Window on Innovation n. 5

Window on Innovation n. 5
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After five years from its launch, the European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability (Eip-Agri) has recently undergone a thorough evaluation. The whole process proved to be particularly challenging, since the implementation of the Eip-Agri is still at its initial stage: although the European Rural Development Programmes (Rdps) have been all approved since one year, only few Operational Groups (OGs) are already in force. Nevertheless, the evaluation has shown clear signs of appreciation from various stakeholders for the interactive and participatory approach on which the Eip is based.

Updates

During 2016, independent consultants (Coffey International Development) conducted an evaluation study of the Eip-Agri for the European Commission (DG Agri), recently published at this [link]. The aim of the study was to assess the Eip in terms of relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, coherence and EU added value of its two main aspects, namely the Eip as implemented by Member States and regions in particular through the Rdps; and the support for the Eip provided by the Eip network [pdf]. The strengths and weaknesses of the Eip-Agri - so the opportunities and threats - were therefore identified and recommendations on how to improve it have been suggested.
The study team spoke to key actors across the Member States, including government officials, farmers’ representatives, academic researchers and businesses.
Although it was not yet possible to analyse the final results of the projects of the operational  groups (OG) - the implementation of the Eip-Agri has indeed just begun - the study was based mainly on the approved Psr, the national legislations, the first calls for the OG and the effectiveness and efficiency of activities planned so far.
The study covers all Member States, while detailed case studies examine 20 Rdps across 10 Member States. The case study selection includes a range of countries which not only represent different approaches to agricultural knowledge and innovation systems, but which also cover the breadth of major agri-food systems across Europe from the Mediterranean, to North West Europe, Scandinavia, Northern centre to the Accession States.
The vast majority of Rdps (96 out of a possible 111 Rdps1) have programmed for the Eip and devoted substantial resources to it, which testifies to the perceived need for its distinctive approach to innovation. This is unusual for a new measure, and demonstrates that the Member States and regions are willing to prioritise and address these needs.
Individual OGs, while highly diverse, are for the most part dealing with relevant issues from a practical perspective, and bringing together the desired innovation actors. Assuming that a substantial proportion of the envisaged 3,205 OGs are formed, it is highly likely that they will lead to a large number of innovative solutions to practical agricultural and forestry problems [pdf].
Given the fact that Eip-Agri has only just begun to be implemented, final OGs project results were not yet available when the research took place. For this reason, the study relied to a large extent on approved implementation plans (Rdps) and related national legislation, first calls and on the likely effectiveness and efficiency of the activities that are expected to follow. The study found interesting results.
Agricultural businesses are more likely to become involved in the innovation process under the Eip as compared with other funding streams for innovation in the agricultural sector; however, smaller businesses, including some primary producers, may be deterred from applying for funding because of the lack of advance funding and the administrative burden associated with Eip. The pan-European approach of Eip and the ability to share lessons, promote awareness and uptake of the Eip and form partnerships across countries and regions are a distinctive and potentially powerful aspect of the initiative; however, a lack of clear Eip-related activity plans raises concerns about how many national and rural networks will do this in practical terms. In addition, the study found that there is a solid basis for external coherence between the Eip and other policies. However, at this stage there is a widespread lack of awareness of the joint opportunities and synergies between the Eip and related EU funding and initiatives: stakeholders are currently prioritising the set-up and opportunities offered by rural development funding at local level at this early stage of development of the initiative. Finally, although several thousand farms will participate to OGs, this is only a small proportion of all farms in the EU. Therefore, the dissemination of OG results and their wider application on farms that are not partners in an OG is vital.
Recommendations derive. The study concluded that to deal with the challenges ahead there is the need to:

  • improve multiplication to maximise effectiveness, follow-up action and synergies: this can be achieved, e.g., by improving the Eip website, including multipliers in OGs, or improving linkages between OGs and Thematic Networks;
  • simplify and improve administrative systems and rules, for example by means of promoting a third party brokering and facilitation at the Rdp level, or allowing for advanced payments, similarly to other Rpd measures and to research projects;
  • promote the understanding of the Eip’s EU added value, also by means of improving clarity about the distinctive features and EU added value of the Eip at all levels;
  • build existing national and regional agricultural knowledge and innovation structures into an EU wide Akis structure, for example building coherent national or regional Akis, or improving integration of existing advisory and networking structures;
  • create links to and awareness of potential "follow up" funding (H2020 level, Rdp level, EU level).

News from Europe

  • On 26-28 January 2016 a conference entitled “Designing the path: a strategic approach to EU agricultural research and innovation” was held in Brussels [link]. The conference promoted a discussion about how to set a long-term strategy for research and innovation in agriculture in Europe, assessing the possible content and implementation methods. At this [link] it is possible to find videos and related presentations.
  • On 6-7 October 2016, a seminar on the evolution of the European Akis after the implementation of the Eip-Agri was held in Budapest. The event was organized within the activities of the collaborative working group on AKIS born within the Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (Scar) and now in its fourth term. The event has highlighted the initial effects that the implementation of the Eip-Agri has had on the evolution of the national knowledge systems. Cross-cutting issues functional to the operate of the Akis were also analysed, such as the links between interactive innovation projects implemented at different levels and by different actors, as well as some examples of similar projects already implemented or in progress [link].

Operational Groups

  • The workshop “Operational Groups: First experiences” took place in Legnaro, Italy, on 20-21 April 2016. Organised by DG Agri, this two-day workshop in Italy aimed at exploring the initial experiences of setting up OGs and the early stages of project implementation. A report [pdf] gives a brief overview of the presentations and discussions that took place [link].
  • Many OGs are currently up and running. Member States and regions have set up websites where information on each of the OGs selected for funding can be found [link]. Austria, Belgium, France, Italy and Germany are the EU countries where the first funded OGs are currently active.
  • Eip-Agri promotes the Toolkit for Operational Group [link], a communication product where who is thinking of setting up an OG can find a number of interesting tips and ideas. The toolkit was developed using the outputs of the interactive Eip-Agri workshop on OGs [link].

Focus Group

  • A new call for EIP-AGRI Focus Group experts has just opened [link]. The topics to be covered by the two new Focus Groups are: (1) New forest practices and tools for adaptation and mitigation of climate change; (2) Grazing for Carbon. Having practical experience on any of these topics is the requirement for 20 experts to be selected and to identify promising and inspiring ideas for innovation. It is possible to apply by 23 March 2017.

Horizon 2020

  • The Societal Challenge 2 part of Horizon 2020 offers for 2016-2017 a budget of around €877 million, out of which €560 million are of direct interest to agriculture and forestry. The main opportunities for agriculture and forestry can be found in three main calls: Sustainable Food Security (Sfs); Rural Renaissance (Rur); Bio-based innovation (BB).
  • Available at this [link] the Eip-Agri Brochure on Funding opportunities under Horizon 2020, calls for 2017 [pdf]. At this [link] it is possible to find all the information on the research projects already funded (2014-2016) within the call “Societal Challenge 2”; some of these are related to innovation in agriculture. For information related to research projects only in agricultural, please visit this [link].

News flash from Italy

Rural development policy

  • The two-year Action Plan 2017-2018 of the National Rural Network, recently published, describes the activities that the National Rural Network aims to achieve for the next two years. Overall, the plan provides for a budget of approximately 19.8 million Euro. The Plan outlines, in relation to the priorities and objectives of the program, actions to be taken, the instruments and the beneficiaries of the activities. Four strategic priorities are envisaged: (1) Improving the quality of the rural development programs’ implementation; (2) Encouraging the participation of stakeholders to the implementation of the rural development policy; (3) Information, communication and sharing of knowledge on rural development policy; (4) Promotion of innovation [pdf].

Operational Groups

  • Emilia Romagna is the first Italian region speeding up on the funding for operational groups: 12 million euro have been set for 52 approved OGs (out of 160 proposed), just starting their activities. One goal: more competitive farms, but also more sustainable and efficient management of natural resources.
  • The 52 OGs (now just starting) will work on innovative projects on specific focus areas: competitiveness, restructuring and modernization of farms (18 projects, total investment 5.9 million euro, public contribution 4.2 million euro); improvement of water quality with particular attention to the presence of fertilizers and pesticides (20 projects, total cost of 6.2 million and a contribution of 5.6 million); crops system, soil quality and contrast to erosion (4 projects, 731,000 euro invested, a contribution of almost 658,000 euro); more efficient use of water in agriculture (6 projects, nearly 967,000 euro invested, a contribution of 869,000 euro); carbon sequestration in soil and fighting climate change (4 projects, 673,000 euro entirely covered by public contributions) .
  • About 400 actors are involved, a widespread network operating on the territory and consisting of universities and research organizations, farmers, training and consulting organizations.
  • Including the private co-financing, the 52 selected projects will handle investments for 14.5 million euro. Additional public resources (16 million euro) have been made available at the end of 2016 to finance new calls for agricultural research. In total, 50 million euro are made available by 2020 to fund the regional OGs.
  • For an overview of the state of the art of the Italian regions that have opened calls for sub-measures 16.1 and 16.2, calls still under investigation or just closed, it is possible to check the attached document - in Italian [pdf] produced by the National Rural Network.

Research and Innovation

  • Approved in November 2016 the “user guide” of the General Directorate for rural development of the Italian Ministry for Agricultural, Food and Rural Policy that redefines the criteria and procedures for accessing the funds the Ministry makes available and the criteria for the management of research projects aimed at  development, innovation and enhancement of the Italian agro-food system [link]. The manual describes the terms of reference, the procedures for accessing the grants for research and innovation in agriculture and forestry, the evaluation criteria, the administrative procedures, accounting, financial modalities and the monitoring of the funded projects.
  • 1. While there are in total 118 Rdps, eight of them are national framework programmes or National Rural Network programmes that do not cover specific regions and would therefore not be expected to programme for the Eip. The exception to this is Spain, which has programmed for OGs in its national framework Rdp.
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