New faces and new projects in the Research & Innovation Unit 

A new year means new research and innovation (R&I) projects! Several new Horizon Europe projects in which IFOAM Organics Europe is involved have officially kicked off in the first quarter of 2024. Two new colleagues also joined the R&I Unit in January: Tyler Arbour as a R&I Coordinator, and Rebeca Gonzalez as an ESC Volunteer. Get to know them in the article Welcoming our new colleagues. To hear more about the exciting new projects and IFOAM Organics Europe’s role in them, read on! 

SOILL-Startup: Startup of the SOILL support structure for SOIL Living Labs

1 January 2024 to 31 December 2025

A core strategy of the Soil Deal for Europe Mission, which is all about restoring and protecting the health of the soils that literally underly our food system, is the creation of 100 Soil Health Living Labs and Lighthouses across Europe. SOILL-Startup is the first 2-year phase of the larger SOILL Framework Partnership coordinated by the European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL). During this period, the project will work with the first wave of Soil Health Living Labs and Lighthouses to create a central support structure to aid current living labs and potential applicants. Together with FiBL, the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture’s European (FiBL Europe) and Hungarian (ÖMKi) offices – the Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, IFOAM Organics Europe is a partner in the project, which held its kick-off meeting on 15-16 January 2024 in Brussels, and IFOAM Organics Europe R&I Coordinator Tyler Arbour attended.

What kind of support will be provided?

SOILL-Startup will be a web-based hub that will:
• Facilitate outreach, collaboration, and monitoring within the Living Lab network and beyond;.
• Develop trainings and supporting tools on methodologies, technical aspects, and cross-cutting areas;
• Develop a consolidated (self-)assessment framework that will allows current or potential living labs to identify strengths and weaknesses and adjust their approach accordingly.

The remaining support activities can be summarised as facilitating networking, knowledge sharing, and matchmaking to expand and strengthen the entire network of Soil Health and related Living Labs.

About SOILL-Startup

SOILL-Startup is the first 2-year phase of the larger SOILL Framework Partnership. The project will work with the first wave of Soil Health Living Labs and Lighthouses to create a central support structure to help current living labs and potential applicants. The European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL) coordinates the partnership.

Together with our members FiBL Europe and – the Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi), IFOAM Organics Europe is a project partner. As one of 28 European partners we contribute, among others, to an engagement campaign for applicant living labs, a helpdesk and info points, coaching and training, and developing a methodological framework for monitoring and evaluation.

If you or your organisation want to learn more about becoming (part of) a Soil Health Living Lab, keep following our newsletter and check out the SOILL-Startup website (coming soon), LinkedIn and X.

R&I Coordinator Tyler Arbour presenting our organisation at the SOILL-Startup Kick-off Meeting in Brussels. Credits: SOILL-Startup
The organic sector has a strong presence in the project with our colleagues from FiBL Europe and ÖMKi.
OrganicYieldsUP: Improving yields in organic cropping systems 

1 February 2024 to 31 January 2028 

Unlike most Horizon projects with their very creative acronyms, the name of this one makes clear what it’s all about addressing the ‘yield gap’ between crops grown using organic practices versus those grown in more intensive, high-input systems

Yields is one of the 23 ‘actions’ in the European Commission’s Organic Action Plan to reach the European Green Deal’s target of 25% of agricultural land under organic farming by 2030.  

At the project kick-off meeting held 27-28 February 2024 at FiBL Switzerland, the coordinators from FiBL Europe and representatives from the 15 other participating organisations came together to meet one another face-to-face, hear about the planned actions from each work-package leader, and to start working together in a series of breakout group workshops. Tyler Arbour, R&I Coordinator at IFOAM Organics Europe, is involved in the project and attended the meeting. 

In the opening session, the project’s Policy Officer Susana Gaona Sáez (of the EU Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development’s Research & Innovation Unit) summarized the project’s why nicely: “When putting together the research & innovation work programme specific to organic agriculture, the main message that kept coming up was that the knowledge to improve crop yields is out there, but needs to be brought together so that it can be taken up and applied by practitioners in the field”.  

She also stressed the need to reach out beyond organic farmers if we want to increase the conversion from conventional to organic, as well as the importance of cooperation with other projects, giving as examples LIVESEEDING, InnOBreed, OrganicAdviceNetwork, OrganicTargets4EU, and the European Partnership Agroecology

About OrganicYieldsUP 

 OrganicYieldsUP’s project partners will develop a database capable of storing diverse crop yields data in a coherent way and gather the existing data from scientific studies and existing databases. The analysis of this new ‘mega-dataset’ will identify the major and minor yield gaps as well as strategies for increasing yields. To apply this knowledge, the project will form multi-stakeholder peer groups in each European macro-region. 

Workshops with practitioners, visits to ‘lighthouse farms’, and cross-visits of the groups across regions will allow for rapid knowledge exchange and co-design of strategies for yield improvements and resilience, including under different modelled climate scenarios.  

Both research and innovation and policies impact the options available to farmers and the decisions they make. As IFOAM Organics Europe, our job focuses on the work package ‘Recommendations for EU research and policies’, led by the colleagues from the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, Italy.  

We will continue to keep you informed about project developments and opportunities to get involved. 

A ‘selfie’ of all the meeting attendees around the table during the kick-off meeting opening session. Credits: Tyler Arbour
Group picture at the FiBL Switzerland campus. Credits: Sharon Woolsey
A view overlooking the FiBL campus and the municipality of Frick, Switzerland in the background. Credits: Tyler Arbour
Organic wheat field experiment at FiBL Switzerland that has been running since 2002. Credits: Tyler Arbour
DARWIN: Transition to safe & sustainable food systems through new & innovative detection methods & digital solutions for plant-based products derived from new genomic techniques, under a co-creation approach 

1 January 2024 to 30 June 2027 

This project title is quite a mouthful, so let’s break it down. The key phrase is ‘new genomic techniques’, abbreviated as ‘NGTs’, which you have probably heard about if you’ve been following our work and EU food and farming media lately (visit our website for more information and key resources).  

A very short recap on NGTs

The term NGTs refers to biotechnologies that enable the modification of an organism’s genomic DNA in order to create genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and “have emerged or have been developed since 2001, when the existing GMO legislation was adopted” (as the European Commission put it in their 2021 study on the status of new genomic techniques). The biggest innovation has been the ‘CRISPR/Cas’ genome editing method that came onto the scene starting around 2012, generating much excitement in the biotech and agrochemical community, with genetic modification in food crops seen as one of the main areas of application. 

At the same time, the development of these new genomic techniques and their possible deregulation has also raised a lot of valid fears and concerns over unintended consequences for biosafety and food safety as well as the misuse or abuse of this powerful technology for greenwashing as well as patenting of seeds and genetic material. Watch our short explainer video What are new GMOs and why we need to keep them regulated if you would like to hear the story of these. 

We don’t know where these new genomic techniques are & will be used

This brings us to the ‘new detection methods’ part of the title. A major current concern is that plants and crops that have been genetically modified using NGTs, i.e. new GMOs, will be able to spread throughout the supply chain without detection. This is because current detection methods were designed for old GMOs, which leaves a clear DNA signature in the modified genome. With NGTs, the changes to the DNA can be much more subtle, and therefore more of a challenge to detect.  

However, the genomic-sequencing and computational/statistical methods to detect these new GMOs are available, or are in the pipeline, and this is where DARWIN comes in: The project aims to develop, test, and validate no less than 9 new detection methods for new GMO crops obtained through NGTs. 

We have the right to know what’s in our food, so we need detection methods & clear labels

As you can tell, this is a highly technical project. But adequate detection methods are an important aspect to ensure traceability and labelling throughout the whole supply chain. This is also in line with the widespread demands of European citizens who have been calling for new GMOs to be labelled for informed consumer choice

This clearly has important implications for testing, certification, and accurate labelling of our food products, including organic and non-GMO labels. Thus, the political implications of this project are substantial, which is why we as IFOAM Organics Europe decided to be part of this ground-breaking and science-based research.  

The first project work package where we are involved is titled ‘Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) Collaborative Stakeholder Ecosystem’ (the ‘co-creation approach’ part of the title). Together with our partners, we will bring together a diverse stakeholder group in a regulatory and policy roundtable to address the core implications surrounding NGTs later this year. We will lead the analysis of the roundtable results to provide policy recommendations in 2025. The policy work will culminate in a workshop with key stakeholders in 2026. 

Finally, ‘…and digital solutions’ refers to new and improved ways to ensure traceability, authenticity, and transparency of GM and non-GM food products throughout the entire supply chain, from seeds to shelves. This will be a learning opportunity for us at IFOAM Organics Europe, as it involves the use of blockchain and artificial-intelligence (AI) technologies. We are also excited that this project provides a chance for the Research & Innovation and Policy Units of IFOAM Organics Europe to team up and work more closely together within our organisation. 

About the DARWIN project 

The DARWIN project is a highly technological project aiming to develop, test, and validate 9 new detection methods for new GMO crops obtained through NGTs from 1 January 2024 to 30 June 2027. In full, it wants to “Transition to safe & sustainable food systems through new & innovative detection methods & digital solutions for plant-based products derived from new genomic techniques, under a co-creation approach”. 

This is a crucial project for food and farming sys    tems that want to remain GMO-free. So, as IFOAM Organics Europe we are part of the work package ‘Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) Collaborative Stakeholder Ecosystem’. Together with our partners, we will bring together a diverse stakeholder group in a regulatory and policy roundtable. This will result in policy recommendations in 2025 (based on the roundtable’s results) and a workshop with key stakeholders in 2026. 

To find out more about the DARWIN research project visit its website, read its recent press release and follow it on LinkedIn and X

OrganicClimateNET: A pilot network of organic farming actors contributing to the uptake of climate farming and its co-benefits for a carbon neutral a climate resilient Europe 

1 February 2024 – January 2028 

In February, OrganicClimateNET has started. The project will support organic farms’ capacity to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change while considering co-benefits to biodiversity, water, soil, and air. OrganicClimateNET will establish a pilot network of 250 organic farms across 12 EU countries to test, improve, and implement climate and carbon farming practices. Peer-to-peer learning and knowledge exchange between farms and across countries will be core elements of the project. 

As a project partner, IFOAM Organics Europe will support the design of organic climate policies. Therefore, we will map and assess relevant policies, produce policy briefs and engage with stakeholders in policy workshops together with project partners.  

FiBL Europe coordinates the project which runs from February 2024 until January 2028. 

You can follow OrganicClimateNET on LinkedIn, X, Instagram and YouTube

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or Research Executive Agency. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them. 

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