Social Impact Assessment and Sustainable Agriculture

Social impact assessment can be defined as the process of assessing or estimating the social consequences that are likely to follow from specific policy actions or project development, particularly in the context of appropriate national, state, or provincial environmental policy legislation (Vanclay 2003; Burdge 2004). It includes all social and cultural consequences to human populations of any public or private actions that alter the ways in which people live, work, play, relate to one another, organize to meet their needs, and generally cope as members of society

(Momtaz 2005). Cultural impacts involve changes to norms, values, and beliefs of individuals that guide and rationalize their cognition of themselves and their society (Burdge and Vanclay 1995). Some have tried hard to define social impact assessment as a process. For example Vanclay (2002) believes that social impact assessment is the process of analyzing (predicting, evaluating, and reflecting) and managing the intended and unintended consequences on the human environment of planned interventions (policies, programs, plans, and projects) and any social change process invoked by those interventions so as to bring about a more sustainable and equitable biophysical and human environment.

Social impact assessment, is an overarching framework that encompasses all human impacts including aesthetic (landscape, development, economic and fiscal, gender, health, indigenous rights, infrastructure, institutional), political (human rights, governance, democratization, etc.), poverty-related, psychological, and resource issues (access and ownership of resources) (Vanclay 2002). The value of social impact assessment in social development, policy making and planning, public involvement, conflict management, and sustainable development has been acknowledged (Barrow 2000).

In line with the triple bottom-line approach from sustainable development (Vanclay 2004), the social impact assessment is of particular importance in considering the social sustainability of agriculture. There is no doubt that the social impact assessment is as important, in some cases even more important than the assessments of biophysical and economic dimensions of sustainable agriculture (Pisani and Sandham 2006). There have been many agricultural development projects in developing countries focusing on rural area in arid and semiarid lands in the past 3 decades. These have faced numerous social challenges such as a growing sense of rural households' dissatisfaction, negative attitudes, and conflicts with the project and as a result unsustainability (Ahmadvand and Karami 2009).

The three main goals of sustainable agriculture are economic efficiency, environmental quality, and social responsibility (Fairweather and Campbell 2003). Certainly, social sustainability is a core dimension of sustainable agriculture. Social impact assessment is necessary to provide information on social sustainability of agricultural development. It makes agricultural sector more inclusive by involving key stakeholders. It makes agricultural projects more socially sound by minimizing or mitigating adverse social impacts, maximizing social benefits, and ensuring that the projects are in line with sustainable development (Becker 2001). It has considerable potential to give social criteria their rightful place alongside economic and environmental criteria in sustainable agriculture. Social impact assessment is important in sustainable agriculture development, because it helps planners, agricultural development project proponents, and the impacted population and decision makers to understand and be able to anticipate the possible social consequences on human populations and communities of proposed agricultural development activities or policy changes. Social impact assessment should provide a realistic appraisal of possible social ramifications and suggestions for project alternatives and possible mitigation measures (Burdge 2004). For sustainable agriculture development, perhaps more than any other application, social impact assessment must integrate with physical impact assessment (e.g., Environmental Impact Assessment), economic appraisal, and other impact assessments (Barrow 2000). The need for such integration with other impact assessments arises because agriculture is being sustainable only if complex of factors are right; if just one is inadequate, production falters and may well fail.

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