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Understanding and improving the sustainability of agro-ecological farming systems in the EU

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - UNISECO (Understanding and improving the sustainability of agro-ecological farming systems in the EU)

Période du rapport: 2019-11-01 au 2021-04-30

The challenges of producing enough food and biomass while preserving soil, water and biodiversity cannot be solved only by dominant types of conventional agriculture, and that agro-ecological approaches and eco-functional intensification are fundamental for sustainable food production in the future. However, despite significant efforts by national governments, international agencies and NGOs, the provision of public goods together with private goods is still not in balance and frequently not sustainable at a farm or farm systems level. The key dilemma is how to produce sufficient public goods whilst having viable production of private goods securing economic and social sustainability at a farm level, which is not dependent on public funds. This dilemma has specific characteristics in different farm systems.
The ambition of UNISECO was to tackle the challenges of producing public and private goods using agro-ecological approaches. Using Multi-Actor Platforms it aimed to strengthen the sustainability of EU farming systems through co-constructing practice-validated strategies and incentives for promoting agro-ecological approaches. It enhanced the understanding of socio-economic and policy drivers and barriers for development and implementation of agro-ecological approaches, cognisant of roles of different types of actors. Its methodological toolkit enabled assessments of environmental, economic and social impacts of innovative strategies and incentives at farm and territorial levels.
In the final reporting period the UNISECO project has:
- Assessed the use of a Social-Ecological Systems framework for sustainability assessments of agro-ecological farming systems based on a survey of project partners, and a workshop with the EU level Multi-Actor Platform (MAP) and Stakeholder Reference Group (SRG) from which lessons learnt and recommendations were derived (D2.3 https://uniseco-project.eu/resources).
- Assessed the transdisciplinary tools and methods, and quality of engagement, for events with the MAPs (D7.3 https://uniseco-project.eu/resources).
- Completed an analysis of barriers and drivers of agro-ecological transitions which has improved the understanding of how these barriers and drivers can be addressed in transition strategies co-constructed with the MAPs in 15 case studies (D3.4 D3.6 D5.3 https://uniseco-project.eu/resources).
- Completed participatory assessments of sustainability trade-offs and synergies of agro-ecological practices, co-developed with the case study MAPs, on farms covering a wide range of key European farming systems, using the decision support tools SMART, Cool Farm Tool and COMPAS (D3.5 https://uniseco-project.eu/resources).
- Created a database of the agriculture and food system scenarios published on Zenodo. The database includes sub-national data on agricultural production and consumption, land use, greenhouse gas emissions from livestock and agricultural activities, etc. for the base year 2012 and the scenario years 2030 and 2050. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4972857
- Assessed territorial sustainability impacts of agro-ecological practices in the context of the future food systems scenarios co-developed with the SRG and EU level MAP. Agro-ecological practices, ranging from plot to whole food-system level, have been assessed in biophysical mass-flow models and a partial equilibrium model (D4.2 D4.3; https://uniseco-project.eu/resources).
- Assessed the effectiveness and practical feasibility of market and policy incentives in addressing the barriers and drivers of agro-ecological using participatory multi-criteria analysis and qualitative analysis (D5.4; https://uniseco-project.eu/resources).
- Published recommendations for practice and policy in a total of 22 policy briefs, 14 issue briefs, 7 methodological briefs and 17 EIP Agri practice abstracts (D6.4 D6.5 https://uniseco-project.eu/resources).
- Produced a spatially explicit interactive online tool (Socio-ecological system interaction tool) as part of the Agro-ecological Knowledge Hub. The tool provides an effective means of presenting information for different types of actors involved in agro-ecological transitions (D6.3; https://uniseco-project.eu/resources).
- Synthesised and disseminated new or improved knowledge about strategies of agro-ecological transitions and their sustainability implications. This was designed to improve capacity building and knowledge sharing on effective solutions for shaping trajectories of sustainable development.
- Collaborated closely with other EU projects on agro-ecology, e.g. LIFT, ALL-Ready and CONSOLE.
The progress beyond the state of the art relates to: a) development of a conceptual framework for assessing the sustainability of agro-ecological farming systems and the operationalisation of an adapted social-ecological systems framework (D2.1 D2.2 D2.3; https://uniseco-project.eu/resources); b) the assessment of economic viability, job creation and the provision of public goods by agro-ecological farming, including participatory assessments of trade-offs and synergies in the social, economic and environmental performance of farms across a wide range of key European farming systems (D3.1 D3.2 D3.5; https://uniseco-project.eu/resources); c) new insights into strategies of agro-ecological transitions and effective governance structures that improve the practical implementation of policy and the role of different types of actors in influencing pathways of agro-ecological transitions (D3.4 D3.6 D5.3 D5.4; https://uniseco-project.eu/resources); d) evidence of territorial sustainability impacts of agro-ecological practices in the EU (D4.2 D4.3 https://uniseco-project.eu/resources). Advances in state-of-the-art processes have been in the framing of Multi-Actor Platforms in the context of transdisciplinarity, for the creation of collaborative learning processes and a framework for cooperation of key actors in the governance of agro-ecological transitions.
UNISECO developed and implemented processes to co-construct, through multi-actor engagement, improved and practice-validated strategies and instruments that increase the sustainability of agro-ecological farming in the EU, and enhance integrated capacity building and delivery of the CAP, environmental and rural policies. A key part of the legacy of the project is to leave the members of Multi-Actor Platforms with increased insight and understanding of how to address socio-economic and policy-related barriers and drivers to initiate or enhance agro-ecological transitions in their local contexts. Findings from the evaluation of the transdisciplinary tools and methods suggests that the majority of members of the Multi-Actor Platforms recognised benefits such as expansion of networks, learning something new, the use of new information and changes in attitudes towards agro-ecological farming systems. The experiences of members suggest a positive basis for further development of Multi-Actor Platforms as a forum for co-constructing evidence and advancement of the Open Science agenda.
Continuous interactions between researchers, ‘knowledge brokers’, and actors in policy and practice have been integral to the transdisciplinary approach of UNISECO and the development of the Agro-Ecological Knowledge Hub, containing the empirical evidence of barriers, processes, outcomes and impacts of agro-ecological transitions.
Capacity building and on-farm training on sustainability assessment tools
Diversified farming system in the Swedish case study
Multi-Actor workshop in Helsinki, May 2019