One of the best-defined paths towards sustainable agriculture and food production is organic farming. “Due to the lack of plant protection products and the use of a wider variety of crops, organic farming can improve soil health, decrease pollution and promote biodiversity, making it a sustainable alternative of choice in food production,” explains Ivana Trkulja, a CORE Organic coordinator at the International Centre for Research in Organic Food Systems. However, to truly reap the benefits of organic farming, it must be implemented at scale. “Together with individual organic farms, which is what we have, we need to build an ecosystem of organic agriculture,” says Trkulja. Helping to build such an ecosystem is the EU-funded project CORE Organic Cofund (Coordination of European Transnational Research in Organic Food and Farming Systems Cofund).
A proven track record
Established in 2004, CORE Organic is a network of European ministries and research councils dedicated to funding research in organic food and farming systems. “By joining forces across organisations and Member States, we are able to better support transnational research projects addressing some of the most important challenges along the organic value chain,” adds Trkulja. Over the past 18 years, the programme has held eight transnational calls and has provided EUR 61.9 million in funding to 62 research projects. These calls have involved researchers from all partner countries, including smaller countries and countries from eastern Europe. The calls have covered agroecology topics such as animal disease, cropping systems, mixed animal and plant production, animal feed, organic food processing, and circular and zero-waste food systems. “CORE Organic has a proven track record of building capacity and competency in organic research,” remarks Trkulja. “As a result of these funded projects, not only has Europe seen an increased interest in organic agriculture, it is also seen as a core enabler of a sustainable, climate-resilient and circular food system.” During the CORE Organic Cofund phase, the network launched three transnational research calls. Following an independent call in 2016, the network collaborated with the SUSFOOD2 Cofund to launch a 2019 call on sustainable and organic food systems. The integration of system thinking established by the 2019 call was further advanced by a 2021 call on organic farming systems for improved mixed plant and animal production. In total, the cofund phase involved 29 funding organisations from 21 countries/regions that supported 29 projects.
Achieving the targets of the Green Deal
Even with more than a decade-and-a-half of success under their belt, Trkulja says that CORE Organic is just getting started. “There are still challenges that need to be addressed, especially with the ambitious European Green Deal target of making 25 % the EU’s farmland organic by 2030.” To achieve this goal, CORE Organic Pleiades, the programme’s phase launched in September 2022 under the umbrella of the EU-funded OrganicTargets4EU project has its full focus on understanding the implications of the Green Deal’s organic farming targets. In the meantime, CORE Organic maintains its mission of coordinating the research investments needed to facilitate further innovation in the organic farming sector. “The CORE Organic network has provided a much-needed level of continuity,” concludes Trkulja. “This ensures that funding has a lasting impact and that the organic research community is well-positioned to address current and emerging challenges.”
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