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Coordination of European Transnational Research in Organic Food and Farming Systems

Coordination of European Transnational Research in Organic Food and Farming Systems

Periodic Report Summary 2 - CORE ORGANIC PLUS (Coordination of European Transnational Research in Organic Food and Farming Systems)

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 careful 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 from 2010 to 2015, the total organic area including fully converted and under conversion, as a percentage of the total utilized agricultural area (UAA) within the EU, rose from 5.2 % to 6.2 % (Eurostat, Organic farming statistics, May 2017). The countries with the largest organic agricultural area in 2015 are Spain (1.9 million hectares), Italy (1.4 million hectares), France (1.3 million hectares) and Germany (1 million hectares). There are seven countries in Europe with more than ten percent organic agricultural land: Austria (20 percent), Sweden (17 percent), Estonia (15.5 percent), Czech Republic (13.5 percent), Switzerland (13 per cent), Italy (12.1 per cent), and Latvia (11.9) (Ibid, 2017). This development is a consequence of increasing consumer interest and political support for organic food and production, and has been 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 careful food processing are transnational in character.

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 Euro.

The project has until now fully achieved its objectives and technical goals.

WP1: The coordination, management and administration of CO Plus have been continuous tasks with daily contact to partners. Seven meetings of the Governing Board have taken place (four physical and three web meeting), and 21 Management Board meetings were held. The Call and Evaluation Board had two meetings in connection to the physical GB meetings.

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 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. At mid-term the projects progress have been evaluated by the involved funding bodies at web meetings chaired by the monitoring persons. All mid-term reports have been approved.

WP5: A website with an intranet has been established. Two research seminars have taken place with active interaction between organic research projects, funding bodies and stakeholders. Newsletters with articles from the funded projects have been launched to more than 600 subscribers, and partners have been encouraged to share the stories at national level. The WP5 team and the CO Plus partners will try to increase the use of results from on-going and finished organic transnational research projects, by identifying relevant results for national implementation. Regarding the impact assessment a quantitative and a qualitative assessement was carried out and a report is under preparation. Training of new Organic Eprint editors has taken place and all editors have provided input for improvements of the repository. In order to alleviate speed problems for national editors, Organic Eprints was modified resulting in a 30-fold speed increase. An initial work to uncover possibilites of data exchange between relevant archives has been done. Currently, 100 publications from CO Plus funded projects have been published in the repository.

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. Eight thematic research areas were identified and prioritised by COII partners. Of these, 4 was selected and transferred into research questions for the CO Plus call which again has formed the basis for projects to complement the network of national and transnational research activities supported by earlier CO calls and by national/regional programs. CO Plus has continue the collaboration build on COI and COII in defining joint research needs at the transnational level and also enlarged the CO network with new countries. The coverage of EastEuropean conditions has increased. 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 will ensure an effective monitoring of the selected research projects and support the coordination in case of complications within funded consortia.

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.

This is in line with the 3rd SCAR Foresight Exercise and represents a critical case within the so-called food sufficiency narrative. This narrative addresses the needs for reconciliation between food production and natural resource preservation and it advocates the integration of food choices and diets as part of the development of food and agricultural systems. Organic agriculture can be seen as one – and not the only - approach to developing food systems in line with the sufficiency narrative.

List of Websites:
http://www.coreorganic.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