SPECIAL REPORT / According to the European Commission, boosting innovation and research in the agricultural sector is key if EU farmers are to produce more with less, and feed billions.
In an effort to help EU farming adjust to future nutritional needs, the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for the period 2014-2020 aims at bridging the existing gap between research and farming practice.
“The future agriculture will be (an) agriculture of knowledge,” Phil Hogan, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, recently stressed in an interview with EurActiv.
Feeding the world
Global population is expected to rise from 7.3 billion today to 9.7 billion in 2050, according to UN projections, meaning food production will have to double to meet nutritional needs.
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, about 795 million people are undernourished globally, down 167 million over the last decade, and 216 million less than in 1990–92. The decline is more pronounced in developing regions, despite significant population growth.
For the developing world as a whole, the share of undernourished people in the total population has decreased from 23.3% in 1990–92 to 12.9%.
The report The State of Food Insecurity in the World stresses that in many countries that have failed to reach the international hunger targets, natural and human-induced disasters or political instability had resulted in protracted crises with increased vulnerability and food insecurity of large parts of the population.
“A stronger and more innovative CAP is crucial to meet future world demand set to rise by 60% by 2050”, Copa-Cogeca, the EU farmer’s organisation, said in an EUFoodChat organised by EurActiv last week.
But the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) told EurActiv that the question of feeding the planet was oftenapproached “from the wrong angle”.
“Focusing entirely on intensifying production is misguided and merely props up collective dependency on the very industrial agri-food production and consumption systems that do not meet the needs of people whilst destroying the environment,” said Eric Gall, IFOAM’s EU Policy Manager.
He continued, saying that the organic food and farming and agroecology had a holistic, systemwide approach to food and farming.
“They are uniquely placed to address the complex and interlinked global challenges we currently face, including food insecurity and obesity, climate change, unfair working and trade conditions, soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, poor animal welfare, deforestation and loss of agricultural land, to name but a few.”
Europe 2020 strategy
Looking at the objectives of Europe 2020, as well as responding to the food security challenge, the new CAP focuses on innovation and research in order to make the EU farming “smart and sustainable”.
According to the European Commission, in a constantly changing economic environment, farmers, foresters, food and bio-based industries should be granted new knowledge which will make them sustainable over the long term and simultaneously, help them respond to the challenge of food safety, climate change, growth and jobs in rural areas.
“Looking across the 28 member states, a total of €25.3 billion from the EU budget for rural development has been earmarked to actions that have a positive impact on biodiversity and around 20% of all farm land in the EU will be under management contract to improve or preserve biodiversity,” Daniel Rosario, a spokesperson for Agriculture and Rural Development, recently told EurActiv.
With the reformed CAP, new instruments are being developed, such as innovation partnerships.
Supporting new ideas
Innovation is a driving force of the second pillar of the CAP, Rural Development.
The main instrument for this is the European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability (EIP-AGRI). Its fundamental aim is to create synergies between Horizon 2020 and Rural Developmen,t and to close the gap between research and practice.
Under EIP-AGRI, local stakeholders (farmers, researchers, businesses, NGOs) come together and establish the so-called “operational groups” whose main objective is to seek an innovative solution on a common problem in a country or a region.
The work and the knowledge developed by these operational groups are then shared to the whole EIP-AGRI network in order for other stakeholders to be able to benefit too.
In addition, the new CAP provides the “Innovation Support Services”.
Someone who offers Innovation Support Services could discover an innovative idea on a farm, for example, which could then be explored further. Other possible interested stakeholders are contacted and a new project is initiated. Then the consultant will seek funding opportunities for the implementation of the project.
Aside from Rural Development, innovation-driven agriculture is also supported by the Horizon 2020 programme.
The EU has earmarked nearly €80 billion under Horizon 2020, the EU’s framework programme for Research and Innovation for 2014-2020. €4 billion are allocated to Societal Challenge 2, ‘Food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine and maritime and inland water research, and the bioeconomy’.
Horizon 2020 for innovation on agriculture involves partners from several EU countries and funds multi-actor projects.
The new Horizon 2020 Work Programme covering 2016-17 will directly provide €33 million for organic farming, and a further €174 million is dedicated to projects in which organic agriculture should play a role.
Identifying and solving the problems
Part of the EIP-AGRI activities are the Focus Groups, which gather 20 experts (farmers, researchers, business community) aimied at addressing a particular problem related to agriculture.
The EIP-AGRI Service Point, set up by the Commission in 2013 to support the network, launches calls for six focus groups annually and tries to bring together the relevant experts.The focus group analyses an agriculture-related problem, exchanges knowledge, combines scientific approaches, and at the end, produces a report.
The final report aims at “inspiring” other actors in the farming field to start operational groups, or research projects.
“The animal health industry hopes to see the focus on innovation in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) translate through to policy for development, protection and acceptance of new technologies in veterinary medicines," IFAH-Europe secretary general, Roxane Feller, told EurActiv.
And she added: “Innovation through science and technology has allowed European agriculture to play a major role in ensuring food security. Europe has a global responsibility in the field of agriculture given its productive soil, favourable climate, knowledge-base of efficient production, processing, and logistics”.
“As a central focus of the new pillar II of the CAP, fostering innovation, along with knowledge transfer is key for IFAH-Europe as this can support the need for manufacturers of veterinary medicines to be able to deliver both new and existing technologies to address farmers’ requirements in terms of animal health," she said.
The European Feed Industry also welcomed the fact that the new CAP encourages farmers’ access to innovation and contribute to a more sustainable food system.
But it told EurActiv that more should be done in the field of livestock production.
“Innovation is the only way for EU livestock producers to stay ahead of the curve while facing tough competition from third country producers. The focus groups provided by the EIP facilitates the knowledge exchange, however it can be criticised that there are only few focus groups dealing with livestock production (animal husbandry, permanent grassland and livestock emissions).”
“Research and innovation in the crop sector is also of importance, for European Feed Manufacturers' Federation (FEFAC) particularly in the area of increasing yields of protein-rich crops produced in the EU to stimulate the farmers’ profitability and in the longer term try to reduce the feed sector’s dependence on third country imports," the European Feed Industry noted.
“We are committed to encouraging agricultural innovation programmes and scientific research primarily in areas with livestock farming, natural handicaps and small agricultural holdings in order to make more agriculture competitive and efficient in all regions and preserve rural communities," Markku Markkula, President of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) told EurActiv.
“Reducing the development gap between rural and predominantly urban areas and meeting the territorial cohesion objective enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty needs to be on top of the EU agenda in this field and could be achieved today only through innovation," he added.
In June 2013, politicians approved the first major reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in a decade, following months of haggling over quotas, subsidies and measures to improve environmental accountability.
But when the new rules took full effect in 2015, a year behind schedule, some of the same leaders who approved it were calling for changes to policies they said were too cumbersome to administer.
>> Read our LinksDossier: CAP: Still a work in progress
- EIP-AGRI: EU funding opportunities related to innovation in agriculture, food and forestry
- European Commission: EIP-AGRI Innovation and Agriculture
- European Commission: The EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP): for our food, for our countryside, for our environment
- European Commission: Agricultural research and innovation
- United Nations: 2015 Revision of World Population Prospects