How Can We Assess the Agroecological Status of Swiss Farms?

Agroscope researchers tested the FAO method for assessing the agroecological status of farms in Switzerland for the first time, demonstrating the advantages of a holistic evaluation as well as the limits of the tool.

Using a participatory approach, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has together with the Member States developed a tool for assessing the agroecological status of farms by means of a globally applicable and comparable method. Called ‘TAPE’ (Tool for Agroecology Performance Evaluation), the tool aims to measure the performance of agroecological systems in different sustainability dimensions, and consists mainly of an interview on the farm in which a standardised questionnaire is completed.

One of the first usages in a high-income country

To date, TAPE has primarily been used in low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs). Now, Agroscope researchers have tested the use of TAPE in Switzerland. In addition, they have developed a new biodiversity index for TAPE that takes into account not only planned biodiversity, e.g. the number of varieties or trees planted, but also unplanned biodiversity such as wild bees or orchids. Unplanned biodiversity was not recorded directly in the field; instead, an indirect assessment was made of how different agricultural measures affected it.

Grassland systems not adequately recorded

The interviews were conducted on 21 farms throughout Switzerland representing different production systems. It was found that grassland-dominated farms could not be recorded fully with the version of TAPE used, since many questions were designed for arable cropping systems. Furthermore, the effort required for data collection on Swiss farms considerably exceeded TAPE’s target range. This was mainly because recording pesticides, machinery and information on plant and animal products is a more complex endeavour in Switzerland than for typical smallholder farming systems in LMICs.

Initial agroecological results

Despite this, initial agroecological results were successfully derived with TAPE. The farms studied performed very well for the agroecological elements ‘responsible governance’ and ‘social values’, while there was still potential for improvement for other elements such as ‘efficiency’ and ‘recycling’. The efficiency index takes into account inter alia the use of external resources such as mineral fertilisers or pesticides, while recycling biomass and nutrients, saving water, buying-in seed and animals and renewable energies play a role in the recycling index.

Although no significant differences were observed between the regions (plain/hill/mountain) for the majority of agroecological elements, (certified) organic farms performed considerably better than non-organic farms for agroecology. With just eight organic farms and 13 non-organic farms, however, our sample is not representative of the Swiss agricultural sector as a whole.

New biodiversity index already incorporated in TAPE

The expansion of the tool to include unplanned biodiversity adds an important ecological dimension to the method that was not taken into consideration previously. The recently developed biodiversity index is based on the European BioBio method which also counts Agroscope among its developers. A comparison with the substantially more detailed and more time-consuming SALCA biodiversity method showed that the new index reliably measures unplanned biodiversity. The index has already been incorporated in the TAPE tool and is now freely available to other users.

The aims of TAPE (Tool for Agroecology Performance Evaluation):
To highlight the multidimensional performance of agroecology and its contribution to various sustainable development goals (SDGs);
To build knowledge and empower producers by enabling them to collect data jointly and to share their experiences with the help of TAPE;
To support agroecological transformation processes by analysing performances over time and identifying strong or weak areas as well as helpful or obstructive framework conditions.


  • TAPE was previously geared to smallholder farming systems in low- and middle-income countries. Major effort was required for data collection on Swiss farms, since recording pesticides, machinery and information on plant and animal products is a more complex endeavour in Switzerland, and hence also more time-consuming.
  • The performance of Swiss farms was best for the agroecological elements ‘responsible governance’ and ‘social values’. Other elements such as ‘efficiency’ or ‘recycling’ showed potential for improvement. These results should be validated in future with a larger sample.  
  • Agroscope has successfully developed and tested an index for unplanned biodiversity for the TAPE tool. The index has already been incorporated in TAPE.
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