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Beyond Ecosystem Services: Brokering Agrobiodiversity Management Enterprises in Europe and Internationally (ECO-BROKER)

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ECO-BROKER (Beyond Ecosystem Services: Brokering Agrobiodiversity Management Enterprises in Europe and Internationally (ECO-BROKER))

Reporting period: 2019-08-26 to 2021-08-25

According to estimates by FAO2, 500 million family farms produce over 80% of the world’s food, 475 million of which are farms of less than two hectares in size. The dominant form of seed system that supports these farmers is informal in nature, and is responsible for 80% of total seed supply. This informal seed system is characterised by being culturally-oriented, environmentally-friendly, localised, participatory and heterogeneous. The nature of the seed system is also important in European countries, where organic farmers are seeking to re-appropriate the intellectual and physical nature of their seed supplies to better align with their values.
For the purpose of this Fellowship, these initiatives, which generate economic benefits through the participatory management of agro-biodiversity, are called Agro-biodiversity Management Enterprises (AMEs). AMEs focus on adapting, experimenting with and releasing - on a commercial scale – plant varieties with local adaptation, as well as produce and products from these varieties. Their main market focus is the local economy, and the seeds and varieties come not only from the commercial seed sector and research organisations, but also from informal sources.
The main objective of Eco- Broker has been to develop business models capable to sustain decentralised and participatory crop breeding, and hence support the maintenance of these local varieties. The project had a particular interest in both exploring how changes can be induced to transition from linear to interactive, collective institutions and mind-sets, and to involve consumers as key actors in reorienting demand-driven seed systems.
In order to achieve the above mentioned objective during the project life of 26 August 2019 to 28 January 2022 (extended owing to Covid delays), Eco-Broker implemented 5 work packages: WP 1 Entrepreneurship, WP 2 Defining AMEs, WP 3 Developing Action Learning, WP 4 Dissemination of findings and WP 5 Project Management.
2.1 WP 1 Entrepreneurship
Main innovation outputs
The implementation of learning modules resulted in the following innovation outputs:
• Research methodology developed in the field work in UK, Spain and Cuba.
• Action plan to involve consumers in varietal selection at Coventry Market.
• Action research plan to test business models in Cuba.
• An action plan for creating one AMEs in Murcia.
• Development of a working paper: Promoting Agrobiodiversity Management Enterprises in the Global South (Deliverable D1.2) which was discussed with various Foundations.

2.2 WP 2 Defining AMEs
UK - Main innovation outputs
The fact that the growing demand for organic seeds was outstripping supply capacity was the main argument for the Fellow, together with the Seed Cooperative, to design an action learning programme to strengthen the capacity to test and produce seeds locally (see summary in Box 1).
Cuba- Main innovation outputs
• Of the 4 business models tested, the most promising were “Service Provider with Open Source”. The specific contribution of Eco-broker was to reinforce these relationships with a business approach in which both professionals and producers gained financially.
• While the models “Business Accelerator Hub” and “Franchise” presented limitations, it is worth stating that they were the most novel but the practice showed that they require for their expansion a change in the relationship between research/development organisations and the Cuban private sector.
• The collaborative work of farmer champions and professionals worked in most cases. Organised in teams of local business catalysers, they were able to identify clients, organise a technical assistance service and get the collaboration between the private sector and institutions recognised by local authorities.
Spain - Main Innovation Outputs
• The creation of GO Agrodiverso, the first AME in Murcia focused on commercially promoting local varieties.
• The design and start of implementation of the Business Accelerator Hub model which connected the demand for local tomatoes, aubergines and peppers demanded by consumer groups, local markets and restaurants with the farmers that made up GO Agrodiverso.
• Implementation of a collaboration agreement between GO Agrodiverso, Red Murciana de Semillas and IMIDA to expose 3 consumer groups, 3 renowned chefs from the Murcia region and more than 20 farmers to collections of tomatoes and other local varieties in spring-summer 2021.
• Strengthening the capacity of GO Agrodiverso to develop, negotiate and win €200,000 grant project to be implemented in January 2022.

2.3 WP 3 Developing Action Learning
Main innovation Output
Taking into consideration the experience in developing action learning programmes in two contrasting environments, a diagram (Figure 2) and educational curriculum (Deliverable D3.4) suggest 3 face-to-face modules preceded by a preparatory phase. Between the face-to-face modules and the preparatory phase, the programme proposes fieldwork sessions accompanied by coaching sessions organised by the facilitators. The educational curriculum additionally visualises the times that should be considered between the different modules and the fieldwork.
Production of a working paper: Scaling Up Decentralised Participatory Plant Breeding in Europe (Deliverable 3.1). This paper was the basis for the discussion of the International Webinar: Expanding Participatory Plant Breeding in Europe (Deliverable D3.2) which was attended by relevant experts from organisations interested in scaling up participatory methodologies in Europe (Table 7).

2.4 WP 4 Dissemination of Findings
Main innovation outputs
• Development of proposal Scaling up Participatory - Decentralised Organic Crop breeding in Europe (Eco-Scaling, Deliverable 4.2). Details the methodology for organising a consumer-driven seed supply system with an impact on the generation of economic, environmental and social benefits. The proposal provides inputs for introducing new practices in organic seed sector policies in Europe.
• An enabling environment was created that facilitated organisations such as IMIDA and La Red Murciana de Semillas (RMS) and GO Agrobiodiverso to collaborate in promoting local seeds and products for commercial purposes.
• In Cuba, the National Institute of Agricultural Sciences (INCA) Eco-Broker's partner organisation discussed with the president of Republic of Cuba how AMEs can be extended.
The Fellow's participation in the secondment, short visits, seminar as well as his exposure to intensive periods of fieldwork in the UK, Cuba and Spain allowed him not only to define and refine the AMEs concept but also to propose and test in Cuba and Spain innovative business models that had an impact on the local economy. In the specific cases of Cuba and Spain, the Fellow played an important role in strengthening the AMEs and having them recognised by the local government of the region of Murcia (Deliverable 4.4) and the President of the Republic of Cuba (Deliverable 4.4).
The participatory selection work promoted by Eco Broker demonstrated the importance of involving consumers in variety selection could be an accelerator in changing the predominant system of centralised variety dissemination. Through the local brokers, consumers and especially women were exposed to genetic diversity and connected with representatives of germplasm banks and farmer breeders to generate new business models that would strengthen the local economy.