c analysis of farm level data suggests that the recouping capacity of agro-ecology in terms of land productivity and associated biodiversity is threatened. Soil ecosystem services in terms of recouping capacity of beneficial microbial groups, nutrient buffering capacity and stability of productive capacity has declined at alarming rates, which is speculated to be site specific and influenced by the management practices. Considering the adverse effect of the conventional farming activity, conservative practices complemented by precision farming in line with the Fukoukas natural farming [56], principles have evolved as alternatives to bring in the element of sustainability. However, the acceptance of the promising practices at farm level has faced many limitations due to crop failure risks, economic viability and extended time required to convert the conventional to self sustained farm.

The restoration of degraded and/or progressively degrading farm systems is complex and theoretically deemed difficult in situation of exploitative management practices for economic benefits of miss calculations [57]. The concept of a farm level approach does not mean selfcontained set of adjacent farms near the household, but a mosaic of interactive farms at different distances with in a landscape. Landscape scale approach allows analyzing substantial flexibility in capturing the complex land-use systems, transactions (knowledge base, labour, nutrients dynamics) between farms, crop management practices and product use by smaller farms. Further, it facilitate the analysis on loss of natural capital in agricultural landscapes, disappearance of prey-predator relationship and decreasing carbon stocks in soils [58-60]. Essentially, sustainable agricultural activities mean reconciliation between biodiversity conservation and increased agricultural production [61]. Sustainability indicators are ambiguously used by many researchers unlike the views of farming community. The indicators can be alternative measures to identify the status of concern in the absence of technical or financial constraints, which cannot be measured directly [62]. Likewise, the challenge is the problem of aggregation of ecological, social and economic indicators, which are incommensurable to arrive at overall assessment of farms [63]. Further, non-material dimension of sustainability as culture and social identity complicate the analysis in generic term [28]. As many as 12 indices (Table 2) have been suggested for various situations to analyze the sustainability of agriculture practices keeping in mind farmers and policy makers at regional, national and global levels [2,31,64-66]. However, definition of sustainability indicators at farm level cannot be on relative terms as farm to farm activities differ greatly in a landscape. Reviews on the sustainability indicators [67] corroborate the challenges of disciplinary and methodological heterogeneity, with cross cutting environmental and social sciences, which induce dissimilarity in sustainability variables. Additional indices, which address some of the critical aspects of agroecological health and vulnerability to disasters, need attention (Table 2). They include; 1) Environment Vulnerability Index (EVI): It is natural disaster threats to farming activity aggravated by the anthropogenic degradative factors. EVI use vulnerability definition in terms of degree of resilience to various hazards/damaging

Table 2. Certain indicators and their applicability in farming practices to analyze the sustainability at various scales.

indicators [65]. The indicators may be identified at local, regional and/or global scale (For instance, effect of climate change on species loss). Pooled weights will provide insight on the vulnerability and suggest measures to enhance resilient mechanisms both for natural and man-made hazards (For instance, industrialization and population pressure); 2) Agro-ecosystem Health Index (AEHI): It includes the evaluation of the land resources, water resources, air quality, functional species richness and gene pools in an agricultural landscape [68]; 3) Agro-ecology Capital Index (ACI): It can include the natural resource capital, traditional knowledge/skills capital at farm level, marketable goods/services capital. In this case, the total asset capital linked to biobanking process may be assumed positive when the resource payments are re-invested to ensure that capital stock will never decline [69]. It can include certain incentive mechanism to bring in required positive change in conservation of agro-biodiversity. It must consider the asset value in terms of uniqueness of functional richness of diversity, rarity, traditional varieties and threatened species conservation efforts across the farms enabling better contested ranking to assign incentives [70]. However, it must have internalized EVI to assess the resilience factor; iv) Environmentally adjusted net Resources Index (ERI): Similar to System of Integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting [71,72], must consider all natural resources to assess the net resource capital (biodiversity; functional vs species richness) depreciation due to extraction of economic resources and subtraction of the adjusted environmental pressures and destruction forces.

Ecological indicators are useful to understand the magnitude of change, amount of exposure to change or degree of response to the exposure [73]. Scientific methods defining comparability, weighting and aggregation are pre-requisites for construction of meaningful sustainability indices. Generic models, which facilitate data inputting and sharing across the disciplines, serve the scientific community to integrate the analyses across the locations [30]. In most of the cases, model based outputs will have limitations when analyzed at the scale of effects-means, where as one can conceive an experimental approach to validate the effect-means based indicators, which are inherently subjective. Currently used sustainability indices in terms of means and effects appear to be arbitrary and lack robust scientific basis to arrive at threshold values [74]. However, the threshold values are not acceptable because of interactive nature of physical and biological factors [63]. It is opined that large efforts in the last decade have failed to identify widely applicable single index [75]. Some argue that good indicators should be user derived as well as policy relevant and highly aggregated [76]. However, aggregation methods do not facilitate decision-making due to the ambiguity of single index arising out of various dimensions of sustainability. definitive indicators with defined objective and absolute comparable values act as useful tool in construction and operationalization at farm level sustainability analysis. Certain criterion and indicators applicable for establishing the sustainability indicators at farm level are presented in Table 3.

Applicability of sustainability principles to landscape scale has significant potential for buffering the off-site consequences of agriculture at regional, watershed and farm level to take advantage of services provided by contiguous natural, semi-natural and restored ecosystems. These contiguous systems provide suitable habitat for pollinators, predators and parasites contributing for better productivity of cropland in a landscape. Thus, landscape approach must consider overall maintenance of ecosystem services provided by agro-ecology, which can be evaluated on the scale of sustainability indices. Although many indicator-based sustainability monitoring tools have been developed in the last decade but considerably less effort has been made to validate their applicability [77].


Last decade has seen increasing need to address the agricultural developmental issues from the perspective that incorporates social and ecological dimensions. Participatory action research (PAR) holds the key and has relevance to raise the queries on the intuitive wisdom of stakeholders on sustainable agro-ecological practices [78]. PAR is an adaptive social research through the integration of scientific basis to improve the overall management approach by the stakeholders. Unlike the extension activities, the close interactions in PAR promote broad participation in the research process and supports action leading to satisfying situation. Moreover, it reliably addresses the integral question of linking the ecological conservation initiatives as part of the socio-economic development at local scale. It raises queries on gains and losses in terms of maintenance of water quality, biodiversity, carbon storage, pest control, pollinators and predators, fisheries and ecotourism in agricultural landscapes. Thus future revolution agricultural productivity must work on the principles of PAR that incorporates accumulated knowledge of ecological processes and feedbacks, disease dynamics, soil processes and beneficial microbial functions [8,78]. A cyclical approach of PAR is promising in situation, which involves diversity of active stakeholders in research and as agents of positive change. The cyclic process of PAR includes observational, reflective thinking, experimental actions and co-

Table 3. Criterion and indicators used for establishing the sustainability indicators at farm to landscape scale.

evolution through network reciprocity [23,79].

The duality of the PAR is important to create positive social and environmental change contributing essentially to scientific knowledge gain to stakeholders. It facilitates strategic and potential expansion of PAR linkages among the communities, organizations, researchers and development of network for mutual learning. However, longterm sustenance of the PAR cycle is challenge by itself due to changing priorities of the stakeholders and researchers. It is one of the drawbacks which may add skeptic view to PAR oriented approach to agro-ecological development initiatives. Many options may be created by asking questions in the initiation stage of the PAR process to make the PAR activity adaptable. The relevant questions may range from level of participation, powers of participants, gender issues, caste discriminations, social roles of participants within the communities, social skills of scientific researchers and interactive forces operating at spatial, geographic and political scales [25,80]. In PAR approach, much importance need to be paid to benefit the adaptive management strategies (active and/or passive) in natural resource management [81-83].

PAR provides an option to understand the degree of participation in research and change process. The typology and the degree of relationship has been suggested [84] based on participation at the level of 1) Collegial— trust based relationship where researchers work in close association with local stakeholders to strengthen their research, developmental capacities and practice advocacy; 2) Collaborative—a direct collaboration between researchers and stakeholder with realizable objective/s; 3) Consultative—researcher orients his approach to need based solving of problem of the stakeholder/s; and 4) Contractual—service oriented contract between the researcher and stakeholder [85]. All these relationships can be operational at one time, however need empowerment of local communities of their social capital aiming at positive change as a long and negotiated process [84]. The uneven power relationships, conflicts, rivalry, multiple cultures, caste based discrepancies operate while building PAR for agro-ecological sustainability.


Environmental sociology is increasingly becoming indispensable in restoration of ecological functions. By definition environmental sociology is “complex symbolic and non-symbolic reciprocal interactions between society and environment, which are influenced by the cultural and social behavior while interacting with the physical and biological elements” [86,87]. Agricultural landscapes provide ideal systems for environmental perspective analysis of development as human-well being holds the key to sustainability. Agricultural extension is recognized approach for lab-to-land dissemination of research output to farming communities. It fails to consider farm level innovations, which have not been documented but practiced in isolation. In such situation, PAR is best suited to operate in both direction with extension and learning the lessons from traditional experimental farming by the stakeholders. In this view, experts and farmers are guided by a knowledge interest in “technical power of control over an environment” and perceive their participation in environment as a sphere of instrumental rationality. Accordingly the farmers will have habitualized the laws of environment as behavioral rules. Indeed, co-evolution and network reciprocity of the farmers must be characterized as all human knowledge of environment is inevitably tied to the interest in ecological sustenance. Hence, environmental sociology perspective at farm level could be used to reconstruct the theoretical basis for sustainable development of agricultural landscapes.

There is need for paradigm shift in extension activities and PAR to analyze the current situation and circumstantial changes to agricultural landscapes. Thus far the principles of extension have been aimed at increasing the productivity, which theoretically might negatively impact the sustainability of agricultural landscapes. PAR principles provide a basis for such an approach in the current theory of establishment of farm level sustainability and economic viability of production systems. Thus the meaning of sustainability assumes conservation and capacitating the farming communities through PAR to maintain the ecological services to achieve the new paradigm shift in productive agricultural landscapes.

The concept of sustainability and economic rationality seem become inseparable and having their own legitimacy in agricultural landscapes. The inter-linked matrix of operative factors contributing for the integrity of agroecology is indicated in Figure 1. Development in agricultural landscapes is becoming more pluralistic as policy planners, farmers, environmentalists, conservationists and consumers have variable perceptions on the sustainability. These perceptions and priorities range from ecological, agro-technological and socio-economic dimensions. Thus, increasing the limits of acceptability of sustainability indices in agro-ecology must assume constructive terms, which defines collective participation, compromise, learning (intergenerational), conflict resolution and sustained interactions [88]. The sustainability model based on the theory must seek a dialectical union of development and environment [89]. The emerging concepts highlight the importance of joint learning, coevolution and network reciprocity [90]. Arguably, sustainable agricultural process such as co-evolution and negotiation to bring in the element of sustainability cannot be achieved without strong leadership at local level.  


Global environmental change has the potential to exacerbate the ecological and societal impacts on agrobiodiversity [91]. In many regions, land conversion forces declining populations towards the edges of their species range, where they become increasingly vulnerable to collapse if exposed to further human impact and climate change [92]. The combination of irreversible species loss and positive feedbacks between biodiversity changes and ecosystem processes are likely to cause nonlinear cost increases to society in the future, particularly when thresholds of ecosystem resilience exceeds [93]. Climate change presents yet another challenge of increased habitat alterations affecting both food and nonfood crops composition at landscape to regional scale. Agro-ecological system is already in the mode of rapid change leading to species range shifts and changes in plant diversity leading to lesser indigenous traditional plant species [94]. Further, the impact of climate change will have differential effects on the species through the adversities of deficient hydrological regimes, high tem-

Figure 1. Trees with indicators and impacting factors in agricultural landscapes.

perature, and variation in length of growing season and increased frequency of extreme weather [95].

The changing climatic conditions may bring about few environmental benefits in some region. However, the preparedness requires evolving adaptive strategies to change the cropping patterns, change the farm operation timing, use of traditional crop varieties, improve water use efficiency, improve soil fertility, flexible institutional and governmental policies to suite diverse farming systems [96]. Likewise, agro-biodiversity hotspots must receive increased attention to conserve and safeguard the species of local origin [97,98]. Thus, the preparedness for the projected climate change requires building social capital at farm level. Further social capital building must be directed to understand the use of traditional varieties at farm level to landscape scale, species composition of contiguous/fragmented ecosystems, biodiversity value and spread of ecosystem services (pollination, predation and source of genetic materials), degree of resilience of farms and identify potential alternative livelihood support systems. Most of the traditional farming systems and practices may exhibit high resilience to the impact of climate change. Modern agriculture systems are categorized as destructive to ecosystem services due to intensive management practices. Further, agricultural systems may reach the point of collapse under climate change scenarios where the conventional agriculture has eroded much of species diversity of the buffer ecosystems and their services.

There is need for integrating multiple scale analysis to include variability of current and projected climate, seasonal change impacts, risk proofing mechanisms, alternate land use plans to understand the vulnerability and sustenance of farm productivity (Table 4). Sustainability indices analysis of farms at landscape scale requires long period data set, which explains the temporal scale responses of the agro-ecological functions. Some of the climate induced changes cannot be measured directly in short time scale but long-term data sets allow more accurate vulnerability and/or resilience analysis. Any farm level analysis of impact of climate change require several individual studies focusing on various farming practices to provide evidence for multiple responses of the given farming systems at landscape to regional scale [99] to apply sustainability indices to analyze resilience scenarios. However, several of factor that contribute for resilient farming systems (Table 5) need critical attention and profiling at landscape scale. Further, it calls for identifying the possible confounding socio-economic factors controlling responses due to technological advancement [100]. Developmental research approach of PAR based analysis of sustainability indices at farm level merits attention to alleviate the climate induced changes to agricultural landscapes. Research literature on analysis of sustainability at farm level is increasing; however there is need for synthesis of the data to design a framework for long-term monitoring of the evolving farms. Further, development of appropriate indicators for regional specific impact analysis and compare them across the socio-economic groups is extremely useful. Likewise, accurate projections of regional climate change would improve the response predictions and impacts on agricultural landscapes at micro to landscape scale.

Table 4. Considerations of significance in effective sustenance of agro-ecological services of farm to landscape scale.

Table 5. Matrix of factors contributing for resilient farming systems.


Agricultural landscape has prime role in controlling the ecological functions as major ecosystems are fragmented and/or converted to allied land-use systems. Ecological services provided by the pristine ecosystems may assume declining trend due to anthropogenic disturbances and loss of biodiversity. Moreover, given the situation of increase in global population at 8.5 to 10 billion in the next 5 years [101], which means it will be last episode of rapid agricultural expansion. During the period, intensive agricultural activities may irreversibly impact environment and services. Thus, sustainability indicator analysis from farm to landscape scale becomes relevant in designing framework for maintaining the ecological elements. The second green revolution in terms of ecological sustainability and economic viability can be achieved in eco-friendly farming, which imaginatively uses scientific and farm level knowledge base to mix and match conservation agriculture practice with precision approach. PAR provides an apt alternative to analyze the timescale changes in the agricultural practices contributing for the beneficial services and less degradative in nature. In absence of generic diagnostic tools and extension services, sustainability indices based management need to be targeted to smaller farms. Such an approach will benefit the farmers with differing capital asset to contribute for ecological sustenance and diffusing knowledge effectively throughout the community. Improvimng the social capital at farm level will have far reaching implications for building resilient farmlands to climate change adversities and risk proofing the rural economic growth.

Sustainability of agricultural landscapes can be addressed at several levels through farming community friendly policy instruments, which encourage diversity in farming systems, removal of subsidies on select degradative farm inputs (input-output levies), identify time tested agricultural models by critical analysis of socio-economic characteristics at landscape scale, which can be adapted with certain modification to suite the current farming systems, design self operational and multiple level network systems for ingenuity sharing among the farming community and design landscape specific information and education program for farming community. Some of these points may be reviewed while debating on policy level reforms by the government and agencies alike to build resilient farming systems. The acceptability and conflict resolving issues of any policy reforms have been difficult to address. However, farm scale approach through PAR will yield positive changes in resolving conflict scenarios which is possibly achieved by the government agencies through designing an incentive based socially acceptable polices, However, policy reforms must consider landscape/region specific issues as it is impossible to design an ideal economic instrument rather define performance-based instruments. The policy reforms by the government agencies thus must consider designing strategies for participatory approaches and co-interest incentive schemes at farm scale to alleviate the sustainability issues of agricultural landscapes.


I thank the farmers for the origin of thought to write up the review who had unassuming arguments and shared intuitive wisdom on eroding time tested farming practices. I also thank anonymous reviewer/s for the constructive comments on the manuscript.


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