THEMATIC SCOPE


Theme 1: Climate change challenges in the Continental and Pannonian Bio-geographical Regions

The territory of countries in central and eastern Europe (CEE) mostly belongs to the Continental and Pannonian Bio-geographical Regions (although these regions cover some other countries as well, and some areas of the CEE countries belong to other Bio-geographical Regions; see Map1). The gap here is the research and innovation divide in Europe, which hinders the unlocking of excellence in low performing research, development and innovation (RDI) regions and hinders the appearance of the relevant specific research topics of the Continental and Pannonian Bio-geographical Regions in Horizon 2020 work programmes. The low performance and topic representation of these Regions also block the realisation of the European Research Area and the promotion of synergies with the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) and the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) (see Annex 1 of Regulation (EU) No 1291/2013). A game changer would be to have region-specific research topics and coordination and support actions - as is the case in the Mediterranean Region - which reflect the Continental and Pannon Bio-geographical Regions' climate specificities. Owing to these, specific and extreme changes in the weather can be expected in the near future and therefore adaptation is a challenge in agriculture and the bioeconomy (crop production, animal husbandry, forestry, aquaculture, food processing and other bioeconomy activities, with cooling and heating, pest and disease control, risk management, knowledge transfer etc.) See Maps_Themes1. The identification and implementation of specific research areas for the Continental and Pannonian Regions in Horizon 2020 would not compromise the main principle of excellence in research, on the contrary it would enhance it. Moreover, it would not mean the exclusion of other Regions from the research; in fact the experiences of these Regions (e.g. Mediterranean drought, Atlantic storms) would be essential for reaching relevant results.

Specific challenge

The intensity of agricultural production in the CEECs has been lagging behind that of the other EU Member States. For example, farms are smaller, fertiliser application rates are lower and cereal yields are also lower. A game changer would be to have specific research on how the intensity of agricultural production could be increased through sustainable land use, soil conservation and cost- and environment sparing land use i.e. by ensuring adequate water and nutrient management taking into account the possibilities offered by the bioeconomy and the circular economy package.

Potential output

Establishment of a monitoring system that evaluates the economic and environmental performance of various tillage systems and precision agriculture under various climatic and soil conditions (e.g. drought) and under different cropping patterns.

Scope

Analysis and monitoring of the impact of conservation tillage and precision agriculture systems on soil water storage capacity, precipitation storage efficiency, soil degradation processes, yields and input costs.

Expected impacts

Analyses and databases to support farmers in making decisions about the application of new agro-technology that facilitates the adaptation to climate change, to avoid soil degradation and economic difficulties.

Specific challenge

While there is an increase in the demand for genetically homogeneous species, the diversity of cultivated species has been dramatically reduced. Therefore, in several regions of the CEE countries there is a need for an increase in biodiversity i.e. a long-term maintenance of shape diversity of cultivated plants and cultures of microorganisms. The maintenance and enhancement of biodiversity, strengthening of natural self-regulating processes, protection and maintenance of the biological status of soil, reduction of unfavourable environmental impacts due to inadequate nutrition management and guaranteeing food safety are considered to be important tasks of agriculture in order to protect the environment, the farmers and the health of consumers.

Potential output

Ensuring the movement of species between Natura 2000 areas; establishment of connections between natural sites through green corridors. Mitigation of habitat fragmentation. Increase in the ecological value of landscapes. Multifunctional agricultural land use.

Scope

Green Infrastructure (GI) is a holistic tool to tackle biodiversity loss while contributing to smart and sustainable socio-economic growth. It provides us with solutions for a better quality environment, a healthier society and a more prosperous economy.

At the policy level the GI concept has several links to EU policies, such as the Europe 2020 Strategy, the reformed CAP, the Multiannual Financial Framework, the Seventh Environment Action Programme, the European Semester through job creation and clearly to the EU Biodiversity Strategy. In CEE countries GI is an old/new concept, where several things are in place already in terms of both policy and practice, but there are still interpretation difficulties, and significant gaps in the institutional setup that are to be covered by integration.

Expected impacts

Carrying out research on how to ensure, through combining extensive production and green infrastructure elements (integrated land use, green corridors, creating habitat patches etc.), most efficiently the preservation of biodiversity and the production of sufficient food.

Specific challenge

In the so-called Visegrad (V4) countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia), technologies, decisions and support hindering the development of the organic sector are not consistently recognised. A game changer would be to conduct research on how to improve the unbalanced production structure, the low use of organic seeds and manure, the small extent of processing and the low market organisations and coordination.

Potential output

Designing and applying of eco-functional (organic or integrated) production systems that are providing, in addition to optimal resource utilisation and low environmental (load) effects, high and reliable quality food products. Designing and applying new production systems (agro-ecological provisioning plants, intercropping, ground cover plants) that exploit plant diversity and variability to meet agronomic and environmental (agro-ecosystem) demands.

Scope

Such integrated agro-ecological systems and the organic production contribute to the maintenance of the nutrient cycle, to the increase of soil productivity, to weed suppression and to the maintenance of indigenous insect species. The implementation of effective organic production requires awareness-raising and the reduction of post-harvest crop (food) losses.

Expected impacts

Developing the functioning and efficiency of market organisations, increasing market coordination. Development and implementation of ecologically important organic production systems and technologies and achievement of efficient resource use and minimised amounts of waste.

Specific challenge

The gap is how the bio-economy can contribute to increasing energy security and improving competitiveness in the agriculture of the CEE countries which is highly dependent on fossil fuels. Agriculture has been one of the energy consuming sectors for centuries. Now there is a growing pressure from other sectors and from the public that this should be changed, or at least balanced some way. The game changer would be to conduct research on how CEE agriculture can share the efforts with other sectors, improve its energy efficiency and use its energy production capabilities to cover its own energy needs as much as possible. This topic could have a strong synergy potential with other EU strategies (e.g. reaching the targets of the EU Energy Strategy) and development tools of the CAP (e.g. two sub priorities reflect the demand, one targeting improved energy efficiency (5.b), the other facilitating renewable energy production (5.c)). Long-term viability of on-farm green energy production in many cases depends on the level of farm energy consumption. Larger farms, more diverse farms, family farms with dwellings on the farms or investment carried out on a collective basis might have advantages, but the same can possibly be applied to high-tech industrial farms as well. In order to judge investments and to monitor the impact of CAP measures it is necessary to get to know the typical electric energy use of farm types and the amount needed to produce one unit of product. Presently available CAP indicators are based on estimations, or macro-level models. Additionally, no background analyses and no research documents have been published to support CAP legislation concerning this area. Although relevant data might be available in some countries from FADN, their coverage is annual and usually gives information only at farm level. Since an information gap can be identified here, it is reasonable to launch a research project for a solution.

Potential output

Baseline estimations will be given for the electrical energy consumption of the major sectors of agriculture and the strongly integrated processing activities. Daily, monthly and the seasonal distribution of consumption will be supplied. Methodological problems of measuring specific consumption will be identified and recommendations will be made for their resolution. The long term viability of an on-farm energy production concept will be evaluated.

Specific challenge

The gap is that protein crops have a marginal position in the cropping systems of EU agriculture because they cannot compete economically with the benchmark crops (e.g. wheat, grain maize, oilseed rape). A game changer would be to conduct research on the sustainable potential of CEE countries in closing this gap as they have the necessary conditions to produce more protein crops, but are faced with problems such as a lack of protein crop varieties that are adapted to the place of production (1) low profitability due to inadequate production practices (2) lower nutrient content compared to South American soybeans (3) undeveloped market mechanisms of alternative protein crops (e.g. peas, lupines, field beans) (4) barriers to the uptake of alternative protein crops in livestock feed (5) and the absence of any non-GMO price premium. Although the CAP 2014-2020 direct payments support the maintenance of current levels of production (voluntary coupled support), they will not solve the EU’s dependency on imported protein. Knowledge sharing systems that provide information for farms to increase their production efficiency are missing.

Potential output

As an outcome, the research, after the examination of soil and climatic conditions, provides a portfolio of improved crop varieties suited to specific agro-ecosystems along with region-specific farming practices and the results of the nutritional analysis of protein crops. In order to put these innovative solutions into practice, the output of the research will be the establishment of a website which ensures the flow of information and the effective operation of the consultancy network.

Scope

As a result of the research, an information network is to be developed, the basic pillars of which are protein crop producing farms operating in the potential production regions. These representative farms will provide data regarding their entire protein crop production practices. Primary data should be available for the registered users of the website. With the use of these primary data, recommendations for specific production practices should be prepared by each production region and published in a form of a guide. Also a consultancy network should be established and operated on the basis of the results.

Expected impacts

The application of the information network, which contains recommendations on production practices adapted to the place of production and data of representative farms, facilitates in parallel with the improvement of profitability the wider spread of protein crop production.

Specific challenge, Gap/Game changer

The gap is the thorough understanding of the synergetic effects of climate change, European integration and globalisation. Trade liberalisation facilitates the trade of living and processed animal and plant products (and their packaging materials). Economically beneficial trade liberalisation increases our vulnerability from the animal health and phytosanitary point of view (e.g. African swine fever, bovine besnoitiosis). Moreover, the impact of climate change increases the possibility of modified disease behaviour, making spreading easier and causing a European level problem (e.g. grape and apricot phytoplasma). The game changer would be to understand the synergetic effects of these two trends (increased trade and climate change) on animal and plant health with the help of a ‘buffer zone scientific network’ to support monitoring and stopping these transboundary pathogens in the CEE countries and where possible saving the rest of Europe from the economic losses.

Specific challenge, Gap/Game changer

The gap is the EU wide acknowledgement of the fact that freshwater aquaculture represents 21% of total EU aquaculture production and is still an unexplored opportunity which is struggling with the consequence of the changing climate. The freshwater fishing sector mainly located in the Continental and Pannonian Bio-geographical Region is facing the problem of how to maintain sustainable and efficient production. Limited resources such as water scarcity and the ecosystem services of feeding certain wild animals (e.g. the great cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo, and the otter, Lutra lutra) represent increasing challenges of maintaining competitive positions for fish farmers. A game changer would be to conduct research on how to unlock the potential in freshwater aquaculture of promoting the rural economy and providing ecosystem services. Thus it is important to gain knowledge on how to improve the economic viability of the freshwater fisheries while increasing environmental sustainability.

Potential output

Detailed, harmonised databases on aquaculture will be established enabling long-term, comprehensive analysis of production data and factors of climate change. Based on the results, fish farm production efficiency may be increased and better adapted to changing climatic conditions, such as higher summer temperatures and water scarcity. The results may facilitate increased fish productivity through providing guidance on how to reallocate input resources and improve technical efficiency.

Scope

The objectives of the project are building detailed standardised databases by collecting missing and additional supplementary data and analysing production performance by evaluating potential fish production and efficiency under various pond conditions taking into account the expected effects of different climate scenarios and sustainability.

Expected impacts

The results of the comprehensive analysis will support farmers in making decisions on implementing improved management practices to adapt to climate change and market conditions in a sustainable manner. This will result in sustainable intensification: a form of production where yields are increased without affecting the environment. It will also help the creation of multi-functional systems (i.e. including angling, tourism).

Theme 2: Policy and governance challenges in the economically less developed EU regions

The gap is that in the economically less developed European regions - which predominantly belong to CEE countries - quite a few common social challenge exist, all directly which affect the development of agriculture, bioeconomy and rural areas (see Map 2). The blocking factor is the research and innovation divide in Europe, which hinders the unlocking of excellence in low performing research, development and innovation (RDI) regions and hinders the appearance of the relevant specific research topics of the less developed EU regions in Horizon 2020 work programmes. The low performance and topic representation of the less developed EU regions also blocks the realisation of the European Research Area and the promotion of synergies with the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) and the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) (see Annex 1 of Regulation (EU) No 1291/2013). A game changer would be to conduct research on how to overcome such common economic and social challenges for agriculture, bioeconomy and rural areas as the low uptake of innovation and modern technologies, the low level of cooperation, the ageing population, the difference between the employment rate in predominantly rural regions and predominantly urban regions or the extremely low level of consumer awareness (See Maps_Theme2). The identification and implementation of specific research areas for the economically less developed EU regions in Horizon 2020 would not compromise the main principle of excellence in research, on the contrary it would enhance it. Moreover, it would not mean the exclusion of other regions from the research; in fact the experiences of the more developed regions would be essential for reaching relevant results.

Specific challenge, Gap/Game changer

The gap is that the contribution of family, small and young farmers in less developed EU regions to agricultural output represents a much lower level of production value than that of their western European counterparts. The reasons include the the limited flow of information, and lack of knowledge and cooperation. A game changer would be to conduct research on how to involve young farmers in the adaptation of good practices, boost innovation and cooperation, create possibilities for expanding farming and support knowledge sharing so that a complex and transparent AKIS could be established. The same shall apply to both data usage and adequate machine service. The deepening of cooperation would also be crucial and the understanding and overcoming of trust barriers would be important.

Potential output

As a research outcome a pool of scientific and practical resources will be collected and analysed regarding the processes of knowledge sharing among farmers in the less developed EU regions. As an output a detailed list of problems and potential solutions will be identified after sharing and discussing them with the relevant stakeholders.

Scope

There is a need for research to understand the mechanisms of knowledge sharing and innovation among farmers in less developed EU regions. Proposals should include different fields of research regarding the barriers and the stimulating factors for farmers in these countries toward changing their patterns of behaviour in the areas of knowledge sharing, cooperation and innovation. It is important to know how to handle these factors in order to encourage the development of knowledge-based modern farming and the more effective cooperation between relevant stakeholders of the research, public, business and civil spheres.

Expected impacts

The results will give important input to improving the agricultural knowledge and innovation systems in the less developed regions, especially in CEE countries.

Specific challenge

In the CEE/V4 countries, workplaces in the agricultural sector are not attractive for potential employees due to the physical work, low wages and seasonality. The generation change of the entrepreneurs in the agri-food sector is made extremely difficult by the fact that there are no family or social patterns to follow as this is the first significant generation change since the regime change.

Potential output

The potential output of comprehensive research covering the enterprises in the agri-food sector and motivating generational change is the systematisation of good practices and their dissemination, in which exemplary generational change has been carried out by enterprises in the sector. Examples include the cooperation of young, start-up enterprises in the agri-food sector, projects implemented in the European Innovation Partnership 'Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability', their participation in networks, and also mapping the adaptable, innovative and complex government interventions promoting generational change.

Scope

The age structure of the farm managers is characterised by the high and increasing share of the older generation, while the proportion of young people in farming is decreasing in the CEE countries. One driving force of the growth of enterprises is the long-term opportunity to hand over and operate accumulated resources. If the issues of generational renewal in an enterprise and the labour reinforcement are solved, the probability of longer-term profitable and large-scale investments increases. Therefore, research inspiring effective generational change in the agri-food enterprises have a key role in the future of the whole agri-food sector.

Expected impacts

Comprehensive analysis of the subject area can help in the long term through the generational renewal in agriculture and the food industry, thus the number of farms operated by young entrepreneurs open to innovative solutions and the sustainable use of natural resources can increase.

Specific challenge, Gap/Game changer

The gap is the lower efficiency and added value of supply chains in the less developed EU regions. A game changer would be to conduct research on the following question: At which stage and by which means can the effectiveness of the less developed supply chains be improved? Where and how can the value added be increased? Which special consumer needs have to be met in the less developed CEE regions? Why are these regions lagging behind in terms of innovation financed by own resources? What are the brand potentials? How can vertical cooperation be strengthened among stakeholders? Is there any way in which by-products and waste materials produced at any stage can contribute to the sustainability and competitiveness of the supply chain?

Potential output

The research will explore the present functioning of the supply chain in the less developed EU countries with special regard to the most difficult value chains with many stakeholders. The most important barriers to the effective operation of the supply chain will be analysed. The research will pay special attention to the cooperation, integration and the buyer power within the value chain.

Scope

The research should cover the following areas: better satisfying the consumers’ needs, increasing the value-adding through innovation, trademarks, enforcing the connections within the value chain both vertically and horizontally, and increasing the effectiveness of the value chain by reducing the waste and other unnecessary costs.

Expected impacts

The value chain will be more effective, the products will be more marketable and the food waste and environmental pollution will be reduced.

Specific challenge

Consumers in the less developed CEE regions have low willingness to remunerate environmental services etc. provisioned by agriculture when their preferences are different from and their purchasing power is lower than that of consumers in more developed EU regions. In the Visegrad countries, on average almost 60% of households are very price sensitive when choosing their shopping place. A game changer would be to conduct research on how to be improve nourishment in these circumstances, when individuals need to have access to sufficient and good quality food and they need an understanding of what constitutes a good diet for health, as well as the skills and motivation to make good food choices.

Potential output

The potential output of the research could be the investigation of the main reasons of the lack of confidence, a set of recommendations on how to increase the awareness of the consumers, unified information and a promotion programme for the consumers.

Scope

The demand for healthy food is increasing dynamically worldwide, but only a limited share of the consumers are ready to pay price premiums even in the most wealthy countries. It would be important to investigate how big a price premium the CEE consumers are ready for pay for these products. On the other hand, it is important to analyse how effective is the production side, if it can produce healthy food with a smaller price premium which is acceptable to CEE consumers. It is also useful to investigate the knowledge level of the consumers about healthy products and explore the most important barriers to consumption.

Expected impacts

The research collects the most important information about the barriers to the consumption of healthy food. Based on this information we can make recommendations in order to increase the knowledge and awareness of the consumers.

Specific challenge, Gap/Game changer

There are several critical points to improving the use of agricultural and forestry biomass in less developed EU regions. Economic viability often conflicts with ethical and sustainability aspects. A game changer would be to conduct research on how to unlock the great and mostly unutilised potential for biomass production and added value utilisation in the less developed EU regions and especially CEE countries while respecting the sustainability requirements and increasing the economic benefits in the production regions. Since biobased industries and especially non-traditional higher value added biomass utilisation will depend on financial support at least in the mid-term, policies must find solutions for the conflicting aspects. Some sort of hierarchy of use must be developed for particular biomass forms, and for various conversion platforms adaptable to different conditions.

Potential output

Guidelines will be developed for biomass utilisation, and different platforms will be evaluated from various aspects.

Specific challenge, Gap/Game changer

The gap is the effect of accelerated international migration, where the destination role of the EU is becoming more pronounced, while differences among the regions remain significant. Until recently, internal migration from rural to urban areas, resulting in a concentration of undercapitalised population in peripheral rural areas, constituted the specific migration problem in the less developed EU regions. A game changer would be to conduct research on these trends and how and why they have been intensified and became accentuated as the global crisis of the financial markets enhanced labour migration toward the economically more developed EU Member States, affecting primarily the productive population. Owing to these migration processes, especially in relation to recent events, the EU, and especially the less developed EU regions, face real challenges, such as food and energy security or healthy and safe living conditions for children. Predictions of increasing international migration draws attention to the establishment of a network sharing good practices to address these food, energy and social security challenges and transform them into a valuable pool of experience of the less developed CEE regions.

Potential output

Comprehensive examination of new challenges (e.g. population growth, changing consumer habits, rising global demand for food and public goods at the same time etc.) originating from the intensification of international migration enables the identification of the most sensitive issues from the point of view of food, energy and social security both at the EU (as a whole) and regional levels, such as accumulation of knowledge and creation of databases contributing to a more balanced food, energy and social care supply, as well as the establishment of a warning system at EU level that could ensure food, energy, social care security as a public good.

Scope

Further intensification of international migration can be expected in the short term, which beyond security and social policy risks creates significant food, energy and social care security challenges in the whole EU, especially in the less developed CEE regions. On this basis it is necessary to carry out research which helps to collect the good local and regional policy and governance practices and develop underlying strategies and action plans to manage new security needs efficiently, and enables the sustainable development of food, energy and social care provision capacities and skills to exploit the supply and employment potential at a higher level.

Expected impacts

The comprehensive analysis of this subject area can contribute in the long term to an increased production of the EU’s agricultural, bioeconomy and rural stakeholders (or agricultural society) according to the changes in the number and composition of the population, making it easier to increase their income generating ability and their standard of living.