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Low-Input Farming and Territories - Integrating knowledge for improving ecosystem-based farming

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - LIFT (Low-Input Farming and Territories - Integrating knowledge for improving ecosystem-based farming)

Periodo di rendicontazione: 2021-05-01 al 2022-04-30

Ecological approaches to farming practices are gaining interest across Europe. As this interest grows there is a pressing need to assess the potential contributions these practices may make, the contexts in which they function and their attractiveness to farmers as potential adopters. The overall goal of the LIFT project was to identify the potential benefits of the adoption of ecological farming in the EU, and to understand how socio-economic and policy factors impact the adoption, performance and sustainability of ecological farming at various scales, from the level of the single farm to that of a territory.
Based on numerous analyses targeting different issues and levels, a mix of methodologies, secondary and primary data, a strong involvement of stakeholders, and open access tools, the research activities carried out in the LIFT project showed that there is a strong potential to develop ecological farming on a large scale in Europe, and highlighted several key areas to be addressed by policies and future research. In particular, policy should provide larger flexibility to adjust measures promoting ecological approaches to the regional context and to best support farmers to adapt to new conditions. Ecological farming practices likely increase on-farm labour needs and can negatively impact the economic performance of farms, and therefore higher incentives to farmers to maintain economic returns are needed. Interactions with stakeholders are crucial for higher acceptance of “greening” the European policies, and those interactions need to be mutual. Further research and further development of data bases are also needed to realise a broad adoption of ecological agriculture in Europe.
A farm typology of ecological farm types was developed, made by the combination of main archetypical farming approaches, associated with main agroecological principles (Rega et al., 2021). The five ecological farming approaches in the LIFT typology are: conservation agriculture; low-input farming; integrated/circular farming; organic farming; agroecological farming. Farmers who do not perform well with respect to any of the identified principles are grouped under the standard farming label. A protocol was elaborated to classify farms using the EU Farm Accountancy Data Network (FADN). The free user-friendly LIFT typology-tool allows an easy application of the LIFT typology and, additionally, enables comparing the multi-performance of any given farm with those of a defined peer group.
Farmer decision-making towards uptake of ecological practices was investigated based on farmers’ interviews and data from the specific LIFT large-scale farmer survey that was administered to over 1,600 farmers across 13 European countries. Findings show that decision-making towards uptake of ecological practices is complex and shaped by internal forces (ecological perceptions of farmers) as well as external forces (supply chain) (Barnes et al., 2021). The free user-friendly LIFT adoption-tool enables users to input farm data to obtain the likelihood of that farm being an adopter of ecological practices.
Four dimensions of farm-level performance, namely technical-economic, social (working conditions), environmental, as well as employment-related performance, have been assessed and compared along the gradient of ecological approaches implemented on farms, using FADN and the LIFT large-scale farmer survey (Davidova et al., 2021; Hostiou et al., 2021; Niedermayr et al., 2021 and 2022; Van Ruymbeke, Dakpo et al., 2021). In addition to assessment of performance dimensions separately, an indicator system integrating all four dimensions was developed. It allows to depict whether ecological farms have different trade-offs and synergies than farms in the standard farming type. Results show that positive environmental effects, but mixed (context-specific) effects on the three other performance dimensions, are to be expected from an increasing uptake of ecological approaches in the EU.
Territorial sustainability was investigated in terms of socio-economic and environmental effects of ecological approaches to farming, using participatory approaches and stakeholders’ engagement (Bailey et al., 2021; Matthews et al., 2022; Van Ruymbeke, Zanni et al., 2021). A higher adoption of ecological farming approaches on territories is expected to lead to an increase in skill level and in sharing of capital and labour. As for the environmental impact of ecological farm management practices, it is context-specific and depends on local ecosystem service demand. Generally, territorial sustainability is strongest when the ecological farming adoption rate is high and when adoption is clustered.
A multi-scale sustainability assessment framework was then developed, in which findings from farm-level performance and territorial sustainability assessment were combined through multi-criteria analysis and stakeholders’ expertise (Van Ruymbeke et al., 2022). This revealed the linkages and compromises between farm and territorial level performance of farming systems across economic, social and environmental sustainability. Results show that higher sustainability is attained for combinations of two or more ecological farming approaches among the five ones listed above.
The role of past, current and potential novel policies, as well as private arrangements was assessed through a range of methodologies - from discourse analysis to impact evaluation (Legras et al., 2021; Védrine et al., 2021). Findings show that result-based payments are not more efficient than practice-based payments and that there is a large heterogeneity in farmers’ willingness to participate in collective-based schemes. The main policy recommendation is for larger flexibility under a common EU wide framework to adjust measures promoting ecological approaches to the regional context.
Intense interactions with stakeholders confirmed the importance of co-creation of knowledge (Latruffe et al., 2022). The transfer of findings to stakeholders was done through academic reports and articles, policy brief, EU-wide webinars, local dissemination in national languages, and Ecological Fact Sheets summarising key facts of ecological farming in LIFT case study areas. In addition, a free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) was developed, allowing stakeholders to learn about ecological approaches to farming and exchange opinions.

References: see
Free LIFT MOOC with LIFT typology-tool and LIFT adoption-tool:
The framework of multi-scale sustainability assessment is the first framework based on stakeholders’ expertise that allows assess linkages and compromises between farm and territorial level performance of farming systems across sustainability dimensions. The final output is a case study-specific indicator representing the sustainability performance of a farming system respective to the other considered farming systems. The framework is highly flexible and easy to adopt by interested parties outside of the LIFT project.
Two free knowledge-based tools are available: the LIFT typology-tool, allowing users to assign farms to ecological types and assess their multi-performance; and the LIFT adoption-tool, allowing users to predict adoption rates of ecological farming in an area. In addition, LIFT findings and methods are disseminated through a specific MOOC.