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Report from Science Day 2017 at BIOFACH

Portrait photo of two men.

Christian Andres, FiBL researcher and TIPI coordinator, and Eduardo Cuoco, IFOAM EU. Picture: Kai Kreuzer

Man at a podium with a presentation in the background.

Eduardo Cuoco, Koordinator TP Organics. Picture: Kai Kreuzer

Man at a podium with a presentation in the background.

Dr. Hans-Jörg Lutzeyer, Europäische Kommission. Picture: Kai Kreuzer

Portrait photo of three people in front of a Biofach banner.

Prof. Dr. Urs Niggli, director FiBL and TIPI president, Dr. Helga Willer, FiBL, and Christian Andres, FiBL and TIPI coordinator. Picture: FiBL

Man speaking to the audience.

Audience at Science Day at Biofach 2017. Picture: FiBL

Group of people, some standing, some seated, one person writing on a flip chart.

World Café at Science Day at Biofach 2017. Picture: FiBL

On February 17, 2017, the fifth Science Day took place at BIOFACH, the World Organic Trade Fair, in Nuremberg, Germany. It was a joint event of TIPI, the Technology Innovation Platform of IFOAM and TP Organics, the European Technology Platform for Organic Food and Farming.

The morning session was devoted to the review of TP Organics’ achievements in the wake of its 10th anniversary and the development of a new long-term strategy.

The participants had the chance to put forward their priorities for TP Organics’ advocacy work and suggestions for improving services for members. Based on the outcomes of the workshop, TP Organics will prepare a draft strategy document which will be open for consultation during spring-summer 2017. The final strategy will be presented at the Organic Innovation Days on 15–17 November in Brussels.

The 100 questions to be addressed by novel organic food and farming systems

TIPI organized the afternoon session, which focussed on identifying the research gaps in organic food and farming systems in the context of international cooperation. After the welcome and introduction, Christian Andres (TIPI Scientific Secretary) launched the condensed version of TIPI’s vision and strategic action plan. In the following, Urs Niggli (FiBL Director & TIPI President) gave an input presentation on the current state of the most important knowledge gaps in organic food and farming systems, and David Gould (Program Facilitator and North America Representative, IFOAM - Organics International) held a speech on how to effectively advocate for organic food and farming systems research. All the presentations can be downloaded from Organic Eprints.

However, the main part of the afternoon was dedicated to a workshop, which aimed at contributing to the development of a strategic research agenda for organic food and farming systems in different regions of the world. The workshop (World Café) posed the following questions:

  1. Which thematic fields should be prioritized in different regions (continents) to collect evidence about the benefits and needs for improvement of organic food and farming systems (100 questions to be addressed by novel organic food and farming systems)?
  2. Who should set these research priorities, and how (i.e., how much should research priorities and innovations be researcher- farmer-, policy-, market- or funder-driven)?
  3. How can the organic community and its constituents effectively advocate for organic food and farming systems research?

The main outcomes of the discussions were:

  1. The private sector and socioeconomic questions should be prioritized when collecting information on research needs in organic food and farming systems. True cost accounting and consumer behaviour were stressed as research themes of specific interest. Participants agreed that the bottlenecks for the development of organic food and farming systems should first be identified in each region before tackling sector development. Social sciences, which take whole value chains into account, should have a leading role in this.
  2. Research priorities are context-specific and address global, national, and regional levels. Therefore, they should be set using a multi-stakeholder process, such as a moderated round table, and a value chain approach, which may be complemented by an expert approach.
  3. Funding for organic food and farming systems research should be related to the overall benefits of organic food and farming systemsand their contribution to solving global challenges such as climate change or food security. True cost accounting should be used as an advocacy/policy instrument, and a case for an economic model of organic systems/operations should be made regarding, for example, enterprise viability, public health, and environmental impact infrastructure. It was stressed that the organic community should build narratives to anticipate and allay doubts about how well organic farming can perform (e.g. yield, product quality). Finally, participants agreed that we should be aware of, as well as open and honest, about our shortcomings, and we should be prepared to propose alternative solutions or rationales.

Participants suggested several simple and cost-efficient tools to follow up on the above-mentioned ideas. As for how the prioritization should be done, the need to make use of the current (global) political agendas was expressed (e.g. make organic research priorities a part of the Sustaonable Development Goals). Finally, there is a strong need to understand the stakeholder landscape in order to select the most accessible potential funding sources. The insights gained in the workshop will help to better position organic food and farming systems research on the agenda of major international players.

Finally, Urs Niggli summarized the constructive discussions and inputs made during the  afternoon in his closing remarks, and he gave an outlook on further steps in the near future.

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