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Monitoring and evaluating the sustainability of Italian agricultural system. An emergy decomposition analysis

TitleMonitoring and evaluating the sustainability of Italian agricultural system. An emergy decomposition analysis
Publication TypeArticolo su Rivista peer-reviewed
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsGhisellini, P., Zucaro Amalia, Viglia Silvio, and Ulgiati S.
JournalEcological Modelling
KeywordsAgriculture, alternative agriculture, Decomposition, Decomposition analysis, Emergy, Emilia, environmental economics, Environmental impact, farming system, food production, Italy, Millennium ecosystem assessments, Oscillating behavior, renewable resource, Resource use optimization, Science and Technology, Sustainability index, sustainable agriculture, Sustainable development, Time series

The agricultural sector is critical for the achievement of sustainable development worldwide. Its present and future sustainability relies on the difficult balance of food production and environmental impact. The need for resource use optimization and increasing reliance on renewable energy, calls for increased development and integration of its supporting, provisioning, regulating and social services (multifunctionality) worldwide, in agreement with the global framework of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the European Union Objectives and other international assessment studies (e.g. the United Nations International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development).The performance of the Italian agricultural system is monitored and evaluated in this paper by means of the emergy accounting method coupled to decomposition analysis techniques, applied to a 25 year time series (1985-2010). The aim of this study is to assess the sustainability of these systems over time as well as to identify the major drivers of performance change, to serve as the basis for future policy scenarios. Two Italian regional agricultural systems (Emilia Romagna, in Northern Italy, and Campania, in Southern Italy) are selected as case studies representative of the Italian agriculture. Results show a steady decrease of cropped land, an increase of the fraction of renewable resource use, an overall increase of sustainability (expressed by emergy indicators) in both regions. The fraction of renewable emergy use increased from 14% to 21% in the Emilia Romagna region and from 23% to 27% in the Campania region, compared to the year 1985, with oscillating behavior over time. The overall Emergy Sustainability Index increased from 14% to 16% in the Emilia Romagna region and from 15% to 19% in the Campania region, recently. The results of decomposition analysis highlight the important role of land use change and labor productivity as major drivers of total emergy use in both agricultural systems. The approach applied in this paper is applicable to the study of other national and regional agricultural sectors wordwide, provided suitable time series of input and output flows are available. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.


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Citation KeyGhisellini2014132