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Innovative agri-food value chains: boosting sustainability-oriented competitiveness

Building on the state of the art, the proposals shall map and assess existing innovations, and (re)design and pilot innovative systemic approaches to agri-food value chains that unlock their full potential to achieve economic, social and environmental sustainability and foster cooperation, notably involving farmers. The innovative approaches to agri-food value chains should combine diverse forms of innovation, for instance, technological, social, organisational, managerial and institutional, etc.

Activities shall assess and validate the benefits of pilot activities for actors involved with a view to promote them as examples of best practice. Proposals shall apply comprehensive methods, quantitative and qualitative, to assess and benchmark economic, environmental and social performance of the innovative approaches along entire agri-food value chains. Particular attention should be paid to the potential of the innovative agri-food value chains to reduce trade-offs and to boost synergies between the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainability as well as to the fair distribution of costs, benefits and risks among all actors involved in the agri-food value chains. Activities should scrutinize factors enabling and hindering innovative approaches. Recommendations, best practice guidelines and toolkits for promising innovative approaches to agri-food value chains shall be developed and disseminated to reach broad audiences likely to take up and adapt the identified innovative approaches to agri-food value chains.

Proposals shall fall under the concept of the 'multi-actor approach'[[See definition of the 'multi-actor approach' in the introduction to this Work Programme part]], engaging relevant actors (including those traditionally less involved in research and innovation), such as farmers and farmers’ organizations, input and food industry, in particular SMEs, traders and distributors, food related services, consumers, environmental and social non-governmental organisations as well as public authorities, in collaboration on redesigning the agri-food value chains towards common sustainability objectives.

To maximize impact across Europe and to ensure wide dissemination of the project results, proposals should foresee a dedicated work package for cooperation with other selected projects under topic RUR-06-2020 and earmark appropriate resources. Cooperation with other selected projects under topic RUR-07-2020 is encouraged.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of up to EUR 7 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Food systems face many interlinked challenges, which jeopardise their sustainability, such as changing climate conditions, deteriorating natural resources, increasing power imbalances in the agri-food value chain, changing demographics and dietary habits. Although the stages of the agri-food value chain are strongly interconnected, the design processes of solutions to improve their sustainability are still mostly managed separately. Such an approach is often ineffective, as it can lock in the system, blocking much needed radical innovations, and/or generate unintended consequences elsewhere. Therefore, the complexity and persistence of the sustainability challenges underline an urgent need for innovative systemic approaches to redesign agri-food value chains, with a view to unlock their full potential to deliver economic, environmental and social benefits while also addressing power imbalances between farmers and other operators. This implies that different actors across the agri-food value chains need to cooperate with each other on innovative integrated approaches to produce and distribute enough affordable nutritious food for all in a sustainable way. Such co-created innovative designs of agri-food value chains are emerging. Not all innovative strategies are, however, equally sustainable. There is a need to identify such innovative integrated approaches, assess them against sustainability criteria, elicit those with the highest potential to address sustainability challenges across a variety of agri-food sectors and demonstrate their benefits to serve as examples of best practice. There is also a need to understand the structure and behavioural incentives inherent in agri-food value chains, how these affect sustainability and innovation in practice, and what kind of adjustments would be desirable to facilitate good practice at a systemic level, in order to contextualise and understand the replicability of the best practices identified.

The innovation action will result in:

  • long-term, win-win economic relationships between actors from agri-food chains which effectively collaborate towards common sustainability objectives;
  • better understanding and fairer distribution of costs, benefits and risks amongst the actors involved in the innovative agri-food chains which are piloted, tested and demonstrated;
  • a portfolio of innovative sustainable business models well-functioning in operational environment;
  • strengthened farmers' position in agri-food value chains through innovative approaches that enhance transparency, information flow and management capacity;
  • enhanced positive socio-economic and environmental impacts of agri-food value chains.

In the long term, the innovations action will contribute to more competitive, efficient, resilient, sustainable and better performing agri-food value chains.