What is it about?

CSA initiatives are local food supply chains that have gained popularity in recent years thanks to the voluntary commitment of their members. They aim to contribute to developing more sustainable agricultural models by reducing costs and environmental impact. This is achieved by reducing synthetic inputs in food production and shortening the supply chain. While these initiatives are appreciated by citizens and institutions, defining their social value in economic terms is not easy due to the lack of objective sustainability indicators in agricultural systems. This issue makes it challenging to adequately evaluate their performance and hinders effective communication with stakeholders in the food system. To address this problem, researchers have developed a cost-benefit analysis model based on the Social Return on Investment (SROI) evaluation. SROI is a methodology that measures the social impact of a project, program, or initiative. It allows quantifying the social benefits generated relative to the costs incurred, providing a detailed analysis of the effectiveness and efficiency of actions to create social value. SROI considers both direct and indirect impacts, offering a comprehensive assessment of the positive effects that a particular activity can have on society and the environment.

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Why is it important?

The study thoroughly assessed the social and environmental outcomes associated with five different CSA initiatives. A participatory approach involving CSA representatives was adopted, leading to the inclusion of various ecosystem service (ES) indicators identified from existing literature. The results revealed that the analyzed CSA case studies demonstrated a limited but positive socio-environmental performance, partly due to the small scale of the initiatives, compared to conventional food supply chains.


The findings suggest that while CSAs display a modest but positive performance compared to conventional food supply chains, they significantly contribute to social well-being and environmental health. This highlights the importance of integrating and recognizing ecosystem services in agricultural planning and development, supporting the expansion of CSAs as a viable alternative to more traditional farming methods that might be less sustainable.

Professor Maurizio Canavari
Universita degli Studi di Bologna

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: An analytical framework to measure the social return of community-supported agriculture, Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, July 2023, Taylor & Francis,
DOI: 10.1080/21683565.2023.2236989.
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