Organic farming in the European Research and Innovation partnership on agroecology living labs and research infrastructures

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15 August 2022, New Delhi: On 27 July 2022, in the frame of BIOFACH 2022, the international organic trade fair and congress, FiBL Europe organised a session related to the European project ALL-Ready to discuss how organic and agroecology can positively influence each other and to understand the role of organic agriculture in the future of the Horizon Europe Research and Innovation partnership on agroecology living labs and research infrastructures.

The first speaker, Dr Heather McKhann from the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment, INRAE, coordinator of the European Joint Programming Initiative on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change (FACCE-JPI) and coordinator of ALL-Ready, briefly presented the structure, activities and main outcomes of the project. She explained the relevance of the pilot network, which also contains several organic agroecology living labs, and stressed how important the systems approach is – a core principle of both organic and agroecology. According to the approach, not only farming systems but also the value chain should be taken into account in the transformation of our agri-food systems.

Nicolas Tinois from Jülich Research Centre, co-chair of the Strategic Working Group on Agroecology under the Standing Committee on Agricultural Research is responsible for the preparation of the European partnership ‘Accelerating farming systems transition: agroecology living labs and research infrastructures‘. In his presentation, he explained how organic is represented by TP Organics, CORE Organic and IFOAM Organics Europe, as observers of the working group. The process, initiated by the European Commission, started in 2020 and now the first version of the Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA) is ready and open for consultation until 30 September 2022. The strategic working group decided not to come up with a new definition of agroecology, but to establish common guidelines, e. g. soil health and quality, water retention, etc., which are fully in line with the organic principles. The SRIA and partnership dossier contain in detail these guidelines, the conceptual framework as well as the mid-term and long-term objectives set up to reach agroecology transition by 2050. Organic agriculture provides best practices and innovative ideas, like rational use of resources, provision of ecosystem services, alternative business models, etc., when it comes to redesigning agroecosystems and value chains. Even though there are no specific research topics dedicated to organic in the SRIA, organic is a key practice to accelerate agroecology transition.

Dr Dóra Drexler, director of the Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture ÖMKi, introduced the practice of participatory agricultural research in Hungary, where a nation-wide on-farm network was developed, which is now an official member of ENOLL, the European Network of Living Labs. In her presentation, she highlighted the key success factors of organic agroecology living labs, which start with the methodology, based on multi-stakeholder participation, co-creation and user-centred innovation. It was also emphasised that in such a multi-actor and practice-oriented environment good facilitation and coordination to build trust among farmers and other stakeholders are essential. Furthermore, it is important to find the right communication channels to keep the information flowing in order to motivate the participants and keep them engaged throughout the project.

Our last speaker, Dr Marcos Lana, associate Professor in Cropping Systems at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Secretary General of Agroecology Europe, representing the sister Horizon Project AE4EU, explained the history and different definitions and components of agroecology in his presentation. He emphasised that instead of rules agroecology is based on different principles, tackling environmental, economic and social aspects. The transition towards resilient systems is challenging for farmers and other value chain actors. Organic agriculture is considered a driver of the agroecology transition, by paving the way to more sustainable farming systems, providing new and traditional knowledge, proved by thousands of farmers on millions of hectares. For the conversion and transition of the existing systems we need to substitute inputs, technologies and practices and to redesign agroecosystems, in which organic agriculture plays an important role.

Our speakers agreed that agroecology functions as an umbrella including organic agriculture, the latter being usually a forerunner when it comes to agroecology practices. They emphasized that organic and agroecology share more similarities than differences, working in synergy and both having a systems approach, which is crucial to achieve the transition towards a truly sustainable and resilient agri-food system.

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