The ratification of Sustainable Development Goals by all member countries of the United Nations in 2015 demonstrates the determination of the international community in moving towards a sustainable future. To make the commitment accountable, independent and transparent measurements of countries’ sustainability are essential. Agriculture is fundamental to all three pillars of sustainability, namely environment, economy, and society. However, the definition of sustainable agriculture and the feasibility of measuring it remains elusive, in part because it encompasses both biophysical and socio-economic components that are still poorly integrated. Therefore, we are coordinating a highly interdisciplinary team of experts to begin developing a Sustainable Agriculture Matrix on a national scale of indicators measuring sustainable agriculture from environmental, economic, and social dimensions.

The Sustainable Agriculture Matrix (SAM) was first proposed by M.S. Swaminathan for agricultural research and policy in 1990 (see Swaminathan, 2010), and this project is among the first of its kind to develop the illustrative components into measurable indicators. Recognizing the knowledge gap between complex/controversial definitions of Sustainable Agriculture and limited data, as well as the demand for a timely product, we have selected a group of indicators to this first edition of SAM and we outline the roadmap for updating SAM annually (or bi-annually) thereafter according to the results of continuing efforts by the SAM project team.

SAM aims to serve as a platform to engage conversations among stakeholders involved in agriculture and to forge positive changes towards sustainability while avoiding unintended consequences. SAM reports indicators by country and year so that end-users can track a country’s progress along time and make comparison across countries among different dimensions of sustainability. However, SAM does not only rely on available data reported on the national level but also synthesizes data in the literature and in other public domains on various spatial and temporal scales.

There are mainly three goals for the development and publication of SAM

  1. Provide a consistent and transparent measurement of countries’ performance in sustainable agricultural production
  2. Investigate the socioeconomic and ecological drivers for a country achieving sustainability.
  3. Quantify and visualize the impacts of current agricultural production on its future sustainability.