Researchers and farmers discuss future of European agriculture

16th May 2015

In times of changing political conditions and increasing pressure from markets and citizens, innovation is more important than ever for farmers throughout Europe. This is precisely the focus of a group of social scientists who have for the past three years researched European farmers’ access to knowledge, advice and support services, and whose findings will be presented to stakeholders next week at a conference in Brussels.

After completing a country-by-country inventory of the people that provide information and support to European farmers, such as agricultural research institutes and universities, advisory services, cooperatives, supply services and farmers’ organisations, researchers from the PRO AKIS – ‘Prospects for Farmers’ Support: Advisory Services in the European Agricultural Knowledge and Information Systems’ – project will also highlight policy recommendations and the use of the project outputs.

Professor Andrea Knierim, project coordinator at the University of Hohenheim, Germany, said: “PRO AKIS carried out the first systematic overview of the agricultural advisory services in Europe which are characterised by a surprising amount of institutional diversity. Through this overview we hope we have created a good basis for reliable monitoring and evaluation of these systems across the EU member states in the future.”

Inge van Oost, from the European Commission’s Directorate General Agriculture and Rural Development, commented: “This is a unique exercise of its kind, with a particularly interesting inventory and analysis of advisory services. It has informed the launch of the European Innovation Partnership on Agriculture Productivity and Sustainability.”

Using selected case studies, PRO AKIS investigated specific knowledge systems through comparative analysis and assessments revealing successes, strengths and weaknesses. These case studies covered three topical areas: small scale farming, bridging research and practice, and rural innovation networks.

In Scotland, for instance, the Monitor Farm programme was studied as an example of a peer-to-peer knowledge exchange network, which was considered to be an important source of new ideas and information for the participating farmers. Across the case studies, it was found that small-scale farmers rely on informal knowledge sources and therefore need individually tailored and locally available advisory services, while large scale farmers are capable of accessing formal knowledge from consultants and scientists. There was also evidence that agricultural innovation networks can complement the existing advisory infrastructure, but cannot replace it where there has been public disinvestment.

The project is led by the University of Hohenheim (Germany) and besides the James Hutton Institute (Scotland, UK), project partners include the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (Germany), the National Institute for Agricultural Research (France), University of Tras-os-Montes and Alto Douro (Portugal), the University of Agriculture in Krakow (Poland), Agricultural University Plovdiv (Bulgaria), and the Knowledge Centre for Agriculture (Denmark).

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