Given the challenges of sustaining European agriculture, food chains and rural areas, innovation should be a key factor/element in the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform. Transformative capacity is lacking and has to be enhanced. Not only through technology but also by working on societal challenges through dialogue with society and contributing to government policy and legislation.
In a policy brief Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) and Wageningen University & Research state that the given CAP budget devoted to innovation is too limited and should be at least doubled in the next CAP period. To enhance innovation in agriculture the CAP itself should innovate too.
The long-term future of European agriculture
To ensure the long-term future of European agriculture as one of the most innovative, socially responsible and sustainable sectors in the world, the following interacting steps should be taken:
- Accelerate innovation with increased budget
- Better access to instruments by individual farmers and reduce transaction costs
- Create markets for environmentally-friendly and healthy products and services (including agri-environmental contracts)
- Design for societal impact and develop reflexive monitoring
- EU-level development of agricultural knowledge and innovation systems (AKIS)
- A food system approach is needed
Innovators and entrepeneurs
The paper offers suggestions how the CAP can enhance innovation by using a framework of seven key functions of innovation systems and of innovation regimes. For one, both bottom-up innovators and entrepreneurs who adopt exogenous innovations and take risks, are key actors in the innovation process. Entrepreneurs are essential to turn new ideas into concrete actions. Because innovation development is risky and costly, the CAP should support risk-taking over a transitional period, notably when the innovation targets public goods.
Living labs are a way to reconcile the various actors involved in common innovation projects. These open innovation arrangements should in particular favour the involvement of new entrants (young farmers, start-ups, new inhabitants, young consumers).
Role for governments
Governments also have an important role to play. Sometimes the benefits of innovation for small farmers quickly spill over to others, leading to market failures. Many challenges are also of a public nature. In addition, the challenges faced by European agriculture, food chains and rural areas require systemic innovations, open innovation devices, and bottom-up approaches. The powerful actors in the food chain (input suppliers, food processors and retailers) compete strongly but do not take enough responsibility for internalising the sustainability aspects with the smaller and more numerous actors at both ends of the chain.
The CAP should be more internally coherent by providing a direction for the innovation towards those that contribute to environmentally-friendly and healthy products and services and at the same time create markets for those products and services.