Project

UNISECO: Understanding & improving the sustainability of agro-ecological farming systems in the EU (H2020 Project)

Goal: UNISECO is a European research project aiming to develop innovative approaches to enhance the understanding of socio-economic and policy drivers and barriers for further development and implementation of agro-ecological practices in EU farming systems. The overarching objective is to strengthen the sustainability of European farming systems, through co-constructing improved and practice-validated strategies and incentives for the promotion of improved agro-ecological approaches.

Coordinated by Thünen Institute (Germany) the consortium includes 18 partners from 15 countries. Further information can be found on the project website: https://uniseco-project.eu/

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement Nr. 773901.

Date: 1 May 2018 - 30 April 2021

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Project log

Johannes Carolus
added a research item
Eating “less but better” meat can be a strategy to guide meat consumption in Western or high-income countries towards sustainability, but what “better” means depends on the perspective. Multiple studies and reports suggest that agroecological farming systems could contribute to a broad range of sustainability benefits, but few studies have examined the implications for people and nature following trade-offs between sustainability priorities at the farm level. Therefore, this study explored the effects on a broad range of sustainability themes following agroecological transition on a case farm in east-central Sweden. We applied a novel mixed-methods approach, combining the indicator-based SMART-Farm tool with additional quantitative and qualitative analysis of the farm’s climate impact, contribution to global food security, economic performance, and working conditions. The results showed improvements for aspects within environmental, social, economic, and governance-related sustainability dimensions, with corroborating results across methods. The case farm thus served as an example of transition to a more sustainable production system, but as expected, there were both trade-offs and synergies between sustainability aspects. Negative effects were found for economic aspects at the farm and societal level. For this case, one may conclude that “better” meat production both supports and depends on, a more sustainable farm; but that “better” meat and a more sustainable farm cannot be viewed in isolation from the wider food system. Also, “better” can be described by several states along a transition pathway. Key contributions of the study are threefold, a) articulation of the links between agroecology and the concept “less but better,” b) empirically demonstrating synergies and trade-offs in striving for more sustainable meat production, and c) a novel methodological approach for sustainability assessment.
Gerald Schwarz
added 3 research items
This report provides methodological briefs that provide short, step-by-step, guidance and lessons learnt on applying key methods used in the H2020 UNISECO project. The briefs are available in electronic form and can be accessed via the Agro-ecological Knowledge Hub as a part of information content for the different target audiences (https://uniseco-project.eu).
This Deliverable is part of the governance and policy assessment of the UNISECO project. The objective of this report is twofold: (i) to create a database of existing market and policy instruments (MPIs) that support Agro-ecological Farming Systems (AEFS) in Europe; (ii) to summarise the analytical review of MPIs to identify and understand the key policy factors that enhance or limit agro-ecological transition in the 15 UNISECO case studies. For that purpose, and building on the theoretical framework of the UNISECO project, the objectives are pursued through comparative case study research, based on a participatory approach. A stepwise qualitative research design was developed to understand complex and context-specific issues associated with the agro-ecological transition in 15 case studies across Europe. These case studies cover key farming systems (arable, perennial, livestock, mixed), at different geographical levels (national, sub-national local) and the stage in the transition pathway (conventional, input substitution, redesign). In each case study, UNISECO partners carried out participatory activities with the stakeholders in the local Multi-Actor Platform (MAP), following common guidelines. The guidelines provided a common operationalisation of the research method while enabling flexibility to overcome difficulties found in local contexts of the case studies. The data collection process led to the identification of 289 MPIs (policy, market and mixed instruments), covering 14 different types of instruments and implemented at the farming system, value chain and territorial levels. Most of the MPIs are policy instruments, but private initiatives also provide important market opportunities for agro-ecological products and networking and peer-to-peer learning for farmers, which are important for stimulating and promoting Agro-ecological Farming Systems. The findings of the comparative case study analysis show that the instruments of CAP Pillar I policy have weaker links with the agro-ecological transition than Pillar II instruments. Among the latter, the instruments assessed by the case studies to be most effective were Agro-environmental measures, Organic farming, Farm Modernization and Investment, and Advice, information and training. The EU regulations and directives for farming practices were also assessed as having positive roles in the agro-ecological transition. Within Food Policies, the public procurement of organic products for public canteens, and the National food strategies scored highly for aiding the agro-ecological transition. Amongst market instruments, Certification Schemes were assessed positively overall, but opinions varied, and at times they were diverging. A more detailed analysis of the key MPIs in each case study has enabled an understanding of the main positive and negative factors related to the success of instruments to support agro-ecological transitions. Research findings highlighted that the existing MPIs such as agri-environmental schemes and support for advisory services have positive effects on the decisions of farmers to adopt more ecological practices and motivate farmers to initiate or continue the transition. Key positive factors identified were: the provision of economic stability and technical and financial support to farmers willing to experiment with new sustainable practices; promotion of collective actions and understanding amongst local actors; production and spread of new knowledge; design od tools and activities that highlight the roles of agriculture in the environment.
The Multi-Actor Platforms have demonstrable benefits of joint working to tackle societal challenges, with adding value of strengthening networks between actors. This policy brief of the H2020 UNISECO project provides recommendations for improving the adoption of Multi-Actor Platforms. This Policy Brief is one of a set produced by the H2020 UNISECO project. Others are accessible on the Zenodo repository under the UNISECO Community.
Gerald Schwarz
added 2 research items
Based on the principal results of the H2020 UNISECO project and roundtable debate of a panel of experts at the final project conference in March 2021, this brief formulates recommendations or future research needs and actions within a future European R&I partnership on agroecology living labs and research infrastructures. This Policy Brief is one of a set produced by the H2020 UNISECO project. Others are accessible on the Zenodo repository under the UNISECO Community.
Improving farmer knowledge of the benefits of agro-ecological practices and economic opportunities is a key aspect for successful agro-ecological transitions. This can be achieved by: i) on-farm peer-to-peer learning; ii) actor-led knowledge and innovation and active sharing of place-based knowledge; iii) principles and practices of agro-ecology in school curricula covering principles of food production and consumption, agricultural practices, and social responsibility. This underlines the importance of policy to support advice, education and life-long learning by: - including principles and practices of agro-ecology in school curricula, continuing professional development, and citizen focused learning; - increasing the capacity of local actors to create agro-ecological networks, and cooperation with schools through public learning and procurement programmes. This Policy Brief is one of a set produced by the H2020 UNISECO project. Others are accessible on the Zenodo repository under the UNISECO Community.
Gerald Schwarz
added 5 research items
In 15 case studies representing different European farming systems and stages along the agro-ecological transition, related barriers have been analysed and strategies co-constructed with the Multi-Actor Platforms over the course of the UNISECO project. The strategies are the result of different assessments (such as sustainability assessment or social network analysis), interviews and workshops with local stakeholders. Narratives that derive the main lessons learnt on governance changes and sustainability implications of agro-ecological transitions have been developed in a set of web pages (story maps) to make the research outcomes accessible in an easy to understand language to practitioners, policy stakeholders and the wider public. While there are unique lessons learnt in each case study, there are three common domains of lessons learnt, namely (1) knowledge and social capital, (2) market access, processing and value added and (3) innovative policy support. Based on existing policies such as support for organic farming, the latter needs specially to focus on fostering cooperation, supporting of the knowledge system, result-based payments and green public procurement.
Agro-ecological approaches are fundamental for sustainable food production in the future, and the overarching objective of UNISECO is to co-develop improved and practice-validated strategies and incentives for the promotion of improved agro-ecological approaches. The key dilemma is how to produce public goods whilst maintaining viable production of private goods, securing economic and social sustainability at a farm level. In this context, it is important to identify the farm management changes and innovative agro-ecological practices with win-win relationships and those with fewer trade-offs between social, ecological and economic dimensions. In this report (Deliverable report D3.5), we investigate this question by exploring, in thirteen European case studies, the sustainability implications of implementing a range of different agro-ecological practices (AEPs) as part of different transitions strategies towards more sustainable agriculture. We implemented an analytical framework including the use of decision support tools (DSTs) to convey process-based information on the performance of 28 different AEPs, co-developed with local stakeholders, that are expected to improve the resilience and sustainability of farms. In particular, through the DSTs we identified and analysed 17 sustainability indicators that convey information on the potential environmental and socio-economic synergies and trade-offs, arising from the implementation of different AEPs at farm level.
This report focuses on and summarises the results of the H2020 UNISECO project of formulating recommendations in the form of: - Policy briefs for policy-makers at European, national, regional and local levels) - Issue briefs for practitioners (e.g. farmers, consultants/advisors, businesses, NGOs), generally associated with the national or regional contexts of the Case Studies ). The aim of the briefings was to disseminate knowledge of practice-related insights and recommendations, and facilitate the knowledge transfer between case studies. These publications are designed to be relevant to the communities of place of the case studies, and communities of interest in other geographic settings.
Andreas Mayer
added 4 research items
Human intervention on land enhances the supply of provisioning ecosystem services, but also exerts pressures on ecosystem functioning. We utilize the Human Appropriation of Net Primary Production (HANPP) framework to assess these relations in European agriculture, for 220 NUTS2 regions. We put a particular focus on individual land system components, i.e. croplands, grasslands, and livestock husbandry and relate associated biomass flows to the potential net primary productivity NPP. For the reference year 2012, we find that 469 g dm/m²/yr (38% of NPPpot) of used biomass were harvested on total agricultural land, and that one tonne of annually harvested biomass is associated with 1.67 tonnes dry matter (dm) of HANPP, ranging from 0.8 to 8.1 tonnes dry matter (dm) across all regions. EU livestock systems are a large consumer of these provisioning ecosystem services, and invoking higher HANPP flows than current HANPP on cropland and grassland within the EU, even exceeding the potential NPP in one fifth of all NUTS2 regions. NPP remaining in ecosystems after provisioning society with biomass is essential for the functioning of ecosystems and is 563 g dm/m²/yr or 46% of NPPpot on all agricultural land. We conclude from our analysis that the HANPP framework provides useful indicators that should be integrated in future ecosystem service assessments.
Global food systems contribute to climate change, the transgression of planetary boundaries and deforestation. An improved understanding of the environmental impacts of different food system futures is crucial for forging strategies to sustainably nourish a growing world population. We here quantify the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of global food system scenarios within a biophysically feasible “option space” in 2050 comprising all scenarios in which biomass supply – calculated as function of agricultural area and yields – is sufficient to cover biomass demand – derived from human diets and the feed demand of livestock. We assessed the biophysical feasibility of 520 scenarios in a hypothetical no-deforestation world. For all feasible scenarios, we calculate (in) direct GHG emissions related to agriculture. We also include (possibly negative) GHG emissions from land-use change, including changes in soil organic carbon (SOC) and carbon sinks from vegetation regrowth on land spared from food production. We identify 313 of 520 scenarios as feasible. Agricultural GHG emissions (excluding land use change) of feasible scenarios range from 1.7 to 12.5 Gt CO2e yr⁻¹. When including changes in SOC and vegetation regrowth on spare land, the range is between −10.7 and 12.5 Gt CO2e yr⁻¹. Our results show that diets are the main determinant of GHG emissions, with highest GHG emissions found for scenarios including high meat demand, especially if focused on ruminant meat and milk, and lowest emissions for scenarios with vegan diets. Contrary to frequent claims, our results indicate that diets and the composition and quantity of livestock feed, not crop yields, are the strongest determinants of GHG emissions from food-systems when existing forests are to be protected.
Gerald Schwarz
added 2 research items
This Deliverable outlines a prototype of a spatially explicit interactive online tool (Deliverable D6.3) and outlines the objectives for the development of a methodological handbook on transdisciplinary sustainability assessment (Deliverable D6.4). The document provides an outline of the technical elements for the tool, based upon the web app development environment of Esri (Story Maps). These elements include the graphical user interface (GUI) and server side data management, and a set of variables to be implemented, derived from the description of Socio-Ecological Systems which describe the different dimensions of sustainability. These specifications lay the foundation for building a prototype version of the tool, the development and content of which continues until release of the tool at the end of the UNISECO project. The overall purpose of the tool is to increase understanding of the sustainability of agriculture, and in particular the role that agro-ecological transitions can play in increasing sustainability of European agriculture. For this purpose the tool provides a channel for delivering and viewing information as an effective means of communication between actors involved in such transitions. The plans for development of the tools are to implement it on a platform which requires minimal technical knowledge for easy content creation at a local level, for example by other projects or farmers who want to share information on more sustainable practices in agriculture. The tool is based upon the use of maps of different aspects of sustainability of farming systems, available at different spatial resolutions. Maps provide interactive visual representations of the geography of an area (Tomlinson, 2013), to which stories of farmers and other value chain actors who aspire more sustainable solutions for food production can be associated. Maps also provide an output format for the communication of results of spatially distributed Decision Support Tools which can support illustrations of why some solutions work, and their limitations. The tool will include indicators of social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainability. The qualitative data collected will be used in stories developed about the project case studies, and quantitative data will be presented as maps created from statistical data and model outputs. The concept of the tool was discussed in workshops with stakeholders and members of the EU Multi-Actor Platform. Their feedback has informed the development of plans for the tool, including the inclusion of indicators such as biodiversity and pesticide use, which would be important considerations when communicating information on sustainability of agro-ecological farming. Other items highlighted in the feedback included the benefits of using audio-visual video material as part of stories of agro-ecological farms. It is proposed that the tool will be managed by a key stakeholder (WWF) to enable knowledge sharing after the completion of the UNISECO project.
This document represents the Deliverable D5.2 within Workpackage WP5 “Governance and policy assessment” of the EU Horizon 2020 project UNISECO (Understanding and improving the sustainability of agro-ecological farming systems in the EU). The overall objective of this Deliverable (D5.2) is to identify and analyse the governance structures which characterise the different transition “patterns” in the context of the 15 UNISECO case studies. The specific objectives of D5.2 can be synthesized as: - To identify and analyse the most relevant actors for addressing key agro-ecological dilemmas in each Case Study (across the seven main types of actors: farmers; authorities and administrations; agri-food value chain actors; science, innovation, advisory and capacity building actors; NGOs, civic society organisations, local community representatives; consumers; media); - To identify and analyse the governance networks with relevance for the challenge. The focus is on power relations, conflicts, collaborations, collective action dynamics, the flows of knowledge and tangible goods. The purpose is to understand the decision-making process and how the network and its elements (actors and actor-actor links) can influence pathways of agro-ecological transitions. Social Network analysis (SNA) is the method that has been used to analyse the governance structures involved in the transition towards agro-ecological farming system (AEFS). The analysis went well-beyond the farm level, by looking at how different stakeholder groups are engaged in the transition processes towards sustainable agriculture and food systems. The report is structured as follows: Section 2 includes an introduction to the topic with particular attention to governance networks enabling the transition towards AEFS. Section 3 reports on the research method (Social Network Analysis) used for the data collection in the context of the 15 UNISECO case studies. Section 4 presents an overview of all case studies, while Section 5 provides a comparative analysis of the different governance networks. Conclusions are drawn in Section 6. This document represents the Deliverable D5.2 within Workpackage WP5 “Governance and policy assessment” of the EU Horizon 2020 project UNISECO (Understanding and improving the sustainability of agro-ecological farming systems in the EU). The overall objective of this Deliverable (D5.2) is to identify and analyse the governance structures which characterise the different transition “patterns” in the context of the 15 UNISECO case studies. The specific objectives of D5.2 can be synthesized as: To identify and analyse the most relevant actors for addressing key agro-ecological dilemmas in each Case Study (across the seven main types of actors: farmers; authorities and administrations; agri-food value chain actors; science, innovation, advisory and capacity building actors; NGOs, civic society organisations, local community representatives; consumers; media); To identify and analyse the governance networks with relevance for the challenge. The focus is on power relations, conflicts, collaborations, collective action dynamics, the flows of knowledge and tangible goods. The purpose is to understand the decision-making process and how the network and its elements (actors and actor-actor links) can influence pathways of agro-ecological transitions. Social Network analysis (SNA) is the method that has been used to analyse the governance structures involved in the transition towards agro-ecological farming system (AEFS). The analysis went well-beyond the farm level, by looking at how different stakeholder groups are engaged in the transition processes towards sustainable agriculture and food systems. The report is structured as follows: Section 2 includes an introduction to the topic with particular attention to governance networks enabling the transition towards AEFS. Section 3 reports on the research method (Social Network Analysis) used for the data collection in the context of the 15 UNISECO case studies. Section 4 presents an overview of all case studies, while Section 5 provides a comparative analysis of the different governance networks. Conclusions are drawn in Section 6. The Annex (DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.4568451) includes a more detailed description of all the 15 case studies.
Katalin Balázs
added an update
Join us for the virtual conference of our H2020 project!
REGISTER NOW!
Registration for this event closes on 15 March 2021
We will showcase the results of the UNISECO project, including strategies for agro-ecological transitions in a diverse set of case studies across Europe, territorial implications of agro-ecological transitions at EU-level, and the Agro-Ecological Knowledge Hub and key recommendations for policy and practice.
The event will provide opportunities to:
  • Debate approaches, findings and lessons for policy and for practice, and the spatially explicit interactive online tool to explore sustainability impacts of agro-ecological farming systems;
  • Contribute to an evolving debate of the role of agroecology in sustainable farming and food systems in Europe, and of effective policy support; oNetwork with key stakeholders, researchers and other interested parties.
Project results are intended to contribute to the implementation of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy, Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, the preparations of the European R&I partnership on agroecology living labs and research infrastructures, and the national CAP Strategic Plans.
The target audience of this conference is farming organisations and stakeholders across the value chain, the European Commission and EU and national public authorities, international organisations, NGOs and civil society organisations, knowledge and innovation networks and brokers, and researchers.
Download the conference agenda here:
 
Katalin Balázs
added an update
The 5th issue of the UNISECO Project Newsletter is out, here are some highlights what you can find in this issue:
What UNISECO is all about?
UNISECO is an EC funded 3-year Horizon 2020 research and innovation action aiming at strengthening the sustainability of EU farming systems through co-constructing improved and practice validated strategies and incentives for the promotion of improved agro-ecological approaches.
A lot of work has been done in the project since our 4th newsletter in October 2020. The UNISECO project is now in its final stages. We are synthesizing project results and preparing at full speed for our virtual Final Conference for presenting them on stage and in virtual gallery.
We hereby cordially invite you to join us at our final event on 18-19 March 2021. Registrations are open until 15 March 2021.
Furthermore, from the 5th issue of our newsletter you can get to know:
What are the latest developments and current activities in our project?
Through to completion in April 2021 we are finalising the project synthesis and summarising the main changes in governance and implications for sustainability of the strategies for agro-ecological transitions as a means to strengthen the sustainability of European farming systems. Those strategies were co-constructed in case studies in the 15 European countries of project partners.
  • Our updated multimedia case study storymaps are at the heart of this issue. Get to know the central issues of agro-ecological transitions and results in the UNISECO case studies.
  • Read about the 7th project meeting and stakeholder workshop held in November 2020, the project workshop held in February 2021, about the remarkable success of the HU case study online closing conference with more than 200 participants in March 2020, and about stakeholder workshops on multi-criteria assessment of transition strategy policy instruments in the case studies. Further case study news can be found on the project website.
We would like to thank the members of the Multi-Actor Platforms for participating in the interviews and workshops (both online and in-person) and for their valuable input to the transdisciplinary research in UNISECO.
What are the latest outputs in UNISECO?
· Browse and exploit our resources of deliverable reports, open access scientific articles, case study materials, and videos.
Where and how are we networking?
· Despite the Covid19 pandemic UNISECO will be present at several – mostly online - events including having a virtual marketplace at the Rural Vision Week in March, being represented by ELO and WWF at the FFA2021, hosting sessions at the AAG 2021 in April, or presenting project results at the SBD Conference in May.
We hope you will enjoy delving into the latest info about our project. Thank you for reading!
The UNISECO project team
 
Gerald Schwarz
added 2 research items
This guideline sets out the process for the selection of individuals to participate in the Multi-Actor Platforms associated with the UNISECO project. An EU-level and 15 case study scale Multi-Actor Platforms will be brought together for the duration of the project. Multi-actor engagement will be used to ensure the consistent application of transdisciplinary methods. This approach, embedded in the composition of the consortium partners, seeks to strengthen the capacity of the project partners, the stakeholders and end users to assess the sustainability of different agro-ecological approaches and to prioritise policy interventions. A key aim of the use of the MAPs is to operate without gaps between science and practice, and to provide an advisory framework that will support a “systems approach”. An aim of this document is to ensure that partners will follow agreed steps in selecting and inviting appropriate stakeholders to participate in the platforms. It includes a range of actors at EU level (such as EU wide environmental NGO’s, sector organisations, policy makers and European Commission) and case study level (such as farmers, farm advisors and local and national authorities). This Guideline sets out the: i) purpose, aims and objectives of MAPs ii) criteria for identifying actors iii) procedure for selecting EU-Level MAP and Case Study MAP iv) procedure to explain and inform MAP’s participants v) management of MAP participation. This provides a coherent and streamlined approach to the selection of members of the Multi-Actor Platforms in the UNISECO project. The purpose of the approach is to ensure that the UNISECO project addresses directly, and is relevant to, the real needs on the ground, and to ensure that people with different types of knowledge are included throughout the project’s lifetime and beyond.
This report describes the transdisciplinary framework for the UNISECO project and provides ‘structures’ to facilitate meaningful interactions for shared learning, synthesis, integration and co-construction of innovative, actionable knowledge for practical outcomes. Material has been drawn from resources of academia and practice, including the personal experience of the UNISECO consortium partners. The introduction defines our use of the word ‘actor’ and describes the Multi-Actor Platforms (MAPs) approach being used within the UNISECO project. The MAPs create a structure to facilitate engagement with relevant actors across the phases of UNISECO’s research and dissemination activities. Guidance on the criteria and process for selection of individuals to be part of the MAPs is provided in the report Deliverable D7.1, Guidelines for the Selection of Multi-Actor Platform (Budniok et al., 2018). Section 2 places the UNISECO approach within the wider context of the move toward transdisciplinary research and provides the conceptual background to the project’s participatory approach. Section 3 focuses on the role envisaged for members of the MAPs. It provides operational insight to the remit, functions, and implementation of activities in which members of the MAPs will be involved. It considers issues such as the aims of engagement, who to involve, method and timeframe for engagement, and anticipated commitment of effort for actor involvement. This is detailed for all activities that seek to include EU-level MAP members and for those that will draw upon the individual Case Study MAPs within each of the partner country. Section 4 provides guidance for engagement with the MAPs at EU and case study levels. Specifically, it discusses how to design research activities to support the co-construction of knowledge and to facilitate full participation. A set of ‘decision topics’ are discussed including those pertaining to: i) the purpose for involvement; ii) who to include; iii) format for involvement; iv) spatial and temporal context for the activity; v) information provision and collection; and, vi) activity outputs and outcomes. Additionally, a set of general principles for participatory involvement are provided alongside a collection of related ‘implementation tips’. This section closes with a description of the evaluative component embedded within UNISECO. A set of guidelines will be made available to consortium partners and then included in Deliverable D7.3, Report on Assessment of Transdisciplinary Tools and Methods (Smyrniotopoulou et al., in preparation). As a whole, the report takes account of the different levels of participatory engagement processes (EU, case study) with respect to the type and diversity of participants. It touches on equitability and rights of participation including intellectual property issues relating to co-construction and co-learning. Additionally, it addresses the practicalities of implementation such as timing of engagement and ways to foster trust, understanding and fairness to support participation and co-construction across different types of knowledge, experiences and perspectives.
Astrain Carlos
added a research item
El proyecto UNISECO inició sus accio-nes en mayo de 2018 y finaliza en abril de 2021. El consorcio cuenta con 18 socios de diferentes países de Euro-pa. Para más información sobre el proyecto visitar la página web: www.uniseco-project.eu. Se puede suscribir a su newsletter en la página web: https://uniseco-project.eu/newsletter UNISECO (en castellano, Comprendiendo y Mejorando la Sostenibilidad de los Sis-temas Agroecológicos en la UE) es un proyecto de investigación europeo (H2020) que tiene como objetivo identificar y comprender los sistemas de producción que son rentables económicamente para las explotaciones agrarias a la vez que tienen un impacto positivo en el medio ambiente y la sociedad, es decir, los sistemas agro-ecológicos. La finalidad última del proyecto es conocer cómo se pueden promover este tipo de sistemas en la UE y determinar cómo su fomento beneficiaría al medio ambiente y a la sociedad.
Gerald Schwarz
added a research item
Agroecology, first conceptualised in the mid-1920s, has recently been attracting increasing interest as an alternative to more industrialised forms of agriculture. However, there is a lack of consistency in definitions of agroecology, ranging from an academic discipline to a movement for the socio-economic as well as ecological transformation of agriculture. There is also a lack of clarity as to its relationship with other alternative agricultural approaches that have many principles in common, such as conservation agriculture and organic farming. This conceptual fluidity creates tensions in debates, but also makes agroecology attractive to policy makers and scientists who may be less comfortable with more rigidly defined approaches. In this position paper, we explore some of the underlying issues and tensions, to see if it is possible to reach a common conceptualisation that can serve as basis for policy making. The authors have several decades of research experience in the development of organic farming and agroecology, and their integration into agricultural policy, both in their home countries and at the European level. Building on this, we explore how policy needs might be addressed within current proposed and planned European and national policy frameworks, with a focus primarily on the situation in France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Building on the case studies, this paper provides an updated, com-parative analysis of the status of agroecology in the frame of agricultural policy in Europe. It is divided into three parts: first, it iden-tifies multiple challenges regarding the concept of agroecology itself, including multiple and competing understandings of the concept. Second, it traces recent policy changes in the three case study countries and asks what these mean for agroecology in Europe. Thirdly, it makes a number of recommendations on what the status quo means for future agroecology policies and transformative potential, including mentioning new policies and their potential impact.
Johannes Carolus
added a research item
The alignment of the environmental, economic and social sustainability of farms is necessary for enhancing the provision of public goods in farming. This study combines the use of three tools for the assessment of farm sustainability. It provides first insights into the sustainability performance of farms at different stages of agro-ecological transitions in 15 case studies covering a range of different farming systems across Europe. Each case study reflects a different transition towards agro-ecological farming. The tools applied were COMPAS (an economic farm assessment tool); Cool Farm Tool (a greenhouse gas inventory, water footprint and biodiversity assessment tool); and the SMART Farm Tool (a multidimensional sustainability assessment tool). First results of the use of combined sustainability assessments deepen the understanding of different farming systems. Sustainability performance varies greatly between farms, but overall, agro-ecological farms tend to enhance biodiversity and water quality. For soil quality, no clear patterns could be identified. The same applies to economic performance at different stages of the agro-ecological transition. Quality of life was generally rated medium to high on all investigated farms. The combined sustainability assessment enabled the identification of areas for further policy development. Aligning the tools required harmonising definitions, simplification and assumptions with regard to the input data of the tools.
Katalin Balázs
added an update
The 2nd issue of the UNISECO Project Newsletter is out, here are some highlights what you can find in this issue:
What UNISECO is all about?
UNISECO is an EC funded 3-year Horizon 2020 research and innovation action aiming at strengthening the sustainability of EU farming systems through co-constructing improved and practice validated strategies and incentives for the promotion of improved agro-ecological approaches.
Since our 1st newsletter in December many things happened in UNISECO. The project has passed its first year in May. Read about how the consortium marked its 1st anniversary with the 1st Annual Meeting and Stakeholder Workshop in Helsinki.
Furthermore, from the 2nd issue of our newsletter you can get to know:
What are the latest developments in our project?
Currently, farm visits are carried out on approximately 150 farms to collect data on their economic, ecological and social performance and to discuss barriers and drivers of agro-ecological transitions.
  • Learn more about how UNISECO project partners were trained to carry out on-farm sustainability assessments.
  • Read about how our case studies are progressing, and we give insights to events in some of our case studies.
What scenarios of future European agriculture should be investigated in UNISECO? This question and other issues were discussed at the 1st EU Stakeholder Workshop in Brussels.
What are the latest deliverables in UNISECO?
  • Download and read our latest reports e.g. on the SES Framework for AEFS, typology of AEFS and practices in the EU, inventory of market and policy incentives supporting AEFS, how transdisciplinarity is handled by the consortium.
Where and how are we networking?
  • UNISECO was present at many events including AAG 2019, Agri Innovation Summit 2019, 8th AIEAA.
  • We also cooperate with our fellow project LIFT: both project were introduced and discussed at a joint seminar with DG Agri and DG Env in Brussels to facilitate science-policy interaction.
What are the upcoming international events where you can meet us?
  • There are several events on our list, e.g. the Agroecology Europe Forum in September, EIP-Agri workshop in October, or the ODT Forum “Agroecology: multiple transition of territories”.
We hope you will enjoy delving into the latest info about our project.
Thank you for reading!
The UNISECO project team
 
Katalin Balázs
added an update
Prepared by the Baltic Environmental Forum Latvia and CREA – with contributions from all UNISECO project partners - Deliverable D5.1 from WP5 presents the results of an inventory of examples of market and policy incentives, implemented at different levels (EU, national and local), that serve to support transition processes towards Agro-Ecological Farming Systems (AEFS).
The overarching objective of WP5 is to analyse market and policy incentives, with governance mechanisms, supporting transitions to AEFS and to co-construct with EU, national and local stakeholders relevant policy options targeting different spatial and institutional scales. The first task of WP5 has been to compile an up-to-date inventory of examples of market and policy incentives supporting AEFS (Deliverable D5.1).
A total of 69 examples of policy and market incentives from European countries were included in the compilation of policy and market incentives based on a review of national agricultural policies, databases and consultations with EU and national stakeholders. Of these 69 examples, a similar number are policy instruments (30) and market instruments (27), and fewer mixed initiatives involving a joint participation of public and private sector institutions (12). These figures illustrate the role already played by the private sector in promoting agro-ecological initiatives, and the opportunity for greater cooperation between public and private sector institutions in supporting agro-ecology.
Although the selected market and policy tools included in the compilation are only a few of the diverse approaches and practices being implemented across the EU, the report offers an overview of the typologies of policies, strategic plans, measures, regulations, economic and financial support implemented by public institutions that may facilitate the transition towards AEFS. Similarly, the examples of market incentives collected in the compilation – that are adopted at different levels and promoted by different actors (including suppliers, traders, wholesalers, processors, retailers, distributors, financers, shippers, etc.) – provide a preliminary overview of the different types of incentives that may be activated across the value chains to facilitate the transition towards AEFS.
The report shows that complex mixes of economic and policy instruments are adopted at different governance levels and in different socio-economic contexts formulates key emerging issues on the role of policy and market incentives for agro-ecological transitions. The most effective tools appear to be those that rely on innovative institutional arrangements fostering cooperation between private and public actors and those that effectively involve the interests and marketing strategies of value chain actors in agro-ecological transitions.
We would like to thank the stakeholders who took part in the consultations for sharing their views on innovative policy and market incentives supporting the transition to agro-ecological farming in Europe.
 
Katalin Balázs
added an update
Prepared by the Institute of Agricultural Economics and Information (UZEI) and the James Hutton Institute – with contributions from all UNISECO project partners - Deliverable D2.2 from WP2 proposes a three-dimensional typology that deals with the complexity of farming systems that are transitioning towards agro-ecological farming and presents the process and outcome of the case study selection in UNISECO.
The overarching objective of WP2 is to provide a conceptual framework for the project and to ensure a consistent theoretical underpinning of the practice and policy recommendations for agro-ecological transitions. In addition to the development of the conceptual framework for assessing the sustainability of farming systems (see Deliverable D2.1) further key tasks of WP2 were to design a typology of AEFS and the case study design and selection (Deliverable D2.2). 
Deliverable report D2.2 proposes a three-dimensional typology (farm production systems (D1), AEF practices (D2) and socio-economic (SES) context (D3). This enables the differentiation between farming systems that have modified their management and practices away from convention-al farming systems, and recognises farming systems as part of a wider socio-economic, institutional and political context. The results emerging from the case study and territorial analyses will be used to further elaborate the proposed typology.
The process of case study selection was based upon 19 characteristics used to describe the candidate case studies (e.g. production type of farms, sustainability issue, agro-ecological practices, link to value chain, network presence, level of cooperation, presence of innovative policy and/or market incentives). The characteristics were selected to meet the methodological needs and project objectives. Statistics of candidate case studies was carried out and guidelines for partners drafted to ensure a good balance of case studies across the EU. National stakeholders discussed the suitability of candidate case studies for UNISECO and provided their preferences for the final selection based on their relevance to sustainable farming at a national level.
UNISECO has consulted with members of the EU-level Multi-Actor Platform (MAP) on the final case study selection and the proposed typology to ensure EU-level relevance of the selected case studies and AEFS typology.
We would like to thank the national and regional stakeholders in the partner countries for their valuable contributions to the discussion of candidate case studies. We would also like to thank members of the EU-level MAP for their useful comments and suggestions in the consultation of the candidate case studies and draft typology.
 
Katalin Balázs
added an update
Prepared by the James Hutton Institute, Thünen Institute and the Agricultural University of Athens – with contributions from all UNISECO project partners - Deliverable D7.2 of WP7 describes the transdisciplinary framework for the UNISECO project and provides guidance for the engage-ment with the Multi-Actor Platforms (MAPs) to facilitate meaningful interactions for shared learning, integration and co-construction of innovative, actionable knowledge to promote agro-ecological transitions.
The overarching objective of WP7 is to facilitate stakeholder engagement in Multi-Actor Platforms (MAPs) as an integral part of the implementation of the research, dissemination and exploitation activities in UNISECO. Key tasks of WP7 are the development of the transdisciplinary approach, training and guidance on its application, and the provision of a guide to transdisciplinarity for partners (Deliverable D7.2). 
The Deliverable Report D7.2 discusses how to design research activities to support the co-construction of knowledge and to facilitate full participation taking into account the different levels of participatory engagement processes (EU, case study) with respect to the type and diversity of participants. It touches on equitability and rights of participation including intellectual property issues relating to co-construction and co-learning. Additionally, it addresses the practicalities of implementation such as timing of engagement and ways to foster trust, understanding and fairness to support participation and co-construction across different types of knowledge, experiences and perspectives.
 
Katalin Balázs
added an update
Prepared by the European Landowners’ Organisation, the Agricultural University of Athens, James Hutton Institute and Thünen Institute, Deliverable D7.1 from WP7 provides guidelines for the selection of Multi-Actor Platform (MAP) members.
The overarching objective of WP7 is to facilitate stakeholder engagement in Multi-Actor Platforms (MAPs) as an integral part of the implementation of the research, dissemination and exploitation activities in UNISECO. A key task of WP7 is the management of MAPs and stakeholder coordination, and the provision of guidelines for the selection of MAP members (Deliverable D7.1). 
The Deliverable Report D7.1 sets out the process for the selection of individuals to participate in the Multi-Actor Platforms associated with the UNISECO project. An EU-level and 15 case study scale Multi-Actor Platforms will be brought together for the duration of the project. An aim of this guideline is to ensure that partners will follow agreed steps in selecting and inviting appropriate stakeholders to participate in the platforms. It includes a range of actors at EU level (such as EU wide environmental NGO’s, sector organisations, policy makers and European Commission) and case study level (such as farmers, farm advisors and local and national authorities). The purpose of the MAP approach is to ensure that the UNISECO project addresses directly, and is relevant to, the real needs on the ground, and to ensure that people with different types of knowledge are included throughout the project’s lifetime and beyond.
 
Katalin Balázs
added an update
Prepared by ISARA-Lyon, the James Hutton Institute, the Institute of Agricultural Economics and Information (UZEI), and CREA, Deliverable D2.1 from WP2 explains the adapted Social-Ecological Systems (SES) framework for the sustainability assessment of agro-ecological farming systems in UNISECO.
The overarching objective of WP2 is to provide a conceptual framework for the project and to ensure a consistent theoretical underpinning of the practice and policy recommendations for agro-ecological transitions. The first task in WP2 was to develop a conceptual framework for assessing the sustainability of farming systems and to provide guidance on its application across the different WPs in UNISECO (Deliverable D2.1). 
The objective of the Deliverable report D2.1 is to develop a conceptual framework suitable for the sustainability assessment of agro-ecological farming systems (AEFS). The report explains the adapted SES framework for the sustainability assessment of AEFS and operationalises the framework by providing guidance for the analytical WPs (WP3, WP4, WP5, and WP6) and their collection of information and assessment of SES variables. It summarises the strengths and weaknesses of the SES framework to analyse transitions to AEFS and outlines the adaptations of the variables of the different subsystems for the SES framework in UNISECO.
 
Katalin Balázs
added an update
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Katalin Balázs
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UNISECO is a European research project aiming to develop innovative approaches to enhance the understanding of socio-economic and policy drivers and barriers for further development and implementation of agro-ecological practices in EU farming systems. The overarching objective is to strengthen the sustainability of European farming systems, through co-constructing improved and practice-validated strategies and incentives for the promotion of improved agro-ecological approaches.
Coordinated by Thünen Institute (Germany) the consortium includes 18 partners from 15 countries. Further information can be found on the project website: https://uniseco-project.eu/
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement Nr. 773901.