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European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science
Role of research & innovation in agriculture
4 June 2013
We share a saying in most European languages that necessity is the mother of invention. For agriculture, such a moment of necessity has come in the search for new approaches to farming. Solving the future challenge of producing more with less and in a more sustainable manner is not mission impossible, but it does require a fundamental shift towards a different growth path and a swifter transfer of new products or techniques into practice. Currently we do not have sufficient knowledge and methods at hand to do so.
We need to invest in research and innovation and to ensure that our investments are translated into concrete results on the ground. We also need better coordination at EU level to achieve more genuine European added-value. This is precisely the impetus that we are seeking to stimulate with the EU's Research and Innovation programme for 2014 to 2020 - "Horizon 2020".
Having seen a slowdown in public investment in agricultural research in the 1990s our proposals for Horizon 2020 are seeking to double the previous EU funding available for agriculture and food research, to more than €4 billion. This sends a clear political signal that we want to put agriculture and food research, as key components of the bioeconomy, well and truly back on the agenda.
Over the coming decades, European agriculture has an obligation to address forecasted growth in food demand and the need to provide a sustainable, safe and secure food supply for the European and an increasing global population. In this context, Europe has a sophisticated and abundant food chain but it has an obligation to assist developing countries to create viable and sustainable agro-food sectors. To complicate matters farmers in Europe and elsewhere will have to face up to increased competition for limited and finite natural resources as well as the additional pressure that this poses on ecosystem services like biodiversity, water retention, and pollination or soil quality.
Another challenge is climate change where we must not only mitigate the impact of agriculture on climate change, but also enable agriculture to adapt to the impact climate change is putting on farming, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture. Climate change scenarios envisage a higher risk for crop failures and global food price spikes resulting from diminished harvests due to extreme weather events. The challenge is therefore not only to produce more, but also to produce more effectively, and in more difficult conditions.
Moreover, in this context, we need a better utilisation of food waste as recent studies suggest that half the world's food is wasted every day through overzealous sell by dates and poor agricultural engineering, practices, and infrastructure. It is essential therefore that in addressing climate change, natural resources depletion, and food waste, that agriculture is from now on seen as part of the solution rather than the problem.
This is why public investment in research and innovation is so important and why our proposals for Horizon 2020 identify food security and sustainable agriculture as a specific challenge for future research priorities. By improving planning, coordination and collaboration, and by focusing funding on critical mass, the EU's input can make a genuine impact in getting a better return for public investment. Projects managed and funded at national or regional level are also critical here and the growing range and role of ERANETS, Joint Programming Initiatives, and the European Innovation Partnerships, will be instrumental in achieving a better cross national coordination of these efforts.
The European Commission is already playing an important role in supporting the activities of the Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (SCAR) to promote a better coordination between the Member States across the agriculture research sector. It has facilitated the creation of a Joint Programming Initiative on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change and a Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life. In the recently finished seventh framework programme it is directly supporting many collaborative research activities addressing various aspects of food security and climate change adaptation and mitigation with a wide range of international partners.
As an example I can mention here the € 8 million euro FP7 project on exploring the future of global food and nutrition security, involving partners from Africa, Latin America and Asia. The FOODSECURE project is the mainline research in this area and aims to design effective and sustainable strategies for assessing and addressing the challenges of worldwide food and nutrition security. This includes devising analytical instruments to experiment, analyse, and coordinate the effects of short and long term policies related to achieving food security. The role the EU is crucial in defining a global agricultural R&D agenda, in collaboration with international organisations such as UN agencies, the World Bank, OECD, and G8, with multilateral organisations such as the African Union, ASEAN, and Mercosur, and with bodies global agricultural research bodies such as GFAR and CGIAR.
In March 2012 the European Commission launched a comprehensive strategy and action plan for a European bio-economy by 2020 encompassing the challenges of sustainable agriculture and food security. Furthermore a new EU policy framework was adopted in March 2010 to help developing countries address food security. This policy also calls on Member States to increase their support to demand-led agricultural research, extension and innovation, and the European Commission is discussing an increase in funding for these research-related activities under the second phase of the Food Security Thematic Programme under the EU Development Funds.
However, launching networks and initiatives such as these and boosting the research and innovation budget within H2020 is not a silver bullet. Over the past years we have funded a lot of research which has had limited market impact on large scale agricultural practice. This is because the research knowledge generated is not always market ready and needs better evaluation and direction towards uptake and exploitation. It is clear that an increase in research funding will work best if we can create the right environment for innovation to thrive. Agricultural innovation has to be more than just a one-way transfer of results to practice. Innovation prospers when the worlds of research and farming permanently interact by sharing knowledge, ideas and thinking together. This is precisely the objective we want to achieve with the European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability (EIP).
Beginning in 2012, the EIP forms partnerships between farmers, advisors, researchers, businesses, and other actors in "operational groups" working on concrete innovation projects. This bottom up approach enables ideas to come from the end-users themselves. In other words, farmers, businesses and researchers will be brought closer together to work on new ideas where they are really needed. As these innovative ideas evolve, they can be brought closer to agricultural practice.
Apart from providing the knowledge base for the EIP, a number of actions under Horizon 2020 will be embedded in the EIP such as support for transnational multi-actor projects, for networks, and for innovation brokers. In turn, the EIP will provide input for the research agenda. Under the CAP a new and strengthened innovation section within Rural Development policy will provide support for EIP Operational Groups to test and develop innovative solutions.
As I mentioned before boosting the awareness of innovative solutions and practices has been identified as a weakness within agricultural research. Horizon 2020 will address how best to disseminate projects that work particularly well both locally and across borders and sectors and accelerate technological transfer from the laboratory to the field. It will also deploy EIP operational groups, ERA networks, Joint programming initiatives, technology platforms and transnational projects to highlight innovation possibilities that will facilitate this process.
I believe that the EIP in combination with Horizon 2020 will consolidate this participatory approach and stimulate innovation from all sides. A broad stakeholder involvement also facilitates the mainstreaming of new solutions since it strengthens focus, speeds up the acceptance and dissemination of new ideas, and it helps target the research agenda.
The Horizon 2020 proposal supports many other Innovation Union commitments. This means more EU funding for demonstration and pilots, for the inclusion of standardisation from the start of research projects, and stimulating innovation in broader non-technological areas such as design, services and social sciences.
Horizon 2020's focus on innovation will bring new forms of funding from research and innovation and from laboratory to exploitation; from the support for testing, prototyping and demonstration type activities; and from the new measures for risk and equity funding of innovative companies. The radically revamped approach to SMEs includes a dedicated scheme for supporting those companies showing a strong ambition to develop, grow and internationalise.
A greater emphasis is also being given to building networks, such as the public-private and public-public partnerships. Over the course of the current 7th Framework Programme we have already learnt a great deal about how these work and sometimes why there have been difficulties. This experience will help us develop more effective partnerships in Horizon 2020. Indeed many of these lessons are being deployed in the current development of the Public Private Partnership on biobased industries which we hope to launch under Horizon 2020 next year.
FP7 has already supported transnational co-operation between research-intensive clusters. These clusters are vehicles for knowledge transfer from academia to business – from research to commercialisation - bringing together universities, research centres, enterprises and regional authorities. They also boost innovation and sustainable economic development in their regions.
In the future, we will be looking for even greater synergies with the new round of Structural Funds post-2014, based on regional smart specialisation strategies. Naturally, clusters will play a major role in creating these synergies.
This programme brings many new approaches and ideas but in the end I truly believe that Europe will only fully benefit from our excellent research and capitalise on our innovation potential when it becomes as easy for research institutes, universities and companies to partner and cooperate within the European Union as it is within their own Member States. Ultimately by removing the obstacles to the free flow of researchers, data, ideas, and scientific knowledge in Europe, Horizon 2020 will bring us closer to a properly-functioning European Research Area.
Thank you for your attention.