Focus: Agri-food and forestry policies and technologies need an integrated approach

There has never been a greater need to develop an integrated approach to agricultural practices, food production and forestry management.

Although recognized by national and international organizations around the world and translated into different strategic perspectives, it is clear to us that policy and technology development must be at the core of the practical implementation of any strategic vision.

In addition, any of the political, economic, environmental or social goals we need to achieve to ensure a vibrant and sustainable future depend on our ability to develop and deliver the right technological solutions. There is no credible or viable compromise between the world we know and the right level of investment in research and innovation.

This role is urgently needed and alignment of priorities at all levels is essential for setting EU policy and funding, management and research and innovation agenda at regional or institutional level.

Take, for example, the 2022-2031 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 2022-2031 strategic framework for better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life. The aim is to make the transition to a more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food system that addresses the concerns of an inclusive society and leaves no one behind.

Or the Green Agreement, developed as part of the European Commission’s strategy to simultaneously improve the EU’s economic competitiveness and, at the same time, set the United Nations 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. The Green Agreement shows how complex and overwhelming the current challenges are. It is perceived as a new growth strategy, with the destination being an efficient and competitive economy of resource use, where there is no net emission of greenhouse gases by 2050 and economic growth is differentiated from resource use.

This requires a huge step and a tremendous change in our cultural, economic and political side, which can only be achieved through technologies that are still under development and not available to everyday citizens and industry. This requires a multi-level approach and alignment of priorities, as well as an unprecedented capacity for collaboration between regional and national R&D ecosystems and different actors in the value chain.

Putting innovation at the heart of agricultural policy

In our country of origin, Portugal, a new ‘Agricultural Innovation Agenda’ being set up by the government with the support of actors is in line with the Green Agreement, the FAO strategic framework and the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Given the specific factors facing climate change in southern Europe and the Mediterranean, this national agenda addresses the key challenges facing the sky, with a focus on knowledge and technology, but with a focus on region-specific conditions.

Let’s take this opportunity to dig deeper into what this means. First, rapid progress in the digitization of food systems will be crucial for the competitiveness and sustainability of organizations, and for preparing countries to meet the major challenges in this area. Along with human health systems, the ability to improve the health (sustainability) of land, water, agriculture, and food systems depends on the ability to control, diagnose (evaluate), prescribe (manage), and implement (recover) treatment protocols. .

We will have to dramatically increase food production in the coming years, we will be hit hard by climate change, emerging and re-emerging diseases, and a shortage of agricultural workers, among other things. In view of this, the current technologies and policies are clear enough.

We need to work on two main complementary areas: providing new solutions and strengthening the capacity of farmers, technicians and organizations.

With regard to important technologies, we emphasize the growth of biotechnology, plants and animals, including the development of molecular markers related to physiological characteristics and new phenotyping tools, and to ensure the use of digital technologies:

  1. Intelligent monitoring.
  2. Intelligent planning and control.
  3. Transparency, accountability and security.

For example, real-time and remote diagnostics and sensors, the development of high-performance phenotyping, and the improvement of traceability and biosafety are key areas of interest.

Other important dimensions that require a high level of competence are return management in end-user-friendly applications (irrigation management (crop coefficients, water status indicators, and quantification of water stress intensity)); diagnosis of the nutritional status of plants and early detection of diseases; the use of digital technologies in livestock to improve performance and blockchain-based solutions.

Increasing the capacity of farmers, technicians and organizations to adopt technology will be a critical success factor. Training and training should be set at a high level and geared to the specific requirements of agriculture and food.

Experimental and pilot facilities for the development, testing and demonstration of different technologies will be key to achieving large-scale adoption of innovative products and practices.

In Portugal, we are developing a network of experimental stations with local field trials and life laboratories to strengthen national capacity for innovation in agriculture and food.

At the same time, we are strengthening the links between research and innovation, experimentation and the development of innovative applications, focusing on specific issues. This is done through innovative organizational approaches that increase the closeness and interaction between research organizations, private companies and other actors.

Skills Centers, for example National Center for Technological Innovation Skills in the Agricultural Forestry Sector – InovTechAgro) and Collaborative Laboratories, ie Smart Farm Collaboration Laboratory) where INIAV and INESC are working together are good examples of this effort.

In short, if we want to address the challenges that are common to all, such as those identified in the Green Agreement and all its “sub-strategies” and policies, as well as the specific challenges of the region, we need to address them:

1) the complementarity of multi-level policy and institutional alignments and policy objectives;

2) clear synergies between financing instruments;

3) Understand the complexity of the challenge.

It is impossible to address these issues in a realistic way in R&D, both public and private, without much greater investment. But above all, it needs an integrated approach to the priorities of future policy and R&D efforts, with life and the planet as its top priorities.

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Nuno Canada (left) is the President of Portugal National Institute for Agricultural and Veterinary Research (INIAV)

Ricardo Migueis (right) heads the EU delegation at the Institute of Systems and Computer Engineering. INESC Brussels HUB

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