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

Reporting period: 2020-05-01 to 2021-10-31

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.

With the general objective of boosting digitalization in the agri-food sector, SAH leverages, strengthens and connects local Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs) and numerous Competence Centres (CCs) throughout Europe. The project puts together a large pan-European network of over 300 DIHs, aligned with 9 regional clusters (RCs), which are led by organizations that are closely related to national or regional digitization initiatives and funds. DIHs are empowered and supported in their development. SAH uses a multi-actor approach based on a vast network of start-ups, SMEs, business and service providers, technology experts and end-users.

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 the SmartAgriHubs project managed to design and develop an Innovation Portal to facilitate communication and interaction in the SmartAgriHubs network. At the moment, the Innovation Portal has over 2500 confirmed users and is definitely the place to be for anyone related to the digital agriculture and is a foundation for the upcoming year and thereafter.

To support DIHs in building their capacities, in the first reporting period their needs were identified and prioritized. The maturity self-assessment tool was implemented during the second period to help DIHs establish where their efforts should focus on. Besides, the capacity building materials and webinars on the Innovation Portal, a social Learning and Exchange Platform (LXP) was developed to accelerate social (peer-to-peer) learning amongst DIHs. The CCs will provide the digital technological knowledge, experience and infrastructure. An Agricultural Technology Navigator has been developed and implemented, so that CCs can register and showcase their agri-tech solutions in the Innovation Portal. Gaps in agri-tech CC coverage have been identified and self-evaluation tools to identify strengths and weaknesses have been designed.

During the first period of the project, the foundation has been laid for the SAH Open calls by understanding the current situation and regional demands. The SAH RESPOND open calls were targeting on solutions for problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic; Hackathons and digital solutions developed by SMEs have been earlier in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The following Open Calls were either published or open for proposal submission during the second reporting period:
Open call for hackathon type of activities that will contribute to the RESTART of the European Agri-Food Economy with short and medium-term impact to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 crisis: 12 proposals received, 7 granted.
Open Call for DIHs that are supporting the realisation of Innovation Experiments, mobilising the related stakeholders and facilitating the access to Competence Centre related services: 14 proposals received, 8 granted.
Open call for DIHs that are supporting organisations in the planning and definition of Innovation Experiments for digital transformation in the Agri-food economy: 28 proposals received, 15 granted.
Open Call for DIHs that are developing and offering support services for agri-food stakeholders and related community networks for the digital innovation and transformation of their products, processes or business and governance models: 18 proposals received, 10 granted.

The project has been presented at numerous stakeholder events in EU and outside Europe. Regarding the policy-makers target group, a special event in the European Parliament (October 2021) was designed to combine the need of supporting young farmers and foster the use of digital tools. Communication about the project 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 DIHs for Agriculture to enhance the Digital Transformation for Sustainable Farming and Food Production. During the first reporting period, ideas have been developed about how to shape DIH concepts into concrete actions for development of a network and attracting new partners (DIHs, CCs, etc.). During the second reporting period, we observed that the DIHs in the FIEs are not active and several attempts to activate them didn’t work and we concluded that DIHs are not yet ready, mature enough for generating the IEs as we optimistically hoped for at the time of the proposal writing. Given this path of development, the SAH team has learnt important lessons and concluded that we needed to step back from our initial objectives on IE development and put more effort on DIH development with the objective to make the network more active. Our conclusion is to target the remaining part of the open call budget available (ca 3 M€) at facilitating DIHs to develop and mature their portfolio of services. Each of the proposals on that must be based and will be evaluated on a self-assessment report of the DIH.

During the first reporting period, the SmartAgriHubs Innovation Portal has been launched where the DIHs and CCs can register themselves and where they can exchange information. During the second reporting period, a large number of tools have been developed. The Innovation Portal is very lively with over 2500 confirmed users working in 785 organisations. A number of 306 events have been announced through the portal so far.

The Open Calls have been prepared to improve the services offered by the network. The project has been able to involve many stakeholders. Not only from the agri-tech community, but also scientists and policy makers. Unfortunately, all events had to be organized online. In this respect a highlight in the second reporting period was 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). A joint task force 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. Main achievements of the gender task force include: launch of the Gender Page in the SAH website, organization of several gender webinars, special edition of the newsletter on gender equality (extremely well read!!), a campaign for gender week both internationally and EU and launch of a gender survey.
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