Strengthening collaboration between research projects

29 Jun 2021

More than 80 participants at the 1st joint event of the three research projects for climate-smart and resilient farming: AGROMIX, MIXED and STARGATE

On June 14th, the first joint event of the three research projects funded under the EU Horizon 2020 call on climate-smart and resilient farming (LC-SFS-19-2018-2019): AGROMIX, MIXED and STARGATE, took place with more than 80 participants meeting remotely from across Europe and globally. The event was the first of a series of collaborative events between these three projects, that share common interests and complementarities in research on climate resilient land uses and was attended by staff from the European Commission’s Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI), for Environment (DG ENV) and for Climate Action (DG CLIMA), as well as from the Joint Research Centre (JRC).

The purpose of this first event was for participants to get to know about the projects and identify potential synergies to jointly develop throughout the duration of the projects. The first part of the meeting saw each project team presenting a brief overview of their structure and work packages, with particular focus on the approaches adopted and the expected outcomes from project activities. This was followed by a breakout session where participants could participate in three discussion groups. Each project chaired a breakout groups, that addressed key topics all three projects are set to work on in their working plans. The topics covered the following issues:

1. Models and tools used and develop to support land management, advancement of scientific knowledge, support mixed farming and agroforestry adapted value chains and relevant policies

In session 1 estimation models and tools, the STARGATE advancements and early results on the tailor-made climate services and the climate-smart decision tools were presented. The follow up discussion was focused on how these services and tools could be used by the AGROMIX and MIXED projects on specific use cases, so both STARGATE tools and AGROMIXE/MIXED use cases that will act complementary to each other, achieving this way the best use of the European funding received by the three projects under the H2020 framework by maximizing the impact of their research to the farming sector without reinventing the wheel.

2. The role of farmers as multi-actors and how to engage with farmers in research projects

In session 2 participants were invited to submit keywords to a Mentimeter that formed a word cloud. The first result is that the submissions were consistent across the three participating projects. One of the highlights arguments that farmers must receive some benefits for participation, which is best expressed as having the content focus on issues that are relevant to them. Benefits must be mutual, and it must be made clear that farmers participate as equals. Facilitators have the responsibility of providing timely feedback of results to participants.

With regard to content, there is tension between bottom-up approaches, which are uncertain, and promising concrete answers to research questions, which might not be the highest priority farmers, as part of project proposals. One solution is to make contact with farmers prior to project submission, but care should be taken to not overpromise, and fail to deliver should the project not be approved for finance.

It is desirable to challenge farmers, so as not to function in an echo chamber but this means it is also important to provide a comfortable and familiar setting for the exchanges. Farm visits are a good option if practical. During the exchanges, it is important to build a level of trust so that participating farmers are confident to tell what they really think. Social media is an effective tool for reaching and exchanging with farmers, but facilitators should be aware that some farmers (non-users) will be excluded, and the facilitator will not have control over who is excluded.

3. “Policy Co-Development” Breakout Group

AGROMIX presented a brief overview of their initial work in mapping policy instruments across Europe that promote and/or facilitate the transition and implementation of MF/AF systems. Participants then shared their opinions in response to the 4 main questions of the session:

  1. In practice, how does policy co-development work?
  2. What approaches can we use to engage people in the importance of policy?
  3. How can we work towards policy coherence in our policy development?
  4. What are the barriers for AF/MF to become a practice in policy?

Responses were collated on a Miro Board and reported below:

  1. Keyword: policy co-development. Points mentioned: multi-stakeholder approach, regional cooperation.
  2. Keyword: engage people in policy. Points mentioned. Subsidies, projects involvement
  3. Keyword: policy coherence. Points mentioned: CAP, clear definitions
  4. Keyword: barriers. Points mentioned. Land classification, regulations, prohibition of fencing, planting trees, CAP policy, Lack of understanding in big scale AF/MF, lack of knowledge in practice in AF/MF, lack of machinery, lack of financial background for new techniques, how to use precision agriculture.

Some considerations arise regarding the most important barriers for AF/MF to become a practice in policy:

  • Land classification, as (in most country) it doesn't support different land-use, and planting trees on certain land-use types on the same parcel, so regulation generally do not acknowledge MF/AF, hence operational plans and subsidies can't support these solutions.
  • Prohibition of fencing could be a potential to use for example for ecological connectivity and permeability for many species, but it is not in practice for law.
  • There is general lack of understanding and lack of knowledge on (especially) big scale practice for AM/MF and how to be support by policy the big scale solutions.
  • There is a lack of machinery (and know how) appropriate for AM/MF and especially on precision systems, which is the result of lack of funds and/or (in most cases) lack of cooperation for the use of such expensive technics by many farmers.
  • As for policy co-development the main point to work on a multi-stakeholder approach, and be aware that farmers are multi-stakeholders, so their involvement is the most important task.
  • A larger scale approach would be more important, such as regional support to provide common platform to farmers and provide potential cooperation and partners for them.
  • The most powerful tool to engage people to AF/MF are subsidies. Especially CAP, which provide a long scale time frame, hence set all possibilities for (probably too) long time, so CAP might become a barrier for MF/AF instead of being the most important supporter. (As CAP planning is over in most of the countries, the next stage to be concentrated on the operational plans and AF/MF integration to the horizontal aims.)

Finally, future meetings will focus on specific aspects that the three projects address in their work. Resilience, the multifaceted way it can be defined, and the challenges in measuring and assessing resilience in such complex and diverse farming systems has generated a lot of interest. The projects will work together in the coming months to strengthen collaboration and lay out a plan for future interactions to further explore and enhance the synergies between the projects’ activities.

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COORDINATOR
Dr. Sara Burbi - Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience - Coventry University, Ryton Gardens Campus, CV8 LG, UK
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