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Strengthening the European agro-ecological research and innovation ecosystem

Proposals shall develop the framework for a European network of agro-ecological living labs (LL) and research infrastructures (RI). Such a framework should make it possible to grasp long-term agro-ecological processes at landscape level and would accelerate the transition to sustainable farming practices by promoting place-based innovation in a co-creative environment. Proposals shall map existing European RI, LL and similar research or open innovation activities that contribute to knowledge creation and further deployment in practice of agro-ecological production processes. They should build on the work of past and ongoing RI and LL initiatives, in and outside of the agricultural domain, and analyse how to develop relevant approaches for agro-ecological production systems. Proposals should take into account the results of national and regional projects, networks or LL launched under Horizon 2020 and previous European research and innovation framework programmes and RI related to agro-ecosystems. They should describe in detail the functioning of these initiatives and their existing capacities. They should analyse the potential to create new initiatives as well as the various methods and approaches followed, and identify potential synergies and trade-offs between RI and LL in order to propose a common set of activities to connect them. Proposals should also analyse how various stakeholders (such as farmers, up- and down-stream businesses, consumers and citizens) are engaged in these initiatives and make recommendations regarding their engagement in future initiatives. Knowledge and data management issues will be taken into consideration in particular to enable comparison and exchanges at European level.

Proposals should analyse how existing funding sources (including Horizon 2020, rural and regional development funds) are mobilised to support agro-ecological research and innovation initiatives approaches.

They should explore the interest of regional and national funders in supporting such activities in the long run and provide recommendations on the funding sources that could be combined and under which conditions (e.g. application requirements, monitoring and evaluation), looking for synergies and coherence. Proposals shall identify needs for training on LL/RI methods. They should prepare a training package matching the needs of various actors and pilot training activities for potential actors to be involved in future activities.

Involvement of Member States’ authorities is encouraged in order to ensure a strategic and long-term approach, along with a broad coverage of Europe. Transdisciplinary and integration of SSH and RRI are also encouraged. The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU up to EUR 2 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

To meet increasing societal requirements as well as food insecurity challenges, agriculture must address the environmental and climate change issues relating to primary production. By using ecosystem services, agroecology – defined as the study of ecological processes applied to agricultural production systems – can strengthen the sustainability and resilience of farming and land use systems, including through agricultural practices that contribute to climate change mitigation. Agro-ecological production practices are site-specific, complex and long to setup. They must be implemented on a significant proportion of farms to have a tangible impact on the environment. In addition to the spatial and temporal scales, the human and social factors also need to be taken into consideration to develop a coherent and integrated approach. Speeding-up the agro-ecological transition requires a strengthening of research infrastructures and open innovation initiatives, such as living labs, with the potential to trigger large-scale change. There is a need for mechanisms that can help sustain research infrastructures and approaches that deliver site-specific knowledge and solutions in the long term and at the relevant landscape level. Individual European research projects can contribute to launching facilities or networks but can neither sustain them in the long-run nor integrate them in bottom-up grassroots initiatives in specific territories. A successful transition to agro-ecology, as a climate friendly production system, requires the development of an ambitious and longer-term joint action at European level involving European, national and regional funders.

This topic aims at mapping, analysing and providing recommendations to strengthen the European agro-ecological research and innovation ecosystem. In the short term, the project should:

  • provide a structured framework for the development of an initiative that develops synergies in this area at European level;
  • increase connections in the agro-ecological community and, if mature, prepare the community for the implementation of this initiative;
  • prepare the funders and raise their capacity to mobilise complementary funding sources;
  • improve the human and social capital as well as skills and methods for the development of living labs and research infrastructures in the field of agro-ecology;
  • improve capacity to tailor policy interventions to specific situations based on stronger evidence.

In the medium/long term, the project should provide for research and innovation projects and initiatives to benefit from the work of the network in terms of engagement of the relevant actors as well as availability of long-term-series and landscape level data regarding agro-ecological processes.