Tracking The Performance


The SAM report card provides a visual representation of countries’ performance in agricultural sustainability to identify priorities for early action. The global SAM report card use three-color bands and arrows to highlight those sustainable agriculture indicators that require particular attention in each country.

In the report card, we use SAM scores from 2011-2014 to assess each country’s agricultural sustainability performance in environmental, social, and economic dimensions and its overall sustainability performance. We utilize a “traffic light” color scheme (green, yellow, and red) to illustrate where each country stands in global agricultural sustainability in each dimension. The green color indicates a country’s agricultural sustainability performance is above 75 percentile of countries in each dimension; red color represents a country’s agricultural sustainability performance is below 25 percentile of countries;  the yellow color means a country’s agricultural sustainability is above 25 percentile but below 75 percentile of countries. Upward, flat and downward arrows represent increasing, stagnating, and decreasing patterns towards achieving the sustainable agricultural goals over 2011-2015.

Image of report card results from 2010-2014

An overview of agricultural sustainability around the world. The overall SAM score for each country and report cards for a selection of countries for the 2010-2014 period. For the report card (see legend at the lower left in A), the outer ring denotes the performance of each indicator according to the traffic-light color scheme that aligns with the planetary boundary literature: red indicates a “dangerous level: high risk of serious impacts,” yellow color denotes a “zone of uncertainty: the increasing risk of impacts,” green indicates a “safe operating space.” The middle and inner ring denote the scores for each dimension and the overall score. The arrows in each panel denote the trends between the year 2010 and 2014. The scores for environmental, economic, and social dimensions are mapped in (B), (C), and (D) respectively.


Our time-series based SAM indicators allow us to track a country’s sustainability performance in agricultural production over time from multiple dimensions – environmental, economic, and social. We designed a patch plot to track each indicator’s sustainability performance over time and pinpoint where each indicator’s performance stands with respect to operating zones (i.e., planetary boundaries). Each indicator’s values are proportionally transformed into scores ranging from 0-100 with higher scores denoting greater sustainability. Score 33.33 and 66.67 correspond to the lower and upper boundaries of operating zones. Scores lower than 0 and greater than 100 have bounded at 0 and 100 respectively. The darkness of each dot stands for selected years, and darker colors indicate more recent years. Operating zones are color coded with traffic lights: green color denotes “safe operating zones”, yellow color means “zone of uncertainty: increasing risk of impacts”, and the red color represents “dangerous level: high risk of serious impacts”. We tentatively use each indicator’s 75 and 25 percentile of all countries score values over 2005-2014 as cut-offs of lower and upper boundaries of operating zones.

We choose the United States, China, and Malawi as examples of high-, middle-, and low-income countries, respectively. Environmental sustainability tends to first degrade with economic developments and then alleviate with technical efficiency improvements. Malawi has more environmental indicators falling into the green zones followed by the United States and China, whose environmental indicators mainly concentrate on green and red zones. Within each country, environmental sustainability has a declining tendency over time. One exception is the United States Phosphorus surplus, which has experienced a great improvement from red and yellow zones to the edge of green zones. Both the United States and China have riskier groundwater and blue water depletion rates. The United States N surplus intensity is falling into yellow zones; its loss of biodiversity (land cover change) is at risk; its greenhouse gas emissions is close to the boundary of safe operating zones (green zone). China, the worst environmental performer among those three countries, also have intensive N and P surplus rates, its loss of biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions have an increasing risk of impacts (yellow zone). It is alerting that China also has the fastest environmental degradation rates over time. Malawi’s only blue water use and loss of biodiversity are within the zone of uncertainty (yellow zones), and other environmental indicators are near the green zones. It is cautious that Malawi’s agriculture is emitting more greenhouse gases per hectare of the harvested area at a fast speed as time passes by.

The economic performance among those three countries are opposite of their environmental performance: most economic indicators of the United States and China are above the lower boundary of operating zones, while Malawi has more indicators in the alarming states (red zones). Farmers in more developed countries tend to have greater individual income, which consistent with each country’s stages of economic developments: as economic develops, agricultural sector becomes more profitable and fewer farmers will be employed in the agricultural sector. Farmers in more developed countries also have greater access to resources (access to finance) and get more government investments in technological innovation (governmental agricultural expenditure over agricultural GDP). However, we observe a pattern that the United States support is declining. China’s government has made great efforts to support Chinese farmers: expend more and stabilize prices. Selling agricultural products to the international markets (agricultural export revenues over agricultural GDP) diversifies farmers’ income channels and potentially increase their profits. It also indicates whether a country is a major agricultural exporter. Apparently, the United States and Malawi export more agricultural products to other countries, while Chinese farmers mainly sell their products to domestic consumers.

In the social dimension, all three countries have indicators falling into each color zone. We recognize that lower-income countries have greater rural poverty rate. The obesity rate in each country increases with its economic growth, but the relative obesity level across different countries depend on its culture, geographies and dietary habits – the United States has higher calorie consumption diets than China and Malawi. Additionally, low-income countries also have more severe gender discriminations. Crop diversity is generally dependent on its territory size, geographic locations, and climate conditions, but it also increases as the economy develops. The SAM indicator, so far, only has data of the percentage of women with anemia and food affordability available in the least developed countries.

Patch plots demonstrating the 1991 to 2016 trajectory of SAM indicators for a subset of countries.

The 1991-2016 trajectory of SAM indicators for a subset of countries. Within each of the four income groups (i.e., high-income, upper-middle-income, lower-middle-income, and low-income countries), two countries (one in tropical and another in temperate climate zone) with the highest total agricultural GDP (average of 2010-2014) are displayed here. Each row records the performance of a SAM indicator with one column per year, and the color of each cell is determined by the score. The blank cells indicate that date are not available for the corresponding indicator/year pairs.