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Agroecology for Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - AE4EU (Agroecology for Europe)

Reporting period: 2021-01-01 to 2022-06-30

The world is facing a large number of challenges - degradation of soils, water quality due to high nutrients concentrations and occurrence of pesticide residues impacting food quality and human health, biodiversity loss, high food loss during processing and storage, food waste and access to food - which many are strongly impacting agriculture, food production and food systems. The recent pandemic Covid19 crisis as well as the war in Ukraine has stressed even more clearly the necessity to promote a drastic change of agricultural and food systems in Europe. In this respect, agroecology is increasingly seen as an important pathway as it designs, develops and promotes the transition towards sustainable farming and food systems (Wezel et al. 2018a). In the last decade, the concept has gained increased recognition in the scientific, agricultural and political sphere (IAASTD, 2009; IPES-Food, 2016), and with the United Nations and FAO (De Schutter, 2010; FAO 2015, 2017; HLPE 2019), embracing agroecology as a science, a set of practices, as well as a social movement (Wezel et al. 2009).
Although a certain development of agroecology and its different facets in Europe can be stated (Nicot et al. 2018, Wezel et al. 2018b), it remains so far too limited to allow a successful transition to sustainable agriculture and food systems. Therefore, a strong development with ambitious and longer-term joint actions at European level is needed in research, innovation, training and education as well as in the funding domain. In order to foster and support the development of agroecology, the AE4EU aim to fulfil six key strategic objectives:
(i) Increase connections between relevant actors through the mapping of agroecology in Europe aiming to describe and analyse the different context, realities and state of development of agroecology. Different workshops involving various stakeholders (from funders to NGO) will be achieved as well as analysis aiming to connect relevant actors of initiatives, living labs, research infrastructures, funding schemes and policies with the final aim to build a European Agroecology Exchange Network of networks.
(ii) Develop skills and methods for developing research infrastructure and living labs. Via the assessment of agroecological living labs and research infrastructure at national and European level, the project will provide empirical evidence on how to successfully developed this type of initiative. This will provide the foundation to build tool boxes containing serviceable skills and tested methods facilitating the establishment, operation, monitoring and evaluation of agroecological living labs and research infrastructure.
(iii) Prepare funders for increased and complementary funding of agroecology through the analysis of public and private funding schemes to identify potential adaptation to enhance cooperation and coordination of funders.
(iv) Improve human and social capital with the set-up of a European Agroecology Exchange Network Hub as an online space to facilitate and foster exchange of knowledge at the European level.
(v) Improve capacity to tailor policy interventions to specific situations to enhance the understanding of current policy that could favour the development of agroecology and provide recommendations for future policies
(vi) Provide in the medium and long term for research, innovation projects, initiatives as well as enhanced knowledge and good practice. This will be achieved through the development of a road map and a European network of networks to accelerate the transition towards sustainable farming practices by promoting networking, connectivity and place-based innovation in a co-creative environment.
After 18 months the project has already achieved some of its targets and laid the foundation to achieve its goals. In particular, the mapping of agroecology in different European countries has started with several country reports written and different dissemination activities. Two online “mapping webinars” regarding Austria and Germany, as well as Greece and Italy were organize. An analysis of current and past agroecology-related research projects, and institutions working on agroecology was carried out, allowing to see how agroecology is understood and applied. It further allows to anticipate which role the actors involved play and could play in the future.
To analyse the existing public funding schemes, the AE4EU project developed a top-down - through the analysis of existing databases at the national and European level - and a bottom-up approach - with interviews of stakeholders linked with public funding scheme. This has provided some first insights regarding existing schemes and their evolution. According to the key role of public policies in the development of agroecology in Europe, a first analysis of existing policies link to it was achieved.
Living labs and research infrastructures are key instruments and can be important initiatives to foster the agroecological transition. The project has defined a grid of indicators that will be implemented and use to collect data on past and ongoing living labs and research infrastructure. In parallel, the project was involved in the development of three living labs in Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Territories could play also a key role for an agroecological transition with enhanced interaction among relevant actors at local and regional levels. First case studies of agroecology-territories have been described and analysed in Europe.
Different trainings - mainly for farmers - were already held, also to disseminate and exchange knowledge around the approach and implementation of agroecology. With similar goals as well as to increase connection among existing and future actors of agroecology, the project has set the basis of a future Hub for agroecology. Moreover, the development of a network of networks around agroecology has been discussed and co-created with stakeholders and networks at the European level. A draft road map for agroecology in Europe was sketched. Finally, two policy briefs have been disseminated to policy makers and other stakeholders at EU level.
Agroecology is gaining momentum in different European countries and at the European level for instance through the development of a European partnership on agroecology living labs and research infrastructures. Those dynamics reinforce the need to analyze the current state of agroecology in European countries, opportunities to foster its development, but also identify barriers and hindering forces. Toward this aim, AE4EU should play a key role by achieving different tasks such as the mapping of agroecology in different European countries and dissemination of results and outcome through webinars, open access publications, brochures, and policy briefs.
The agroecology knowledge and learning exchange hub will be an important tool and platform for efficient dissemination and connecting stakeholders. Moreover, the development of a road map, propositions to improved funding schemes and research programmes as well as the analyses of past and ongoing living labs and research infrastructures will provide the foundation to enhance the development of agroecology in Europe and facilitate its implementation and successful transition in different countries.

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