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Connecting the dots to unleash the innovation potential for digital transformation of the European agri-food sector

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SmartAgriHubs (Connecting the dots to unleash the innovation potential for digital transformation of the European agri-food sector)

Reporting period: 2018-11-01 to 2020-04-30

Digital technologies enable a transformation into data-driven, intelligent, agile and autonomous farm operations, and are generally considered as a key to address the grand challenges for agriculture. Recent initiatives showed the eagerness of the sector to seize the opportunities offered by ICT and in particular data-oriented technologies. However, current available applications are still fragmented and mainly used by a small group of early adopters. Against this background, SmartAgriHubs (SAH) has the potential to be a real game changer in the adoption of digital solutions by the farming sector.

SAH will leverage, strengthen and connect local Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs) and numerous Competence Centres (CCs) throughout Europe. The project already put together a large initial network of 140 DIHs by building on its existing projects and ecosystems such as Internet of Food and Farm (IoF2020). All DIHs are aligned with 9 regional clusters (RCs), which are led by organizations that are closely related to national or regional digitization initiatives and funds. DIHs will be empowered and supported in their development, to be able to carry out high-performance Innovation Experiments (IEs). SAH already identified 28 Flagship Innovation Experiments (FIEs), which are examples of outstanding, innovative and successful Innovation Experiments (IEs), where ideas, concepts and prototypes are further developed and introduced into the market.

SAH uses a multi-actor approach based on a vast network of start-ups, SMEs, business and service providers, technology experts and end-users. End-users from the agri-food sector are at the heart of the project and the driving force of the digital transformation.

Led by the Wageningen University and Research (WUR), SAH consists of a pan-European consortium of over 160 Partners representing all EU Member States. SAH is part of Horizon2020 and is supported by the European Commission with a budget of €20 million.
In the first reporting period (M1-M18) the SmartAgriHubs project managed to design and develop an Innovation Portal to facilitate communication and interaction in the SmartAgriHubs network. After the first year, a large community of people all over Europe working on smart farming already started sharing knowledge, best practices and experiences. With more than 1000 users in the first months, the Portal is definitely the place to be for anyone related to the digital agriculture and is a foundation for the upcoming years. 28 Flagship Innovation Experiments have been established, being good examples for introducing new applications and where Digital Innovation Hubs are developing and maturing their services.

To support Digital Innovation Hubs in building their capacities, their needs were identified and prioritized, so that in the end they can effectively achieve impact with innovations aimed at the farm or greenhouse, and become self-sustaining entities in a thriving Digital Innovation Hub community. The maturity self-assessment tool was designed to help Digital Innovation Hubs establish where their efforts should focus on. A first set of capacity building materials and webinars on the Innovation Portal. The Competence Centers will provide the digital technological infrastructure. An Agricultural Technology Navigator has been developed, so that Competence Centers can register and showcase their agri-tech solutions on the Innovation Portal. Gaps in agri-tech Competence Center coverage have been identified and self-evaluation tools to identify strengths and weaknesses have been designed.

The COVID-19 crises raises additional challenges to the farmers related for example to labour supply and supply chain. The SmartAgriHubs COVID task force has been able to take actions on short notice, supported by the ecosystem. With a webinar and a discussion topic in the Innovation Portal, a start has been made with bringing challenges and digital solutions together. The RESPOND SmartAgriHubs open call for expanding the network of Digital Innovation Hubs and Competence Centres by direct support of digital innovation related activities and specifically Innovation Experiments has been adjusted and launched earlier in response to the COVID-19 crisis. During the first period of the project, the foundation has been laid for this open call by understanding the current situation and regional demands. Matchmaking will enable new stakeholders to get in contact with the current SmartAgriHubs Partner Network for tangible collaboration in the scope of proposed activities.
The project has been presented at numerous stakeholder events in EU and outside Europe. Communication about the project and its first results is supported by a state-of-the-art Innovation Portal and multi media exposure.
Connecting the dots in Smart Farming is the mission of SmartAgriHubs. Against this background the main objective of the SmartAgriHubs project is to consolidate and foster a European wide network of Digital Innovation Hubs for Agriculture to enhance the Digital Transformation for Sustainable Farming and Food Production. During the first year, ideas have been developed about how to shape DIH concepts into concrete actions for development of a network and attracting new partners (Digital Innovation Hubs, Competence Centers, etc.). The challenge is to fit all the puzzle pieces that are needed to build a network together: all the work in the project has to come together to reach the mission. The SmartAgriHubs Innovation Portal has been launched where the Digital Innovation Hubs and Competence Centres can register themselves and where they can exchange information. SAH is working on attracting and empowering the DIHs and CCs in providing several services, which process is strengthened by the Flagship Innovation Experiments. The open call has been prepared to improve the services offered by the network. This builds on the network from existing projects such as Internet of Food 2020 (IoF2020) and other projects and networks on smart farming. The project has been able to involve many stakeholders so far. Not only from the agri-tech community, but also scientists and policy makers. The biggest highlights for the first year were the Prague Event, making the mission visible with all the partners present and the high level event with the European Parliament.

The SmartAgriHubs and IoF2020 projects are committed to the principle of equality between women and men, enshrined as one of the European Union’s core values in the Lisbon Treaty (Articles 2 and 3 of the EU Treaty). With this objective in mind, a joint task force on gender balance was created to bring focused attention to this issue, moving it into the spotlight and placing it at the centre of efforts to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment. The gender task force will work in two main groups, communication and analysis, and an action plan will be shared with the consortium partners.
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