The Brundtland Report defines sustainable development as development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable development requires considering jointly the consequences of individual or collective actions and private or public decisions, according to at least three dimensions: the social (justice, intra and intergenerational equity), economic (efficiency) and environmental (protection, preservation, conservation) dimensions. In addition, sustainable development requires the implementation of a governance principle. This refers to concerted decision-making processes among the various stakeholders potentially impacted by the decisions, notably through a participatory approach.
A “strong” vision of sustainable development pertains to environmental management that strictly respects ecosystems’ resilience and the renewal thresholds of natural resources. On the contrary, a “weak” vision of sustainable development is based on the acceptance of a compensation principle (losses of natural capital can be compensated monetarily or technically). This favours technical progress and technological innovations as solutions to the ecological crisis. Finally, some people reject the notion of sustainable development, considering that it is a way for the dominant actors of the capitalist system to translate ecological issues into acceptable formulations, by depriving them of their meaning.
Sustainable agriculture can fit into any one of these visions of sustainable development. By mobilizing the functionalities and ecosystem services in agroecosystems, agro-ecological practices are part of a strong vision of sustainable development. Thus, agroecology entails not only considering the social and environmental impacts of agricultural practices but also relying on the cultural and social resources of territories and integrating the functioning of ecosystems into the production processes. In this respect, agroecology is a goal, but also a path or a trajectory.
References to explore
Neumayer, E. 1999. Weak Versus Strong Sustainability: Exploring the Limits of Two Opposing Paradigms. Cheltenham and Northampton (Édition, 2003), Edward Elgar Publishing.
Norgaard, R. B. 1988. Sustainable development: a co-evolutionary view. Futures 20(6), pp 606-620.
World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). 1987. Our Common Future. Oxford, Oxford University Press. 383 p.