Knowledge for better food systems

Aligning research with policy and practice

Research literature, policy indicators, and assessment tools use many different variables to assess sustainable agricultural land systems in Europe (for example soil loss, landscape diversity and food quality). Out of 239 of these variables identified in this paper, 32 have been covered by all three perspectives (i.e. research, policy and practice) while the remainder have only been considered by one or two perspectives.

The full list of 239 variables can be found in the supplementary data of the paper. To gather data on how each perspective uses the variables, the authors reviewed 69 research articles, the Sustainable Development Goals, four European Union policies, and seven agricultural sustainability assessment tools aimed at farmers.

The authors argue in favour of a systems approach to agricultural sustainability, whereby the interactions and trade-offs between different sets of goals are assessed together.



Agriculture is widely recognized as critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but researchers, policymakers, and practitioners have multiple, often conflicting yet poorly documented priorities on how agriculture could or should support achieving the SDGs. Here, we assess consensus and divergence in priorities for agricultural systems among research, policy, and practice perspectives and discuss the implications for research on trade-offs among competing goals. We analyzed the priorities given to 239 environmental and social drivers, management choices, and outcomes of agricultural systems from 69 research articles, the SDGs and four EU policies, and seven agricultural sustainability assessment tools aimed at farmers. We found all three perspectives recognize 32 variables as key to agricultural systems, providing a shared area of focus for agriculture’s contribution to the SDGs. However, 207 variables appear in only one or two perspectives, implying that potential trade-offs may be overlooked if evaluated from only one perspective. We identified four approaches to agricultural land systems research in Europe that omit most of the variables considered important from policy and practice perspectives. We posit that the four approaches reflect prevailing paradigms of research design and data analysis and suggest future research design should consider including the 32 shared variables as a starting point for more policy- and practice-relevant research. Our identification of shared priorities from different perspectives and attention to environmental and social domains and the functional role of system components provide a concrete basis to encourage codesigned and systems-based research approaches to guide agriculture’s contribution to the SDGs.



Scown, M. W., Winkler, K. J. and Nicholas, K. A. (2019). Aligning research with policy and practice for sustainable agricultural land systems in Europe. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, p. 201812100.

Read the full paper here. See also the Foodsource building block What are food systems?

You can read related research by browsing the following categories of our research library:

Add comment

Member input

Plain text

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.




Europe is the world's second-smallest continent by surface area, covering just over 10 million square kilometres or 6.8% of the global land area, but it is the third-most populous continent after Asia and Africa, with a population of around 740 million people or about 11% of the world's population. Its climate is heavily affected by warm Atlantic currents that temper winters and summers on much of the continent. In the European Union, farmers represent only 4.7% of the working population, yet manage nearly half of its land area.

View articles relating to Europe


Doc Type