CORE Organic final research seminar, 17-18 May, Brussels, Belgium

© Thomas Alföldi, FiBL

The CORE Organic final research seminar, co-organised by TP Organics, took place on 17-18 May 2022 at University Foundation in Brussels in the presence of 60 participants – in person and online.

The event served both to close the Cofund period (with ERA-NETs not being part of Horizon Europe anymore) and to officially launch of the future CORE Organic Pleiades network. TP Organics is a stakeholder partner in the CORE Organic network which is funding transnational research for organic for more than 15 years. CORE Organic Project Manager Ivana Trkulja facilitated the whole event.

Day 1: Presenting 17 projects and fishbowl debate

On Day 1, the 12 diverse CORE Organic Cofund projects and the 5 new projects selected in the CORE Organic call “Organic farming systems for improved mixed plant and animal production” were presented by the coordinators during a “Science Bazar”. The descriptions of all projects are in TP Organics’ Innovation Arena. Participants stressed :

  • The importance of a multi-actor, participatory and holistic food systems approach;
  • Farmers should be included as real consortium members from the beginning;
  • The organic sector is knowledge intensive and innovative by default; and
  • Organic innovations are relevant for the whole food system, driving sustainability.

Lieve De Cock, Expert, Advisor and Coordinator of Network Organic Food and Farming Research (NOBL), one of TP Organics’ National Technology Platforms, presented the situation in Flanders regarding organic farming and research and innovation. NOBL will be integrated in the new Living Lab Agro-ecology and Organic Agriculture. Her presentation was followed by Research Coordinator Joran Barbry presenting research and knowledge centre Inagro which is conducting applied research driven by demand and which can be considered as an original living lab. You have the chance to visit Inagro and its trial farm at TP Organics’ Organic Innovation Days on 11 October.

In the fishbowl debate “On bottlenecks and opportunities in organic and sustainable R&I”, Dirk Reheul, professor at Ghent University summarised the evaluation outcomes of the CORE Organic Cofund projects and gave recommendations, for example projects should have a clear focus and results that are ready for practice. Messages should be defined in a clear language (i.e., accessible for end users). Good cooperation among project partners is key, and awareness should be raised about good research practices. He also called for real interactivity between stakeholders and end users, prioritisation of end-user categories, the inclusion of a communication expert and use of particular channels such as Organic Farm Knowledge, connection with similar projects, the local environment and with policymakers, sending them the results directly at crucial moments, and measuring the impact of dissemination activities (e.g., in terms of new applications or entreprises).

Alexander Beck, Chair of German organic food processors’ association AöL and representative of the ProOrg project, called for stimulating new market systems as well as true cost and consumer studies. The conventional farming system is highly dependent on external inputs (in particular fossil fuels), which is one of the reasons for the crisis following the Ukraine war. Organic is part of the  solution, but the market is stagnating for the first time. The lost connection of consumers to nature and the reality of farming means lost benefits and possibilities for society and future generations. It is crucial to show the benefits organic provides, both towards farmers and the public, and to address weaknesses, building organic knowledge and innovation systems (AKIS) at local to European level. Focus should be on the whole food system, not only farming, since the purpose of farming is to supply humans with food. SMEs need access to innovation and research results. At the same time, involving partners from industry makes it possible to harvest feedback.

Bram Moeskops, Senior Scientific Coordinator of TP Organics agreed with Susana Gaona Sáez, Research Programme Officer at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI) that the European Green Deal with the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies, the Organic Action Plan, Horizon Europe and the new EU R&I partnerships (on biodiversity, agroecology, sustainable food systems and animal health) provide opportunities. The living lab approach will be one way to involve all stakeholders. Thematic Networks and Horizon projects, e.g., the new call on developing EU advisory networks on organic agriculture, were named as ways to disseminate results. The partnerships also explore new ways of funding (in the long term) and doing research, connecting projects to EU level. In this context, the CORE Organic network would be valuable in ensuring synergy rather than duplication and dilution with other terms, in networking with the organic movement and aligning with bigger initiatives, remaining the pioneer of sustainable food and farming systems.

Hans-Jörg Lutzeyer, Senior Advisor to the European Commission’s DG Research and Innovation, came in the fishbowl to add that the Commission is testing ways of better integrating SMEs, e.g., in projects with African countries, using 3rd party cascading funding to further explore (unintended) results. Jakob Sehested, Director at International Centre for Research in Organic Food Systems (ICROFS) called for documenting public goods to make the business case, translating the information into pricing and the market. Research needs to be implemented.

Day 2: Public-private-policy forum

Day 2 featured a Public-Private-Policy forum kicking off with presentations of the two new EU R&I Partnerships for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (part of Horizon Europe). Nicolas Tinois, Chair of SCAR-AE highlighted that organic will have a strong role in the future partnership, which will work with living labs and research infrastructures. Daniela Lüth, Policy Officer at DG Research & Innovation introduced the Sustainable Food Systems Partnership which will also include citizen engagement as a key element.

In the subsequent panel debate, Jonas Lazaro-Mojica, Manager Food Policy, Science and R&D EU Projects, and European Technology Platform ‘Food for Life’ Secretariat at FoodDrinkEurope mentioned TP Organics’ Strategic Research & Innovation Agenda, which outlines concrete research needs of the sector, as pointing the way forward. The COVID-19 and Ukraine crises have shown that everything is interlinked. Jean-Marc Chourot, Head of Office Research and Innovation at French Ministry for Agriculture and Nutrition (MAA) stressed the need for industry to become more sustainable and described organic as a model with more respect for the environment for our own sake. Henri Delanghe, Deputy Head of Unit, Organics, DG AGRI introduced the EU Organic Action Plan. Research and innovation are key. 30% of the budget for R&I actions in the area of agriculture, forestry and rural areas will be allocated to research that is specific to or relevant for organic. He stressed that the Ukraine war would not change anything; the Farm to Fork target of 25% organic farmland by 2030 in Europe would be long term.

Roberto Pinton, Owner of Pinton Organic Consulting and representative of Italian Organic Trade Association AssoBio pointed out that companies have responsibility and should contribute to research funding, support the farmers they are sourcing material from, set up knowledge exchange activities and provide them with impartial advice. At the same time, farmers should not become dependent on the companies, nor should they be trapped in integrated supply chains (as is often the case in the conventional sector). Funding for organic research has been very low in the past and needs to increase to at least 25%. R&I budgets for organic farming under Horizon Europe need to be in line with the Farm to Fork target of 25% organic farmland. Boosting R&I funding for organic will help increase productivity. We need to catch up funding for organic as a driver for change, not stop it because of assumed lower productivity. Organic innovations are open to be used also in conventional food and farming, thus investment in organic R&I benefits the agri-food system as a whole. In particular with regards to global food security we need to transition to agroecological systems such as organic that can respond to climate change, phase out pesticides and maintain vital biodiversity, whilst providing a sufficient and healthy diet for a growing population with increasing nutrition-related diseases.

The event ended with the Governing Board meeting in the afternoon, where Stéphane Bellon from French research institute INRAE shared his vision: Organic is still dynamic and the prototype of sustainable agriculture, contributing to public goods and being able to transfer innovations, experiences and techniques to wider agriculture, but it is challenged by other forms of agriculture (e.g., conversion agriculture, regenerative agriculture). With new operators we will have even more diversity, which needs to be combined with a clear identity. What models of agriculture and food do we want to support? The future of organic is collective.

TP Organics is the European Technology Platform for Organic Food and Farming. IFOAM Organics Europe is a founding member and hosts its secretariat. Visit www.tporganics.eu for more information and follow its Twitter @TPorganics.

This publication is co-financed by the LIFE programme of the European Union, under the under the Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency (CINEA). This publication only reflects the views of the authors and its sole responsibility lies with IFOAM Organics Europe. CINEA is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information provided.

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