Developing stakeholder-centric sustainability indicators for plantation agriculture - a participatory action research approach

Nadaraja, D., 2021. Developing stakeholder-centric sustainability indicators for plantation agriculture - a participatory action research approach. PhD, Nottingham Trent University.

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Plantation agriculture is one of the fastest growing agricultural sub-sectors in the world and contributes significantly to national income and employment in many developing countries. However, plantation agriculture has also aroused significant sustainability concerns and as such, sustainability assessments have emerged as crucial for the survival and viability of plantation companies. This has given rise to the need for suitable sustainability indicators. Although a wide variety of sustainability indicators have been developed to monitor and assess the sustainability of agricultural systems in general few, if any, have been developed specifically for plantation agriculture. Furthermore, most conventional research methodologies on sustainability often utilize a top-down approach.

One of the main criticisms regarding this approach is the lack of input from local stakeholders regarding sustainability indicator selection and development. As such, the indicators selected via the top-down approach do not necessarily reflect the value judgements of local stakeholders as well as address the sustainability issues specific to plantation agricultural systems. This can prevent the adoption of these indicators by the local stakeholders which in turn can hinder the development and implementation of an appropriate sustainability assessment toolkit for plantation agricultural systems. Therefore, the aim of this research is to develop user-friendly, and stakeholder-consensus based sustainability indicators for plantation agricultural systems via a bottom-up, participatory action research (PAR) methodology.

An Abaca plantation system in Indonesia was used as a case study for this research. The implementation of the methodology for this research was carried out through a cycle involving four stages. Stage 1 involved utilizing a range of methods namely key informant interviews, document reviews as well as focus group discussions to identify a diverse range of stakeholder groups for this research (e.g. local community members, government officials, business organizations). The interest-influence matrix was then utilized to select and prioritize different stakeholders for this research from the list of stakeholder groups identified. Approximately 22 stakeholder groups were selected as key stakeholders for this research. Stage 2 involved utilizing the modified Delphi method to identify and select relevant sustainability indicators for this research from the perspectives of the identified and selected stakeholders (from Stage 1) to develop a draft set of sustainability indicators. A preliminary list of 33 sustainability indicators were then selected by the stakeholders which encompassed the four main dimensions of sustainability.

The selected 33 sustainability indicators were then piloted tested collaboratively with the stakeholders to determine the effectiveness of the indicators in assessing the sustainability performance of the Abaca plantation system. This pilot testing process (Stage 3) resulted in the removal and modification of some of the initially selected sustainability indicators thereby resulting in the approval of 25 indicators by the stakeholders. The final 25 sustainability indicators also encompassed the four main dimensions of sustainability. The final stage (Stage 4) involved reflecting on the entire PAR process (from inception to completion) and understanding the appropriateness, effectiveness and success of the overall research process from the stakeholders’ perspectives as well as lessons learnt for future research.

The final reflection stage (Stage 4) provided insights into the challenges and solutions regarding the use of a PAR approach towards the development of a user-friendly and stakeholder consensus-based sustainability indicators for plantation agricultural systems. This stage revealed that despite the numerous challenges associated with this research process, the PAR approach could enable the participants (stakeholders) to understand the diverse sustainability issues associated with the plantation agricultural system and integrate these issues with the wider context of sustainability. Therefore, the outcomes of this research supports the arguments made by proponents of the PAR approach in which this approach can ethically engage different stakeholders in decisions that can change their understanding of a sustainable agricultural system and thereby contribute to the long-term discussion about sustainability assessments within plantation agricultural systems. For this research, this approach also resulted in the development of a context-specific and stakeholder consensus-based sustainability indicators for plantation agricultural systems.

Item Type: Thesis
Creators: Nadaraja, D.
Date: September 2021
Rights: The copyright in this work is held by the author. You may copy up to 5% of this work for private study, or personal, non-commercial research. Any re-use of the information contained within this document should be fully referenced, quoting the author, title, university, degree level and pagination. Queries or requests for any other use, or if a more substantial copy is required, should be directed to the author.
Divisions: Schools > School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences
Record created by: Jeremy Silvester
Date Added: 17 Feb 2022 16:54
Last Modified: 17 Feb 2022 16:54

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