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Digitalisation as an enabler of agroecological farming systems

 

Agroecology[[http://www.fao.org/3/i9037en/i9037en.pdf]] is a holistic approach that relies on and maximises the use of ecological processes to support agricultural production. By working more with nature and ecosystem services, it has the potential to increase farms’ circularity, diversification and autonomy, and drive a full transformation of farming systems and agricultural value chains, from input substitution and beyond. Agroecological farming systems therefore have great potential to enhance the sustainability performance of agriculture and agricultural value chains that contribute to the objectives of the EU farm to fork strategy. Compared to industrialised and most conventional agricultural production, agroecology brings a higher level of complexity to farming systems. Digital technologies and agricultural equipment can play a key role in improving the performance of agroecological approaches at farm and territorial level, and boosting their uptake by farmers, inter alia by supporting their decision-making on farming practices. These technologies, which include artificial intelligence, geo-spatial technology, advanced image analysis procedures, the internet of things (IoT), robotics and sensors, are available and can be applied to most farming approaches. However, agroecological farming systems are more likely to benefit from tailored digital technologies and technology portfolios that enable, for instance, ongoing monitoring of the transition of farming practices and their performance through databases of in-situ data, or support for farmers’ decision-making through the integration of the different elements of an agroecological farming system in a holistic, system-based approach. The cost-effectiveness and performance of these solutions need to be evaluated in order to ensure they contribute to the effectiveness and sustainability of agroecological systems and to farm and/or landscape management. Activities should contribute to road-mapping for the improved productivity and sustainability performance of agroecological farming systems by assessing the availability of digital, data-based solutions tailored to agroecological farming and the potential to adapt “standard” digital technologies used in agriculture to the specific requirements of agroecological approaches for farm and landscape management. Due attention should be paid to aspects relating to security in the use of data, interoperability and the extent to which farmers and other actors in the food chain accept and are able to use these solutions.

Proposals should ensure that any data produced in the course of the project comply with the FAIR principles. Proposals should build on the results of relevant projects funded under Horizon 2020 and ensure collaboration with projects funded under the following calls in this work programme: HORIZON-CL6-2021-CLIMATE-01-05: Agroecological approaches for climate change mitigation, resilient agricultural production and enhanced biodiversity and HORIZON-CL6-2022-FARM2FORK-02-01-two-stage: Agroecological approaches for sustainable weed management.

Proposals should evaluate the need for such tools, and their implementation capacity for different crops and farming systems in different pedo-climatic zones, taking account of local natural habitat types. Proposals must implement the 'multi-actor approach' and ensure adequate involvement of the farming sector.

Proposals should document specific needs for digital technologies to support agroecological farming approaches, at farm, territorial and regional / national level. Building on existing data bases of digital technologies for agricultural production, proposals should assess the availability of tools tailored to agroecological approaches and identify gaps and needs for the adaptation of existing technologies or the development of new, innovative solutions to serve the needs of agroecological farming systems. Proposals should evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the solutions proposed, and assess their potential performance in agroecological farming systems for different crops, farming systems, biogeographical regions and pedo-climatic conditions. Proposals should analyse barriers to and incentives for the uptake and effective deployment of these tools, including analysis of cost effectiveness, risks, usability and affordability for farmers, as well as social and cultural obstacles. Based on this information, proposals should compile an open repository of available digital tools to address the specific needs of agroecological farming systems, including organic, under different pedo-climatic conditions. In collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders, including farmers, the private and public sector as well as consumer representatives, proposals should develop a roadmap for R&I on digital technologies to support agroecology in the EU and Associated Countries.