Climate and environmental action, developing the circular and bio- economy, creating high quality jobs in the agriculture sector, for all these issues, involvement of rural areas is crucial to deliver real results. However, speaking at the Agri Innovation Summit 2017 on 12 October, Commissioner Phil Hogan explained that "this potential will only be fulfilled if rural communities are given the full benefits of digitisation and connectivity". Significantly investing in this area, the European Commission recognises its importance and has put in place policies and funding streams that are working together to achieve concrete results.
"One of the key recommendations of the Cork Declaration is that we need to work together, across policy fields and borders to promote rural prosperity" stressed Phil Hogan. As a response, the Smart Village initiative was launched by Commissioner Hogan, Commissioner Corina Crețu and Commissioner Violeta Bulc. It aims at improving the implementation of EU policies in rural areas. To do this, digital technologies, innovations and the better use of knowledge will be enhanced to benefit rural populations and businesses.
Notably, the concept of Smart Villages is adapted according to the needs and potentials of each region, and based on new or existing territorial strategies.
The European innovation partnership (EIP-AGRI) is also playing an important role in developing innovation in rural development. It is currently running 400 operational groups, with the aim of reaching
3,200 groups by the end of 2020. These operational groups consist in bringing together actors, such as farmers, scientists, businesses, with complementary knowledge to work on an innovative project. These projects are funded by the rural development programmes, which are managed nationally or regionally by EU member states. These rural development programmes themselves are part of the common agricultural policy, and funded by the European Commission.
An example of these operational groups is the ROBUSTAGNO project (page 8). Lamb mortality is significantly limiting sheep productivity. Therefore sheep breeders, advisers and scientists in the French region of Midi-Pyrénées decided to work together under the framework of an operational group. Their goal is to find innovative solutions for farmers and sheep breeders to make lambs more robust at birth.
On a larger scale, there are also European and international projects currently working on similar issues. These projects are benefiting from EU funding for research and innovation under Horizon 2020. As explained by Phil Hogan, "The cornerstone of our work is "the multi-actor approach", in which farmers, scientists and other actors work together to design solutions that have high chances to be implemented."
Already 61 Horizon 2020 multi-actor projects are operating, and by 2020 the EU will invest over €1 billion in 180 projects. This is an unprecedented support for farmers, enabling them to be first-hand actors in innovative projects.
These various tools are putting in place a framework which is demonstrating its full potential by enabling an exchange
of knowledge at regional, national and international level, and between a diversity of actors.
"But we need to do even more. We need to accelerate the uptake of innovation and technology in the sector, on-farm but also at every level of the value chain" insisted Phil Hogan at the Agri Innovation Summit. "By working together, across the policy spectrum and by involving all relevant stakeholders - farmers, researchers, investors and policymakers – we can make real progress to bridge the digital divide" he concluded.
12 October 2017