Environmental Management

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 1-14

First online:

Review and appraisal of concept of sustainable food production systems

  • Michael BrklacichAffiliated withLand Resource Research Centre Research Branch, Agriculture Canada
  • , Christopher R. BryantAffiliated withDepartment de Géographie, Université de Montréal
  • , Barry SmitAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Guelph

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Environmental degradation, competition for resources, increasing food demands, and the integration of agriculture into the international economy threaten the sustainability of many food production systems. Despite these concerns, the concept of sustainable food production systems remains unclear, and recent attempts to appraise sustainability have been hampered by conceptual inconsistencies and the absence of workable definitions. Six perspectives are shown to underpin the concept. Environmental accounting identifies biophysical limits for agriculture. Sustained yield refers to output levels that can be maintained continuously. Carrying capacity defines maximum population levels that can be supported in perpetuity. Production unit viability refers to the capacity of primary producers to remain in agriculture. Product supply and security focuses on the adequacy of food supplies. Equity is concerned with the spatial and temporal distribution of products dervied from resource use. Many studies into sustainable agriculture cover more than one of these perspectives, indicating the concept is complex and embraces issues relating to the biophysical, social, and economic environments. Clarification of the concept would facilitate the development of frameworks and analytical systems for appraising the sustainability of food production systems.

Key words

Sustainable food production systems Environmental accounting Sustained yield Carrying capacity Viability Food supply and security Equity