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Promoting innovation through the EIP Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability

Last week I attended a meeting of the High Level Steering Board of the European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability (EIP-A) representing the European Association for Agricultural Economists. The meeting was jointly organised by Dacian Ciolos, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, and Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, Commissioner for Research and Innovation.
It brought together 42 people representing member states, the farm and food sectors, NGOs, representatives from existing Joint Programming Initiatives in the food and agriculture area as well as scientific associations and the university sector. The purpose of the meeting was to provide input for drawing up the EIP Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) and the agenda was organised around four questions relating to priorities, bottlenecks, mobilising farmers and delivery mechanisms and funding.
Given the diversity of interests around the table, the discussion highlighted inevitable tensions around (a) the concept of innovation and how to define it (b) the balance between agricultural and food innovation particularly in the context of the EU’s bioeconomy strategy, and (c) within agriculture, the emphasis to be given to increasing production with less external inputs compared to more agroecological approaches placing more emphasis on sustainability and less on production.
Much of the detail regarding how the EIP will be implemented still remains to be decided. In this post I summarise my understanding of the state of play and highlight some of the issues which remain to be addressed.
For background on the EIP, this DG Agri website provides access to the relevant Commission documents. The outcome of last November’s stakeholder conference on the EIP-A also provides useful context.
The motivation for EIP-A

To recap on the motivation for the EIP-A, it has two main objectives. One is to speed up the dissemination of innovations to users and to reduce the ‘time to market’. However, it recognises that this idea rests on a rather outdated linear model of innovation and is likely to fail if researchers and users are anyway working in silos and not communicating with each other.
Instead, the EIP-A is built on the interactive innovation model which focuses on forming partnerships using bottom-up approaches linking farmers, advisors, researchers, businesses, and other actors in Operational Groups (OGs). This approach is expected to stimulate innovation from all sides and, importantly, is intended to influence the research agenda itself, generating new ideas and insights, and including existing, sometimes tacit, knowledge into focused solutions.
These ideas are encapsulated in Article 62 (2) of the Commission’s proposed new rural development regulation for the CAP post 2013.

The EIP for agricultural productivity and sustainability shall seek to achieve its aims by: (a) creating added value by better linking research and farming practice and encouraging the wider use of available innovation measures; (b) promoting the faster and wider transposition of innovative solutions into practice; and (c) informing the scientific community about the research needs of farming practice.

In addition, the Agricultural Council has stressed that the the EIP-A should “unlock the potential in the European agri-food sector and upand down-stream sectors by fostering innovation in products, processes and services throughout the whole food supply chain and thereby creating an environment in which ideas can be turned into commercial successes more easily and thus strengthening the competitiveness of the agricultural sector and enabling farmers to get new earnings.”
EIP-A in the Rural Development Regulation
Article 61(1) of the proposed rural development regulation sets out the objectives for the EIP-A:

The EIP for agricultural productivity and sustainability shall: (a) promote a resource efficient, productive, low emission, climate friendly and resilient agricultural sector, working in harmony with the essential natural resources on which farming depends; (b) help deliver a steady supply of food, feed and biomaterials, both existing and new ones; (c) improve processes to preserve the environment, adapt to climate change and mitigate it; (d) build bridges between cutting-edge research knowledge and technology and farmers, businesses and advisory services.

EU rural development funding will contribute to the aims of the EIP for agricultural productivity and sustainability through support for EIP OGs and the EIP Network (Art 61(3)). EIP operational groups shall be set up by interested actors such as farmers, researchers, advisors and businesses involved in the agriculture and food sector (Art 62(1)). Support will be provided to OGs under the Cooperation measure in the RD regulation (Art 36(1)).
The Cooperation measure will support a variety of networking activities and joint actions, but of specific interest to innovation will be support for pilot projects and the development of new products, practices, processes and technologies in the agriculture, food and forestry sectors (Art 36(2)). Support can be given to the running costs of OGs and the direct costs of specific projects linked to actions targeted towards innovation (Art 36(5)).
EIP-A and Horizon 2020

In addition, OGs will be able to seek funding under the EU’s Horizon 2020 research programme. Horizon 2020 brings together the EU Framework Programme for Research, the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) and European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) in a new programme architecture (this powerpoint gives a good overview of the proposed new structure).
In the next programming period, EU funding for research and innovation will be focused on three strategic objectives, implemented through specific programmes and a dedicated financial contribution to the EIT. The objectives are:
excellent science (including support for the European Research Council, Marie Curie researcher mobility, improving access to research infrastructure and investments in emerging technologies);
industrial leadership (designed to make Europe a more attractive place to invest in research and innovation, and including major investments in key industrial technologies, funding for financial instruments to improve access to risk finance, and support for innovation in SMEs with high growth potential); and
societal challenges (designed to tackle the major issues affecting European citizens and where the focus will be on six key areas: Health, demographic change and well-being; food security, sustainable agriculture, marine and maritime research and the bio-based economy; secure, clean and efficient energy; smart, green and integrated transport; climate action, resource efficiency and raw materials; and inclusive, innovative and secure societies).
In the Commission’s initial proposal for the MFF, €4.7 billion was allocated for the Challenge “Food security, sustainable agriculture, marine and maritime research, and the bioeconomy”, with complementary funding in other areas of Horizon 2020. The exact amount will not be known until the MFF is finally agreed between the two arms of the legislature.
For all Societal Challenges, the activities are intended to cover the full range of research and innovation with an emphasis on innovation-related activities such as piloting, demonstration, test-beds, and support for public procurement, pre-normative research and standard setting, and market uptake of innovations.
What role will the EIPs (not only the agricultural EIP) play in implementing Horizon 2020? The Commission’s draft proposal to establish the specific programme implementing Horizon 2020 – the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation – noted with respect to the Food Security challenge in the Societal Challenges priority that “Appropriate links will be established with the actions of the European Innovation Partnership ‘Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability” (p. 59).
According to DG Research, the objectives developed in the EIPs’ Strategic Implementation Plans will be key contributions to the definition of priorities in the annual work programmes of Horizon 2020, with obligations on both sides (the Commission and the EIP) to ensure dialogue and follow-up on proposed priorities.
Other relevant passages in the Commission’s draft decision to establish the Framework Programme include:

“The impact and dissemination of research results will be actively supported through specific actions on communication, knowledge exchange and the involvement of various actors all along the projects. Implementation will combine a wide range of activities, including substantial demonstration and pilot activities. …
The specific support to SMEs will allow for an increased participation of farms, fishermen and other types of micro-enterprises in research and demonstration activities. The specific needs of the primary production sector for innovation support services and outreach structures will be taken into account. Implementation will combine a wide range of activities, including knowledge exchange actions where the involvement of farmers and intermediaries will be actively ensured in view of summarising the research needs of end-users….” (p. 59)

These undertakings of Horizon 2020 in support of OGs will be translated into instruments and practical approaches via the annual work programmes and calls for proposals. Current thinking involves projects integrating a continuum from basic to applied research, cross-border and cluster initiatives such as thematic networks, multi-actor approaches, pilot or demonstration projects, as well as supporting innovation brokers and innovation centres as intermediates to connect farmers and stakeholders with research.
The programme for the November 2012 stakeholder conference includes some examples of thematic networks, OGs and innovation brokers which might look for support under the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme.
Issues
A number of issues with respect to the EIP-A remain to be clarified as the Strategic Implementation Plan is prepared, as the specific rules for accessing Horizon 2020 funds are developed, and as member states formulate their Rural Development Programmes.
Innovation priorities. One of the objectives of the Strategic Implementation Plan is to identify areas of action for the EIP-A. As we have seen, these will be one of the inputs into the annual work programmes and calls for proposals in Horizon 2020. On the other hand, the EIP-A is meant to be a bottom-up process, in which case one would want the themes to emerge from the specific issues around which OGs are formed.
However, assuming that there will be a greater demand for funding from OGs than the resources available, some selection will be inevitable. The question is what criteria will be used to select successful groups and projects? What will be the balance between projects focused on the bioeconomy, on the food industry and on agricultural production? And, within agriculture, what balance will be sought between the productivity and sustainability goals?
The food industry, in particular, is making a strong play for resources. A European Technology Partnership Food for Life was created in 2005 as a public/private partnership to address innovation in the agri-food sector. A consortium of major food firms has been formed (www.foodbest.eu) to make the case for a future Food4Future Knowledge and Innovation Community funded by the European Institute of Technology, the call for which is expected this year. This consortium would be in a strong position to bid for EIP funds under Horizon 2020.
Already, BRIDGE is a public-private partnership involving EU biotechnology firms in the healthcare, agriculture and industrial biotechnology areas which has been awarded funding of up to €1 billion from the Food security and biotechnology budget in Horizon 2020. This is a large slice of the projected resources for this challenge.
The distribution of Horizon 2020 funding for the EIP-A will be determined through the bi-annual calls for proposals, which in turn will be influenced by the Strategic Implementation Plan. An open question is whether the selection process will be administered by DG Research or DG Agri. One might expect DG Research to favour more funding for food and bioeconomy research, and DG Agri to support more farm-level research, so the relative input of the two DGs will have an important bearing on the outcome.
Member states are left more to their own devices in deciding on their innovation priorities. Target groups and priorities will be defined through eligibility and selection criteria set by the rural development programming authorities. Although the Commission could use its power of approval of RD programmes to require member states to follow the SIP priorities, this would not gel with the emphasis on a bottom up process. It is likely the Commission will be satisfied if broad references are made to the Strategic Implementation Plan.
Funding and networking. There will be two sources for EU funding for OGs (although other national and private sources of funding are also envisaged). National OGs will be funded under the Coordination measure of Rural Development Programmes. OGs which win funding from Horizon 2020 will require actors from at least three member or associated states. Member states will have an incentive to encourage their national OGs to form links with similar OGs in other member states to bid for Horizon 2020 funds in order to maximise their chances of attracting funding from this pot.
Indeed, to achieve the aims of the EIP, a lot of emphasis is put on encouraging networking and exchanges among OGs. A Network Facility will be established to promote the EIP network through focus groups, workshops, field visits and conferences. OGs which aim to generate innovative products, processes or services within the field of the EIP on agricultural productivity and sustainability are eligible to join the Network regardless of whether they receive funding under either the RD or research programmes.
Incentivisation of researchers. A presumption behind the EIP concept is that researchers’ priorities are increasingly determined by career progression criteria (such as number of publications, peer recognition and novelty for novelty’s sake) rather than by the desire to solve practical problems on farms or in food firms. Whether this is the case or not is itself a topic for debate (for a timely analysis of this issue in my own discipline of agricultural economics, see Lars Brink’s recent Fellows Address to the Canadian Agricultural Economics Society entitled ‘Making Agricultural Economics Research Relevant for Policy Advice’).
Accepting that the problem exists, then the question is what are the incentives in the EIP-A for scientists to participate in OGs? In my view, many scientists enjoy the chance to work with users in any case and will welcome the increased access that OGs may provide. For other scientists, the availability of new funding streams through both member state RDPs and dedicated funding through Horizon 2020 should provide an attractive incentive. It will be up to member states to ensure that the outcomes are indeed development-orientated.
Will member states support the EIP-A? The answer to this question will not be known until the various national and regional Rural Development Programmes for the period 2014-2020 are approved by the Commission. RDP funding has been cut under the European Council’s proposal for the next MFF, the number of demands on this funding has been increased (including, for example, the possibility of funding risk management measures), and member states will also have the flexibility to shift resources to Pillar 1.
Against this background, it is not clear what priority member states will want to give to funding OGs and the EIP-A. The innovation partnership approach is supported by a wide range of stakeholders, including agricultural, environmental, food industry and consumer interests. A stronger focus on supporting innovation was one of the more positive elements in the Commission’s proposals for the CAP post -2013. It would be a pity if this idea were strangled at birth through lack of support from member states when drawing up their rural development plans.
Photo credit: Michael Hennessy Teagasc

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