IEEP's role in the RIE taskforce on Sustainable Agriculture & Innovation

Innovation for sustainability comprises social as well as technological achievements and transformations. In the face of the climate and biodiversity crises, a transition to a sustainable and resilient food system calls for a wider understanding of innovation than a focus on technology. In the statement below, IEEP explains its involvement in the RIE Taskforce on Sustainable Agriculture and Innovation.

In February 2021, IEEP’s executive director Céline Charveriat took part in a taskforce meeting organised by Re-Imagine Europe. The discussion focused on genome editing in agriculture, with the idea to produce a white paper on policy options for its regulation. The final white paper puts emphasis on technological advances for Europe’s Research and Innovation agenda. IEEP participated in this meeting with the aim to communicate the importance of a holistic view of sustainable innovation and agriculture, in line with the European Green Deal and a strong evidence base.

The transition to sustainable agriculture requires us to consider both technological and social innovation – with society in a central role. The question of how to optimise processes and governance for a transition are becoming central and are part of innovations we have to pursue. Policy involving innovative mechanisms should be strongly based on science and evidence and involve a wide range of stakeholders. Innovation should thereby work towards reducing risks for human health and the environment and improving environment and climate performance. Following the concept of sustainable innovation, we recommend regarding innovation as: 1) contribute to well-being, 2) underpinning systemic change and 3) creating an inclusive process.

With Horizon Europe, there is a chance to focus on the most pressing issues for developing a sustainable and resilient food system, and considerations, also in relation to genome editing, must be compatible with the European Green Deal, its Farm to Fork strategy and the Biodiversity Strategy.

In the expert panel and the following exchanges, IEEP strongly recommended a wider approach to Research & Innovation, rather than focusing efforts and hopes on technological changes. Genome editing may present a technological option for the challenges we are facing in agriculture and beyond. At the same time, safeguards must be applied in regulations to ensure the health of society and the environment, while including a greater range of stakeholders in the research and policy cycle. Pointing to the above-described definition, IEEP highlighted that genome editing is unlikely to be the only and most promising solution for the complexity of challenges for agriculture.

Innovation for sustainable agriculture must consider the complexities of climate change, the biodiversity crisis, soil degradation and social challenges. A multitude of goals must be pursued to achieve a food system that also includes future generations, not only considering GHG emission reduction. IEEP’s research and collaborations on this topic lately focused on social and technical innovations for soils, protein transition, short food supply chains and crop protection. For the latter, good quality monitoring tools, landscape planning and biocontrol for natural crop protection, and crop diversity play important roles for plant and system resilience.

R&I budgets should enable the deployment, trialling and upscaling of known techniques and processes to address current challenges, whilst also focussing on new research into areas yet to be addressed. Developing tools to improve agricultural management systems and implementation (interactive tools, apps, governance) is an overlooked but vital step in the R&I cycle – and should likewise be recognised as innovation.