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Boosting Innovation in Organic FRUIT production through strong knowledge NETworks

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - BIOFRUITNET (Boosting Innovation in Organic FRUIT production through strong knowledge NETworks)

Reporting period: 2019-11-01 to 2021-04-30

Organic fruit production in the EU is expanding rapidly and the demand is increasing. However, it is a challenging farming activity since there is a set of specific problems which cannot be solved using conventional approaches. Key challenges are losses due to pest and diseases, the lack of information on the suitability of varieties for organic production, the management of tree nutrition and the lack of information of new organic farmers. Specific technical gaps and needs in EU countries for pome fruits, stone fruits and citrus has never been quantified in a global analysis. BIOFRUITNET aims to contribute to bridge the gap between science and practice to support new and existing organic fruit growers, with the overall objective of strengthening the competitiveness of the European organic fruit production, to make it more self-sufficient and independent from imports.
In particular, BIOFRUITNET aims at collecting and synthesizing existing knowledge ready for practice in organic fruit production throughout Europe, creating a stable European innovation network, identifying and strengthening established networks. The collected best practices will then be distributed in an easy-to-understand format and disseminated through high impact channels.
BIOFRUITNET strategically focuses on organic fruit production, but the solutions proposed by this network can be applied by the conventional sector and thereby contribute to a more sustainable agriculture.
On this first period of the project, the objective was to gather information on existing knowledge networks on organic fruit production within the EU, in non-EU European and Mediterranean countries, as well as in Canada, USA, South Africa and international networks. Therefore, we performed a map and an inventory of the most relevant existing groups and networks in the organic fruit production sector. To achieve this, a questionnaire has been devised to gather information about the networks and their activities. With these means, about seventy active knowledge networks have been inventoried across the EU, in near countries and worldwide. A network has been defined by the consortium as ‘a group composed by one or more kinds of stakeholders that are exchanging information on a regular basis, either formally or informally’.
The analysis of the data was carried out to point out the major challenges and opportunities in knowledge transfer.

Meanwhile, in order to map and quantify the technical needs in organic fruit production in the EU, compile the most interesting existing documents fitting these needs and choose the best way to disseminate them, BIOFRUITNET partners have set up a methodology based on a survey targeting growers and advisers to identify needs, gaps and practices and a collaborative identification of ready-for-practice knowledge.
First of all, the questionnaire has allowed to collect the current practices in organic fruit production, the needs and the knowledge gaps concerning plant health care management and the preferred way to access technical information. A total of 249 persons have been surveyed in 26 countries. The results of the specific questionnaires has been used to prioritize needs in terms of pest and disease management, soil management, tree nutrition and plant material. Secondly, a database of 318 references proposed by the partners has been created in order to gather ready-for-practice knowledge. It has been completed with another database gathering 1202 scientific references. These two complementary actions has provided a raw material collection that will be evaluated in order to select the solutions that are recognized as effective, easy to implement and representative for organic growers in the most important growing areas.

The consortium has launched of a webpage, social media accounts, a kick-off event, informative posters and flyers. We have adapted our communication strategy to the current worldwide travel and contact restrictions by focusing communication on online dissemination means. Actions related to the sustainability of the project have already started. Conversations with the coordinators of the Organic Farm Knowledge Platform have already taken place on how the results of the BIOFRUITNET can be included the platform.
The analysis of the knowledge networks pointed out that the international exchange of information between the networks should be fostered, but the language barrier is a strong bottleneck in this regard. Long-term strategic actions dealing with knowledge transfer, advisory support and educational activities are limited by funding resources.
In conclusion, it can be stated that the work performed during the first months of the project resulted in a useful map of knowledge networks and a better understanding of their challenges. This will certainly enhance the comprehension of organic networks functioning beyond the state of the art and provide useful information about possible strategies to developed to improve the exchange of information, particularly at international level, which could have a positive impact on the efficiency of knowledge transfer in the field of organic fruit production.
Furthermore, the accomplished work gives a quantified assessment of the needs, gaps and practices concerning organic fruit production of pome fruits, stone fruits and citrus in most of EU countries. The knowledge and updated map of priorities on several technical topics, especially pests and diseases management, soil management, tree fertilization and plant material is one of the results produced. Moreover, the availability of easily online accessible documents will contribute to increase the flow of practical information among organic fruit practitioners. The share of resources between different geographical areas in Europe is an asset as it allows the availability of a big amount of technical information in countries where technical references in organic fruit production are underdeveloped, and allows to have access to important specific knowledge (e.g. control of a emergent pests, physical barriers, knowledge of cultivars).
The good reception of an online seminar on organic fruit production with more than 100 participants from all over the world and from different interest groups (fruit growers, advisors, agricultural students, researchers, etc.) is an indication of the interest of the target audience in the project.