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Coordination of European Transnational Research in Organic Food and Farming Systems

Final Report Summary - CORE ORGANIC II (Coordination of European Transnational Research in Organic Food and Farming Systems)

Executive Summary:

The ERA-NET CORE Organic II (COII) has fully achieved its objectives and technical goals. The main focus in the work performed has been to elaborate call text, publish calls, and evaluate, select, initiate and monitor research projects. The tree calls launched have a total volume of more than 14 Million Euro.

The ERA-NET built on the outcome of the first CORE Organic ERA-NET aiming at an effective and sustainable transnational research programme. It has identified common research priorities for the organic sector where a transnational approach will give added value. It has launched three transnational calls, initiated 14 research projects, organised project monitoring and transnational dissemination of results, has tested the funding model Real Common Pot (RCP), and has developed the components to continue the transnational research activities beyond the ERA-NET. Furthermore, COII has resulted in a strong and sustainable network of funding bodies.

Best practices and tools necessary for launching calls, selecting projects, monitoring the research projects, involvement of stakeholders and for dissemination of research results to stakeholders and end users have been established in COII. These good practices have already being shared and discussed with other stakeholders in e.g. the PLATFORM project, where COII plays a prominent role, and therefore might be of benefit to other ERA-NETs.

The existing legal, policy, administrative and project/programme barriers in the partner countries for taking part in a RCP call have been explored. A few countries are able to join the RCP at this point, and six of these countries tested the RCP funding model and initiated one research project. The main difference to the normal COII research project is that the centralised fund management mediates the funds to the project partners. The process has been described and is, together with the memorandum of understanding, publicly available for inspiration of other ERA-NETs.

Two research seminars were arranged to introduce the projects and their results to the wider public and for the research project coordinators to meet the funding bodies.

The research projects are progressing as planned and the first 11 projects initiated have just passed their mid-term evaluation. In Organic Eprints, an open source archive at www.orgprints.com all publications from the 14 COII projects can be found by browsing: Research affiliation (Country / Organization / Project), European Union, CORE Organic II. The project Authentic Food has the record with 22 e-prints, and in total there are currently 128 e-prints from the 14 projects (19/11-2013). The same procedure was used in CORE Organic I and 357 e-prints have been uploaded from the 8 pilot projects. The consistent use of Organic Eprint in the funded research projects, also for national directed publications, will help to increase the impact of the research performed.

Organic Eprints has been made Open Air compliant, which means that FP7 projects with the Open Access Pilot can fulfil their obligations for Open Access by depositing their publications in Organic Eprints. This facility is relevant for all FP7 projects in the area of organic food and farming.

Project Context and Objectives:
Organic agriculture and food markets have grown considerably in Europe in the last decade, nevertheless, organic farming and food systems still have a big potential for innovation and improved solutions. Organic agriculture addresses important challenges of European agriculture, such as sustainable production of high quality food, reducing dependency on high energy inputs, improving environmental and nature conservation, climate change adaptation, animal welfare and rural livelihoods.

Organic research is a rather small research area in the individual European countries, and therefore tends to be fragmented. By making transnational calls the research will be less fragmented. A transnational approach in organic research will allow initiation of research on topics of common interest and will benefit from the diversity of conditions and practices in the countries involved. In particular, some specific areas of organic farming and food would be better addressed by a transnational approach due to their transboundary nature and general importance, as for example climate change, genetic improvement of plants and livestock, regulatory and trade aspects.

The way organic agriculture copes with trade-offs between society, consumers and farmers is a model for sustainable solutions. However, organic farming and food systems still have a big potential for innovation and improved solutions to cope with issues such as climate change adaptation, improved energy and resource use, animal health and welfare, food safety and quality, food security, social aspects and the trust of the consumers in organic products. Therefore, research activities will definitely become more important in the next decades. As multifunctionality is emphasised in organic agriculture, research programmes should become more interdisciplinary and transnational, and at the same time actively integrate stakeholders.

The EU currently has the leading role globally in organic research. However, there is a need to strengthen the partnership between Member States, associated countries and the European Community, so that coordination of transnational research in organic farming and food systems will address the EU Commission’s concern for improved coordination of research efforts in a long term perspective and create a less fragmented research area in this fast growing sector. Increasing the transnational cooperation will therefore reinforce Europe’s leading status and excellence in organic research, increase coherence across Europe and improve the overall impact of research on the development of the organic sector.

To establish transnationally-funded research for organic farming and food systems at the EU level, an FP6 ERA-NET, Coordination of European Transnational Research in Organic Food and Farming (CORE Organic I or COI) was established in 2004 by 11 European partner countries. The 11 partner countries recognised the benefit of transnational collaboration for organic research and decided to continue and expand the collaboration. They formed the CORE Organic “Funding Body Network” in order to monitor and evaluate the eight COI research projects, to broaden the collaboration and to pursue efforts towards a long-term collaboration in organic research. The Funding Body Network expanded from 11 to 21 countries. The second phase of CORE Organic, COII, with 26 partners had the main strategic objective to enhance the quality, relevance and utilisation of resources in research in organic farming and food systems in Europe, and to contribute to the development and integrity of the organic sector by making joint transnational calls, selecting and initiating research projects, and establishing the framework for a long-term collaboration between the partner countries.

Some general objectives of COII through its different components were:
• to launch transnational calls;
• to strengthen the leading role of the EU in organic research in building up a less fragmented research area by consolidating a strong network of Member States and associated countries able to confirm the role of European organic research on the global map;
• to give momentum to long-term transnational collaboration for organic research between the partners and secure the effective continuation of the collaboration beyond the ERA NET, by putting in place the structures and models for lasting collaboration and transnational research beyond CORE Organic II;
• to ensure the involvement of stakeholders and dissemination of research results, and to promote circulation of knowledge (not only in Europe but also at the global level);
• to refine, develop and deliver best practices and tools for organising and conducting transnational research in organic farming and food systems.

Project Results:
The project has fully achieved its objectives and technical goals for the project. The main focus in the work performed has been to elaborate call text, publish calls, and evaluate, select and initiate research projects.

The identification and selection of thematic research areas for the calls were based on priorities by the partners, innovation aspects and research activities in other European research projects. The process of selection and prioritization for the thematic research areas of the first two calls has been described and the experiences published (http://www.coreorganic2.org/Upload/CoreOrganic2/Document/D2_2_topics_final.pdf).

COII launched the first call in September 2010 in a two-step procedure, 59 pre-proposals were received and the call boards selected 25 project consortia, inviting them to submit a full proposal. At this stage conditions were given to some consortia and partners were asked to be taken out or countries added if possible. The full proposals were evaluated by scientific expert panels who agreed on the recommendation for funding of 9 cropping systems projects, 4 monogastric production projects and 4 quality projects. The Call Board selected 11 projects to be funded. The original budget for the call was 7.9 million Euros, however, there were many good project proposals and the partners were able to increase the funding to 9.1 million Euros. The distribution is: 6.7 million Euros for 6 cropping projects, 3.8 million Euros for 3 monogastric projects and 2.2 million Euros for 2 quality projects. Partners decided to allocate 1.2 million more funds into the virtual common pot than committed on forehand, which illustrates that transnational cooperation is of big interest to our partners and the project proposals were of very high quality.

The second call was prepared in 2011. The research priorities made for the first call were updated by the partners. The thematic research areas having highest priorities were selected by the Governing Board, and Call Boards finalised the call texts. The call was launched 3 October 2011. On 16 January 10 pre-proposals were submitted and the Call Board invited 8 out of these to apply for a full proposal. The full proposals were evaluated by scientific expert panels, who recommended 7 projects for funding – 3 within the thematic area “Organic Markets” and 4 within the thematic area “Plant Breeding”. The budget allocated for the 2nd call was about 4.9 million Euros, and the funding bodies agreed to fund two projects, one for each thematic area. Both projects are very large, spanning nearly all countries of the call, and requested 1.5 and 2.9M euro, respectively. Concerning the proposal submitted within the thematic area of organic market two funding bodies raised their national budget to comply with the needs of the respective project partners. The selected projects involved nearly all funding bodies and asked for almost the whole budget allocated for this call. In the project COBRA also countries not involved in COII participated by in kind contribution. This again shows the high interest in organic farming and in the possibility to join forces for common research.

Funding by the real common pot (RCP) would be a way to ensure funding of transnational research of the highest quality and with a lower administrative burden for the researchers. The existing legal, policy, administrative and project/programme barriers in the partner countries were explored in COII. Six countries (AT, DK, DE, NO, CH, UK) were able to and interested in joining a third call as an RCP call. After the decision on the thematic research area, “sustainable and efficient management of phosphorus and use of secondary fertilizers within organic agriculture”, a full set of signed agreements consisting of a memorandum of understanding with the following annexes was agreed on before the call was launched: Initial RCP Management Board (MB) membership, Call announcement, Guideline for applicants, terms and conditions of contract between fund manager and research coordinator, guideline on impartiality, and contracts between fund manager and RCP partners. The call had a budget of 0.86M Euro and resulted in one application with partners from all six countries. The expert evaluation recommended the project for funding and it was evaluated as relevant for the sector by the funding bodies, therefore it was selected for funding. The process including the Memorandum of Understanding has been described in a publicly available deliverable (http://www.coreorganic2.org/Upload/CoreOrganic2/Document/D_6_3_RCP_final_rev.pdf) to be used by other ERA-NETs with an interest in RCP calls. The RCP MB continues to function and will meet by web conference to monitor the project. As a pilot test, the project will have an expert evaluation of the progress annually. Apart from funding a high quality project, the process of implementing the RCP pilot call was a successful challenge for the funding bodies.

All in all 14 projects have been initiated. All projects have been provided with a web site for dissemination at www.coreorganic2.org. More details on the projects and direct links for the web sites and publications are available in an overview table (http://www.coreorganic2.org/Upload/CoreOrganic2/Document/Research_initiated_in_COII.pdf). Annually, the projects are asked to update their website with new results. In addition, leaflets for all projects have been prepared and can be found at the individual project websites. Via an annex to the national contracts between the funding body and each researcher, the researchers are obliged to upload all publications from the project to Organic Eprints, an open access archive, including conference abstracts, news articles and so called ‘grey literature’. In table 1 there is a link to the publications uploaded by each project in relation to the project, and these links are at their websites as well. At www.orgprints.com all COII projects can be found by browsing: Research affiliation (Country / Organization / Project), European Union, CORE Organic II. Authentic Food has the record with 22 e-prints, and in total there are 128 e-prints from the 14 projects (19/11-2013). The same procedure was used in CORE Organic I and 357 e-prints have been uploaded from the 8 pilot projects.

Two research seminars for the research project coordinators have been arranged. The first seminar was arranged when the projects of the first COII call had started, and also the COI project coordinators were invited to show the results of their projects. An article about the first research seminar is available here: http://www.coreorganic2.org/Upload/CoreOrganic2/Document/CO_seminar_2011_newsletter.pdf . The second seminar was arranged at mid-term for the first call projects and at start of the 2nd and 3rd call projects. An short news about the second research seminar is available here: http://www.coreorganic2.org/Upload/CoreOrganic2/Document/COII_seminar_2013_news.pdf.

The possibility of a shared call with other ERA-NETs was considered and discussions of a shared call has taken place with JPI FACCE, BiodivERsA, SNOWMAN, ICT-AGRI and RURAGRI, but for practical reasons the discussions did not result in any shared calls. The CORE Organic coordinator has, as a part of the PLATFORM project, identified possibilities for a direct collaboration with the following ERA-NETs: ANIHWA, ARIMNet, BiodivERsA2, ERA-ARD-II, ERA-CAPS (ERA-PG), ICT-AGRI, RURAGRI, SUSFOOD and SNOWMAN.
Stakeholder involvement at national level for research prioritisation has been explored in the partner countries of COII. Based on the collected information and a literature review, suggestions were made for countries in the process of developing a good practice for stakeholder involvement. Also, a plan of action for transnational stakeholder involvement in relation to COII activities has been performed. A screening of transnational organizations, platforms and networks showed that TP Organics is the most important transnational stakeholders for COII to collaborate with. By sending observers to each other’s’ meeting, keeping each other informed and involved in their activities, the first steps are taken in joining forces in transnational Organic Food and Farming (OFF) research. The COII has used the TP Organics key documents: the Research Vision 2025, the Strategic Research Agenda and the Implementation Action Plan for inspiration in prioritising thematic research areas. In the future, CORE Organic will collaborate closer with TP Organics, and receive assistance in arranging events with researchers (brokerage event and research seminars) and evaluating the impact of the research.

Monitoring and evaluation of the funded research projects are tasks that go beyond the lifetime of the ERA-NET. The experiences gained from monitoring and evaluation of the COI pilot projects, the needs and requirements from the new partner countries have been collected, and together with recommendations from ERA-LEARN has formed the basis of a model to organise efficient and transparent project monitoring of COII projects. Milestone and deliverable lists have been prepared and used in the call templates and thus are integrated into the research projects. Recommendations for call dissemination have been collected and communicated to the applicants. Requirements for monitoring research projects have been developed for COII, and adopted by the GB, based on as survey of all partner countries experiences and own national monitoring. For the research projects, templates for annual abstracts, mid-term and final reports have been prepared, as well as evaluation forms. At the end of CORE Organic II, most of the 1st call projects had submitted their mid-term report for evaluation, and the evaluation process was planned.

To improve the use of Organic Eprints, the National Editor group has been expanded. A meeting with old and new national editors including training sessions for new editors has been performed. After the meeting, the archive has been improved with some of the facilities suggested at the meeting, although not all have been implemented yet. The editors group has increased from 11 to 22 country editors.

COII ensured the transition between the model call and pilot projects of CORE Organic I and a stable long-term collaboration for launching regular transnational calls, conducting organic research projects and disseminating their results. It took account of the experience of, and synergies with, other ERA-NETs, and of initiatives such as ERALEARN and NETWATCH. Collaboration with relevant ERA-NETs, especially within KBBE, was an important component in the period of COII. The coordinator was actively contributing to the work within the PLATFORM project by being task leader of Task 3.1: Good practices for ERA-NET activities and Task 3.3 Masterclass. This work resulted in a dedicated event on call management bringing together ERA-NET call officers, most of them with 2-8 years of experience in transnational call management. Prior to the event a survey among bioeconomy relevant ERA-NETs had been conducted to get a picture of the differences and similarities in the way the ERA-NETs work, and help to identify areas to discuss. In this master class, organised by the WP3 of PLATFORM on June 17-18, 2013 in Brussels, practices for different aspects of the call cycle were presented and the factors required for proper call management were discussed. This expert-driven process resulted in a high level of agreement and a set of recommendations for call organisation, proposal evaluation and ranking, project selection and funding, and monitoring. CO Plus and the other future KBBE ERA-NETs will base their work on these recommendations.

The challenge to secure funding for a continuation of the collaboration has been explored. Some countries are not able to finance their own travels and work performed in connection to meetings and the calls. In addition, a long-term self-sustained continuation implies that the partners will have to fund a secretariat to take care of coordination, calls, proposals and projects, including monitoring of funded project progress and dissemination efforts. In addition, partners will have to meet physically regularly to prioritise research and select projects for funding. Experiences from the existing self-sustained ERA-NETs show that they all had a considerable decrease in the number of countries participating compared to the consortium when the ERA-NET was funded by the EC. The partners concluded that the results of becoming a self-sustainable ERA-NET would most likely be that CORE Organic would not be successful in developing the European Research Area of organic farming and food systems involving all interested European countries as in current calls.

The best tools in disseminating the research results to the end users were examined, appropriate ways for disseminating organic research results to stakeholders and end users on a national and transnational level were identified. In addition, a network of dissemination channels in 18 of the 21 countries was established. The main recommendation was to expand Organic Eprint to also be directed to extension services, or to create a similar tool for collecting results directed to the extension services, preferable with a translation interface.
Organic Eprints, an international open access archive for papers related to research in organic agriculture, has been developed further in COII, and has been made Open Air compliant, which means that FP7 projects with the Open Access Pilot can fulfil their obligations for Open Access by depositing their publications in Organic Eprints. Thereby, the archive will be even more relevant for all researchers. Nineteen of the partner countries have appointed a National Editor of Organic Eprints that will help to increase the national use of the archive in the partner countries.

The use of these two dissemination instruments will ensure that the results of research projects are widely available to the stakeholders and end users concerned, and that they are effectively used to the benefit of the organic sector and European society.

Potential Impact:
The expected impact of COII in Europe are that its leading status and excellence in organic research will be reinforced, the European research area on organic agriculture will be enhanced, the efficiency in use of organic research funds (partly by reducing any redundancy between EU and national funding) will be increased and the impact of research on the organic sector’s development (by ensuring better use of limited resources for research and thus achieving critical mass) will be improved. CO will involve the technology platform “TP Organics” and national stakeholders, as identified in the mapping performed on dissemination channels, in spreading the results of the initiated research projects, not only in the funding countries, but in all countries in the network.

The 14 research projects initiated in COII on topics identified as common priorities will allow the sector to better meet the demand for organic food and products and at the same time further develop the practices in accordance with the organic principles. This will contribute to sustainable development in food production and improve the general competitiveness of the European agriculture and present new and innovative solutions to environmentally friendly agriculture with a high level of animal health and welfare.

The coordination and joint formulation of research needs based on complementary viewpoints, also covering East European conditions, has ensured the focus on the most pertinent challenges and potentials for further development of the organic sector vis-à-vis the industry’s needs and the way it contributes to societal goals.

COII has strengthened the leading role of the EU in organic research and enhanced the European research area on organic agriculture together with the organic research projects funded by the EU under FP6 and FP7. COII has increased the efficiency of research funding by reducing duplication and fragmentation of research and innovation in areas where transnational efforts are relevant and where results may be applied across regions and member states.

COII has efficiently select and support consortiums of researchers, SME’s, industry and other stakeholders with complementary competencies and best available methods and facilities to enable high class research with relevance and innovative approaches to industry development. An effective monitoring of the initiated research projects and support for the coordination in case of complications within funded consortia are increasing the research projects potential for success.

The CO will contribute to the sustainable development in food production and improve the general competitive ability of the European agricultural sector by improving high value food production based on sound agro-ecological methods, which build on and preserve biodiversity and cultural landscapes and animal-friendly husbandry practices, which reduce the use of anti-microbials. This is in line with the 3rd SCAR Foresight Exercise and represents a critical case within the so-called food sufficiency narrative. This narrative addresses the needs for reconciliation between food production and natural resource preservation and it advocates the integration of food choices and diets as part of the development of food and agricultural systems. Organic agriculture can be seen as one – and not the only - approach to developing food systems in line with the sufficiency narrative.

The initiated research projects will eventually allow the organic sector to better answer to the demand for organic food and products, while at the same time improve the organic production methods vis-à-vis the principles as laid out in the Council regulation such as, respecting nature's systems and cycles and sustaining the health of soil, water, plants and animals and the balance between them; contributing to a high level of biological diversity; the maintenance of plant health by preventative measures; the maintenance of animal health by encouraging the natural immunological defence of the animal; and meeting animals' species-specific behavioural needs.

Thus, through the funding of research focusing on the common challenges and potentials for the organic sector, CO contributes to the overall societal goal of providing innovative solutions for food systems which demonstrate synergies between food security, food quality, animal welfare, natural resource management, climate change adaptation in addition to green growth and rural development. The results of the research will also provide better inputs for evidence-based policy making in terms of improving the organic sector and its regulation and in terms of providing critical examples and ideas for general improvement of agriculture and food systems as a part of providing solutions under the sufficiency narrative.

List of Websites:

www.coreorganic2.org

Project manager Ulla Sonne Bertelsen, ulla.bertelsen@icrofs.org +45 87157716