University of Oulu

Bishal Dahal, Tamara Avellán, Ali Torabi Haghighi, Bjørn Kløve; Defining sustainability in agricultural water management using a Delphi survey technique. Water Policy 1 June 2023; 25 (6): 597–621. doi:

Defining sustainability in agricultural water management using a Delphi survey technique

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Author: Dahal, Bishal1; Avellán, Tamara1; Torabi Haghighi, Ali1;
Organizations: 1Water, Energy, and Environmental Engineering Research Unit, University of Oulu, PO Box 4300, Oulu FIN90014, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.9 MB)
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Language: English
Published: IWA Publishing, 2023
Publish Date: 2023-09-11


Sustainable water management measures are being developed to address the challenges posed by agriculture runoff and leaching on water resources. These measures are based on experts’ opinions from various sectors and disciplines, ensuring that all stakeholders’ perspectives are considered. For this, establishing a common understanding of ’sustainability’ is essential to avoid misunderstandings, conflicts, and operational challenges. In this research, the Delphi survey technique was utilized to develop a definition of ’sustainability’ in agricultural water management (SAWM) by considering the interdisciplinary group of experts from different parts of the world and those involved in a Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Action. Twenty-six experts’ perspectives on environmental, economic, and social dimensions of sustainability were assessed, and identified key concepts included climate change, water quality, water availability, stakeholder participation, capacity building, subsidies, and incentives. These concepts were used to define sustainability for multi/interdisciplinary project settings. The definition was validated with consortium members of the project in the regular consortium-wide meetings and used in the respective deliverables dealing with sustainability. The results serve as a foundation for communication between the involved actors and the project’s definition of ’sustainability.’ One recommendation from this work for broader policy formulation for SAWM in Europe is to prioritize farmer needs and focus on environmental sustainability.

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Series: Water policy
ISSN: 1366-7017
ISSN-E: 1996-9759
ISSN-L: 1366-7017
Volume: 25
Issue: 6
Pages: 597 - 621
DOI: 10.2166/wp.2023.057
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1171 Geosciences
1172 Environmental sciences
Funding: This research work was supported by WATERAGRI, a European Union Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 858375. One of the authors is also associated with WATERLINE project funded from the European Union's Horizon Europe HORIZON-WIDERA-2021-ACCESS-05 under grant agreement No 101071306.
Copyright information: © 2023 The Authors. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC BY 4.0), which permits copying, adaptation and redistribution, provided the original work is properly cited (