Research centres act as ‘matchmakers’ to modernise Spanish agriculture

One company has been working to design and develop of a mobile application that makes linkages between canteen services and producers. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

This article is part of our special report What’s on the ‘horizon’ for agriculture?.

This article is also available in Spanish.

From matching farms with tech start-ups to pairing vegetable producers with school canteens and families, new EU research programmes are playing matchmaker to spur innovation and reinforce agriculture modernisation in Spain. EFE Agro reports.

The projects, funded via the EU’s €95.5 billion research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe, aims to highlight the value of these alliances for agriculture, according to Begoña Pérez-Villarreal, director of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) Food CLC South, one of the recipients of EU funding.

“We act as matchmakers between farmers and new companies,” she told EFE Agro.

The institute is an independent EU body that integrates companies, education centres and research labs. EIT Food is one of its eight communities and operates in the B2B (business to business) field.

Merging tradition and avant-garde

EIT Food branch for Southern Europe selects projects from new companies and accompanies them to grow for periods of six months by putting them in contact with agri-food producers, Pérez-Villarreal explained.

“We look for matches for start-ups, many of them with an important digital component,” she said.

The targets of the search are Spanish “open-minded” farmers or livestock farmers who are ready to use part of their farm to test new technologies.

EIT Food has also organised “roadshows” where traditional and emerging companies meet and identify the problems and solutions to be more competitive.

Every year, Pérez-Villarreal explained, EIT Food selects the best projects among 800 or 900 startups with technologies linked to food.

Some stand out examples include a company that offers artificial intelligence to eliminate weeds, using a robot with laser technology.

Meanwhile, others are dedicated to producing fertilisers with natural components or digitally managing the temperature, light, and nutrients of the soil.

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The European Union is stepping up efforts on soil health research with the announcement of a new Horizon Europe mission, which will also provide key funding for the promotion of carbon farming.

Canteen catering for sustainability

The Basque technology centre AZTI is another such company taking advantage of the EU funding on offer to offer similar programmes.

The centre takes part in research projects to improve the short food supply chain and reinforce digitalisation and a sustainable circular economy.

The project comes on the back of mounting efforts to strengthen the local supply chain, as outlined in the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy.

Carolina Najar, head of food and value of AZTI, highlights the connection between companies at the local or regional level.

“Considering the needs and expectations of all the agents involved (families, canteen service, monitors…) we have worked on the design and development of a mobile application that allows interaction between the canteen service and families”, said Najar.

This application also contains “valuable content” that facilitates the exchange of information in both directions (incidents, child behaviour), as well as advice and guidelines to promote healthier and more sustainable options among families, favouring the supply of local producers.

She highlights among their work the connection between companies at the local or regional level.

For example, in order to hit the ambitious target of 25% of agricultural land in the EU farmed organically by 2030, the recently released Organic Action Plan, which aims to boost the production and consumption of organic products, places an emphasis on the potential of green public procurement.

This includes prioritising short supply chain organic food in the EU’s school scheme, which supports food distribution to millions of schoolchildren across the EU. AZTI invites companies to take part in European projects or in alliances through the whole value chain, because “digitalisation improves the quality of food”, according to Najar.

AZTI is also developing another research programme, in collaboration with the Universities of Leuven (Belgium) and Oxford (UK), for measuring the impact of the environmental footprint of food.

Organic food 'healthier' says agri Commissioner as EU launches new organic plan

Organic food is “healthier” than its chemically produced counterparts, EU Agricultural Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski told journalists at an event to mark the launch of the EU’s organic action plan on Thursday (25 March).

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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