat surveys will allow trends from the 2008 indicator baseline to be determined, and conclusions drawn regarding threats on biodiversity due to management practices and their associated driving forces.’

National Use

At present this indicator is derived from national surveys for which data are currently available for the six pilot countries of the LADA project; Argentina, China, Cuba, Senegal, South Africa, and Tunisia. Manuals on how to carry out LADA national assessments, including mapping, as well as information on the pilot countries are available at the LADA site ( E-mail contact information for key project personnel is also available via the web site.

Future development

Improved guidance will be provided in current LADA data collection manuals in order to ensure (i) adequate coverage of the full range of management interventions within agricultural ecosystems in any given country, and (ii) improved reliability and consistency of expert opinion of social, economic and environmental impacts of such interventions.

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