Agroecology thinking aims for a radical transformation of food and farming systems for multiple environmental and societal benefits and public goods. Yet an agroecological transition requires investments to be able to break free from the lock-ins to the current food system and support the strengthening of innovative agroecological approaches and opening-up of new opportunities including market development. Funding agroecology is thus a fundamental part of the transition to regenerative ways to provide plentiful food and fibre for all. In Europe, an agroecological transition takes its particular relevance from the current EU flagship policy - the European Green Deal (in combination with the Biodiversity Strategy). The ambitious EU Green Deal focuses on:
The European Green Deal is also considered the “European lifeline out of the COVID-19 pandemic”1. One third of the 1.8 trillion Euro investments from the Next Generation EU Recovery Plan, as well as the EU’s seven-year budget will contribute to finance the European Green Deal. At its heart is a sustainable food system: The Green Deal’s Farm to Fork strategy2. The objective of the Green Deal is a healthy food system for people and the planet.
Furthermore, The European agriculture and food system, supported by the Common Agricultural Policy3, is aiming to shift towards a sustainable food system that can bring environmental, health and social benefits, as well as offer fairer economic gains. Agroecology can be part of the solution.
In the EU goals some principles of agroecology are present and reflected. The EU’s goals are to:
For the period 2023-27, the CAP will be built around nine key objectives, all of which are also at the core of agroecology, and presently, despite lack of recognition, attained by thousands of agroecological farmers throughout Europe. Focused on social, environmental, and economic goals, these objectives will be the basis upon which EU countries design their CAP strategic plans.
It is high time to increase awareness and knowledge amongst governments and public officers across Europe, to understand the fundamental role that agroecology, and more specifically its roots and origin i.e., peasant agroecology, can play in reaching the renewed EU farm-to-fork sustainability and resilience goals.
Business uncertainties and the environmental impact of farming justify the significant role that the public sector plays for our farmers. The CAP takes action with the following measures:
These principles have allowed funding for agroecology-related activities at country-level, but financial support remains piecemeal and disconnected. The next step would be to move towards a more integrated perspective that allows synergies in the distribution of funds.
As the word ‘agroecology’ has only begun appearing on research calls in recent years, four further keyword families were selected so that funding supporting projects involving agroecological practices (but not necessarily the word) might be identified. These were:
Data collected from EC databases on research budgets and funding allocation, as well as Rural Development Programme (RDP) payments for selected countries provides an overview of the largest cross-national sources of funding that potentially support the development and practice of agroecology. The aim of this approach is to provide an overview of the type of funding available, both in terms of research funding, and RDP payments. The data reported is from reports publicly available from the EC web page7 on the European agriculture guarantee fund (EAGF):
Figure 1. Rural development spending commitments (2014-2020) by theme. Numbers are total contribution from EAFRD and national budgets (Source: European Commission).
A search has been carried out using the keywords and criteria described in the methods section and shown in Table 1. This was done to identify projects awarded funding under the Horizon 2020 programme 2014-2020. The results were then cross-checked against the three Horizon 2020 working programmes to obtain an estimate of the proportion of funding that has been awarded to projects and activities that could be linked to agroecology and related areas.
The search on CORDIS has produced results that have highlighted challenges in identifying which projects do contribute to agroecology and which projects may be only partially contributing. The results of the searches are summarised in Table 1.
|Keyword families||No. of Projects|
|Organic food & farming||59|
|Territorial food systems||49|
Table 1. Summary of projects funded under H2020 falling under keyword families ‘Organic’, ‘Agroecology’, ‘Agroforestry’, ‘Territories’, and ‘Regenerative’.
Overall we found 95 projects, when searching for projects categorised as “agroecology” on CORDIS under H2020 and Societal Challenges. Conversely, the result for “organic” was 59 projects. However, when taking a closer look there are indications that suggest that the use of the term “agroecology” could be limited to the environmental side of food systems, with the socio-economic and policy sides being addressed in projects using terminology linked to territorial food systems. While this is not negative per se, it can be a sign that agroecology is narrowed down to focus on practices exclusively.
When checking the individual project pages on CORDIS, 10 out of first 19 projects that appear under both searches do not mention agroecology and 1 out of 19 mentions “agro-ecosystems”. This suggests that the categorisation of projects and metadata associated with the webpages uses “agroecology practices” synonymies with “organic farming”. One possible explanation for these results is that a number of projects that do not explicitly work on agroecology (in the FAO definition) have been considered in the recent CORDIS Results Pack ‘Agroecology: Transitioning toward sustainable, climate and ecosystem-friendly farming and food systems’8 that highlights projects that are demonstrating potential for sustainable alternatives in farming. An example of this is the project OK-Net EcoFeed9 it has organic as the first word of the title (‘Organic Knowledge Network on Monogastric Animal Feed'), but the project does not explicitly work on agroecology, it neither claims to do so.
This is a key issue in analysing funding research, as it highlights a discrepancy in what is considered agroecology (agroecological practices briefly ) in the CORDIS results pack and what is being conceived and planned as a collaborative research project without specifically mentioning agroecology (as defined by the FAO).
for the COST-Actions10 a longer timeframe was used, spanning 1995-2020. It shows that in the early years of this period none of the 5 word-families were used; not even the word organic.
The earliest projects found relevant to organic used the term biological control of weed, biological control of pest insects and mites and sustainable low-input cereals. The first project dedicated exclusively to organic and with the word in the title is BioGreenhouse (2012-2016). It is on certified organic production in greenhouses and tunnels with the strapline ‘Towards sustainable and productive EU organic greenhouse horticulture’. Horticulture is often seen as fringe by mainstream organic (and conventional) agriculture. This is because it uses so little land, despite its socio-economic weight. Therefore, it is interesting to note that COST (where applications are subject-free i.e. not based on current calls) created an opportunity for this fringe to form a network. Further ‘Organic’ projects on fruit storage, legume forage and grapevine trunk disease continue with this ‘fridge aspect’. COST could therefore be of specific value to those knowledge networks as it provides a critical mass within EU and near neighbouring countries for the subject progress, which have not been picked up in Horizon 2020, and again not yet Horizon Europe. Subjects with good networks in COST could be invited to develop RIAs (Research and Innovation Actions) and IAs (Innovation Actions) within Horizon Europe.
The projects highlighted by the keyword searches have also been cross-checked against the funding calls within Societal Challenge 2 (‘Food Security, Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry, Marine, Maritime and Inland Water Research and the Bioeconomy’). The keywords have been searched within the Societal Challenge 2 working programmes for 2014-201545, 2016-201746, and 2018-202047. Preliminary results show there is a consistent increase in the words used in our 5 word-families.
Authors of the report
Ulrich Schmutz, Angela Hilmi, Nina Moeller, Lindy Binder, Sara Burbi and Michel Pimbert (CU)
Editors of the report Baptiste Grard and Alexander Wezel (ISARA)
Extracted article edited by Alice Fasso (UNISG)