A comparative analysis of the sustainability of rice cultivation technologies using the analytic network process

E. Reig, J. Aznar, V. Estruch


Sustainability of local farming systems and technologies is a very important issue that faces notorious measurement difficulties. Multi-criteria methods may help researchers to solve empirical problems in the construction of composite sustainability indicators and in ranking agricultural technologies according to their sustainability. This paper shows how a multi-criteria decision-making technique, the Analytic Network Process (ANP), can be fruitfully employed to this end. Contrary to simpler and hierarchical goal-criteria-alternative approaches, in ANP all the elements in the network can be related in any possible way, which means that a network can incorporate feedback and interdependent relationships within and between clusters. We illustrate the use of ANP by ranking three rice cultivation technologies, - that we call unrestricted traditional, agro-environmental and ecological – in the rice fields of the Albufera Natural Park in Valencia (Spain), using economic, environmental and socio-cultural sustainability criteria. Rice is a multifunctional crop in this area, as flooded rice fields act as semi-natural wetlands, with important ecological consequences, mainly connected with the protection of biodiversity. We show that the ANP methodology is perfectly suited to tackling the complex interrelations involved in sustainability evaluation in this case. We find the ecological cultivation system to be the most sustainable technology. The agro-environmental system ranks second, while the unrestricted system is ranked third. Our results also show that if only the economic dimension of sustainability were considered, the order would be reversed, with traditional unrestricted and ecological technologies exchanging places and the agro-environmental system remaining in second place.


biodiversity protection; ecosystems; multi-criteria decision methods; ranking of technologies

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DOI: 10.5424/sjar/2010082-1200