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Coordination of European Transnational Research in Organic Food and Farming Systems

Final Report Summary - CORE ORGANIC PLUS (Coordination of European Transnational Research in Organic Food and Farming Systems)

Executive Summary:
The overall objective of the CORE Organic (CO) Plus is to efficiently fund transnational research addressing major potentials and challenges for the development of organic food and farming and the industry’s capacity to contribute to solving important societal challenges. Organic agriculture is considered to have an important role in improving the environmental sustainability of agriculture and contributing to future food safety and security. As a knowledge demanding system, achieving synergies between production, food safety and natural resource preservation and between food quality and rural development is dependent on continuing research and innovation.
The organic sector is still growing due to a combination of market demand and political support because organic agriculture addresses important challenges of agriculture, such as sustainable production of high quality food, reducing dependency on high energy inputs, improving environmental and nature conservation, climate change adaptation, animal welfare and rural livelihoods. Organic farming and food systems still have a big potential for innovation and improved solutions, some of which can also be useful in the wider food sector. This goes for example for the improved food safety and reduced risk of antimicrobial resistance due to the innovative health management practices developed in organic production which can reduce medicine use in livestock.
There is a great need for further research and innovation in organic food and farming because of its relatively recent development and because it is an alternative, which is knowledge intensive; a knowledge that cannot always be covered by results from mainstream agricultural research. In order to improve the practices of organic food and agriculture systems vis-a-vis the principles as laid out in the Council Regulation (EC) no. 834/2007 it is necessary to further develop the research based knowledge on agro-ecological methods and on mild/gentle processing. Moreover, research is needed to assess the degree to which organic agriculture complies with the principles and – in a wider perspective – actually delivers on the promises regarding important societal goals (e.g. reducing externalities).
In many European countries organic agriculture has grown out of a niche and become an important part of agricultural production and consumption. The statistics show that in 2016 the total of 13.5 million hectares of agricultural land in Europe (12.1 million hectares in the EU) is organic including in conversion areas and more than 373.000 producers were reported in Europe (295.000 in the EU) (Lernoud and Willer, 2018).* The countries with the largest organic agricultural area in 2016 are Spain (2 million hectares), Italy (1.7 million hectares), France (1.5 million hectares) and Germany (1.2 million hectares); there are nine countries in Europe with ten or more percent organic agricultural land: Liechtenstein (30.2%), Austria (21.3%), Sweden (16.9%), Estonia (16.3 %), Switzerland (13.1%), Latvia (12.8%), Italy (11.7%), Czech Republic (11.3%) and Finland (10%); and organic retail sales indicate that the EU (30.7 billion EUR) is a second largest single market after the US (Ibid, 2018). These developments are consequence of increasing consumer interest and political support for organic food and production, and were assisted by research, innovation and extension dedicated to organic food and farming.
A number of the research and innovation needs of the organic sector should be coordinated transnational activities in order to create sufficient volume in funding and in e.g. the number of farms to include in projects. Moreover, many issues, such as livestock health management, development of climate smart organic systems and mild/gentle food processing are transnational in character.

*Lernoud, J. and Wiler, H. (2018) Organic Agriculture Worldwide: Key results from the FiBL survey on organic agriculture worldwide 2018, Frick: FiBL.
Project Context and Objectives:
The overall objective of the CORE Organic (CO) Plus is to efficiently fund transnational research addressing major potentials and challenges for the development of organic food and farming and the industry’s capacity to contribute to solving important societal challenges. Organic agriculture is considered to have an important role in improving the environmental sustainability of agriculture and contributing to future food safety and security. As a knowledge demanding system, achieving synergies between production, food safety and natural resource preservation and between food quality and rural development is dependent on continuing research and innovation.
The organic sector is still growing due to a combination of market demand and political support because organic agriculture addresses important challenges of agriculture, such as sustainable production of high quality food, reducing dependency on high energy inputs, improving environmental and nature conservation, climate change adaptation, animal welfare and rural livelihoods. Organic farming and food systems still have a big potential for innovation and improved solutions, some of which can also be useful in the wider food sector. This goes for example for the improved food safety and reduced risk of antimicrobial resistance due to the innovative health management practices developed in organic production which can reduce medicine use in livestock.
There is a great need for further research and innovation in organic food and farming because of its relatively recent development and because it is an alternative, which is knowledge intensive; a knowledge that cannot always be covered by results from mainstream agricultural research. In order to improve the practices of organic food and agriculture systems vis-a-vis the principles as laid out in the Council Regulation (EC) no. 834/2007 it is necessary to further develop the research based knowledge on agro-ecological methods and on mild/gentle processing. Moreover, research is needed to assess the degree to which organic agriculture complies with the principles and – in a wider perspective – actually delivers on the promises regarding important societal goals (e.g. reducing externalities).
In many European countries organic agriculture has grown out of a niche and become an important part of agricultural production and consumption. The statistics show that in 2016 the total of 13.5 million hectares of agricultural land in Europe (12.1 million hectares in the EU) is organic including in conversion areas and more than 373.000 producers were reported in Europe (295.000 in the EU) (Lernoud and Willer, 2018).* The countries with the largest organic agricultural area in 2016 are Spain (2 million hectares), Italy (1.7 million hectares), France (1.5 million hectares) and Germany (1.2 million hectares); there are nine countries in Europe with ten or more percent organic agricultural land: Liechtenstein (30.2%), Austria (21.3%), Sweden (16.9%), Estonia (16.3 %), Switzerland (13.1%), Latvia (12.8%), Italy (11.7%), Czech Republic (11.3%) and Finland (10%); and organic retail sales indicate that the EU (30.7 billion EUR) is a second largest single market after the US (Ibid, 2018). These developments are consequence of increasing consumer interest and political support for organic food and production, and were assisted by research, innovation and extension dedicated to organic food and farming.
A number of the research and innovation needs of the organic sector should be coordinated transnational activities in order to create sufficient volume in funding and in e.g. the number of farms to include in projects. Moreover, many issues, such as livestock health management, development of climate smart organic systems and mild/gentle food processing are transnational in character.

*Lernoud, J. and Wiler, H. (2018) Organic Agriculture Worldwide: Key results from the FiBL survey on organic agriculture worldwide 2018, Frick: FiBL.
Project Results:
The ERA-NET CORE Organic Plus (CO Plus) has launched a transnational call with cofunding from the European Commission, 11 research projects have been selected with a total volume of more than 11 million EUR.

The project has fully achieved its objectives and technical goals.

WP1: The coordination, management and administration of CO Plus have been continuous tasks with a daily contact with the partners. Three meetings of the Governing Board have taken place as a part of Cofund programme and 11 Joint CO Plus/ Cofund Management Board meetings were held (web meetings). The Call Board had three meetings in connection to the GB meetings (Call 2016 and preparation for a new Call in 2019).

WP2: The process of identifying research topics for the transnational call was based on priorities by the partners with their national research agendas, the Strategic Research agenda of TP Organics. The call texts and research questions were in line with the priorities if the EC. The following thematic research areas were included: Plant-soil interaction, functional biodiversity, livestock production and food processing.

WP3: A Call Secretariat (CS) was established and supported by a network of National Contact Points for each participating partner. The call was a virtual common pot with a two stage procedure. At the first stage the applicants submitted 59 pre-proposals and, after passing a selection process by the involved partner countries considering national regulations and priorities, 24 successful applicants were invited to submit full-proposals. The submitted full proposals were evaluated by an expert panel. The selection list resulting from the expert evaluation was strictly followed at the selection meeting. The balance between available national funds and requested national funds was attempted to be leveraged as far as possible between stage one and two, and the final selection resulted in selection of projects for 11.3 Million Euro, which represents 96% of the combined funds in the call.Evaluation of the call process was performed by calling for feedback from applicants and partners. The call process was in general appreciated and ideas for improvements were provided.

WP4: Project monitoring of the research projects was planned in WP4 and a team of four monitoring persons were established, each responsible for the projects within one thematic research area. The team has participated in annual project meeting to support the projects during implementation. The composition of team changed after the mid-term reporting phase as one member retired from his position and monitoring task monitoring task for research project was taken over by other members of the monitoring team. During the final reporting, the projects progress was evaluated at web meetings and face-to-face meeting (Final Research Seminar, October 2018) by the involved funding bodies and stakeholder partners. All final project reports have been approved.

WP5: A website with 'section for members' has been established. One research seminar has taken place with active interaction between organic research projects, funding bodies and stakeholders. Newsletters with articles from the funded projects have been distributed to more than 875 subscribers, and partners have been encouraged to share the stories at national level. The WP5 team and the CO Plus/Cofund partners will try to increase the use of results from finished organic transnational research projects by identifying relevant results for national implementation. Regarding the impact assessment a quantitative and a qualitative assessments were carried out and a report was finalized and submitted as deliverable. Training of new Organic Eprint editors is being planned as a part of Cofund programme period. The archive Organic Eprints has been upgraded to a new version of the Eprints software (v. 3.3.15) and a new server has been bought to accommodate the upgrade and assure the safe and smooth running of the archive. Later, the server has been moved to a virtual server in the Aarhus University server setup. The work to uncover possibilities of data exchange between relevant archives is continuing further in Cofund. Results generated by research projects under CO Plus have been archived in Organic Eprints, at the end of the project more than 400 different scientific contributions (i.e. publications, presentations, working papers, etc.). For further information see: http://orgprints.org/view/projects/COREplus.html.

Potential Impact:
The expected benefits of the CO Plus for Europe will be to reinforce its leading status and excellence in organic research, enhance the European research area on organic agriculture, increase the efficiency in use of organic research funds (partly by reducing any redundancy between EU and national funding) and improve the impact of research on the organic sector’s development (by ensuring better use of limited resources for research and innovation and thus achieving critical mass).

Initiating projects on topics identified as common priorities while ensuring the participation of SME’s and facilitating the integration of new forms of knowledge generation, innovation and dissemination in the project designs will allow the sector to better meet the demand for organic food and products and at the same time further develop the practices in accordance with the organic principles. CO Plus has continue the collaboration build on COI and COII in four selected areas through defined joint research needs at the transnational level and also enlarged the CO network with new East European countries. Moreover, with the ERA Plus funding model the transnational funding modus has been supplemented with input from the Commission and will therefore be closer aligned with prioritisation of research and innovation efforts in Horizon 2020. In addition, the collaboration with the technology platform TP Organics has been strengthened in order to secure that the voice of transnational organisations representing industry and civil society is taken into account when defining research and innovation needs and supporting dissemination.

All in all, these efforts have further enhance the efficiency and effectiveness in use of research funds across EU and partner countries by channeling significant parts of national and EU research funding in organic agriculture and food into a common pot for transnational projects. CO Plus has increased the quality and the efficiency of research funding by reducing duplication and fragmentation of research and innovation in areas where transnational efforts are relevant and where results may be applied across regions and member states. Moreover, the combination of national and EU funding has allowed CO Plus to facilitate an increased collaboration in the use of costly research facilities and methods including the options for involving a critical mass of farmers and other stakeholders. The set-up of management and coordination based on experiences from COII and PLATFORM has ensured an effective monitoring of the selected research projects.

The CO Plus will contribute to the sustainable development in food production and improve the general competitive ability of the European agricultural sector by improving high value food production based on sound agro-ecological methods, which build on and preserve biodiversity and cultural landscapes and animal-friendly husbandry practices, which reduce the use of anti-microbials.
List of Websites:
http://www.coreorganic.org/
http://projects.au.dk/coreorganicplus/
ivana.trkulja@icrofs.org

Project information

Grant agreement ID: 618107

Status

Closed project

  • Start date

    1 December 2013

  • End date

    30 November 2018

Funded under:

FP7-KBBE

  • Overall budget:

    € 9 090 908

  • EU contribution

    € 2 999 999

Coordinated by:

AARHUS UNIVERSITET