The EU's new Horizon 2020 work programme was unveiled on 27 October 2017, including an investment of €1 billion towards knowledge and innovation in agriculture, food and rural development.

With the aim of making farming more sustainable, food healthier and more diverse and rural territories a better place to live and work, the money will be available for research and innovation projects that contribute to protecting the ecosystem, nurturing the soils, valorising genetic resources and adapting to climate change. Projects that promote a new generation of rural actors and value chains that are better connected, greener, more circular, and also better supported by a new set of modernised policies will also benefit from the new funding.

Horizon 2020 is the EU framework programme for research and innovation, and the new work programme covers the last three years of the programme from 2018-20. The funding opportunities for programmes related to agriculture and rural development are mainly under the themes (known as 'calls') of sustainable food security and rural renaissance, with some additional opportunities under the information and communication technologies (ICT) heading.

These calls build on the long-term strategic approach to EU agricultural research and innovation published in 2016. Their priorities are also strongly aligned with current and future common agricultural policy objectives. This includes helping the agricultural sector to become smarter, more resilient and environmentally sustainable, encouraging more young people to get involved in agriculture and rural life and strengthening socio-economic life in rural areas.

€1 billion to put farmers in the driving seat of innovation and speed-up impact
Since 2014, agricultural research and innovation programmes have been run based on a so-called 'multi-actor' approach, where scientists, farmers and other interested parties team up to create solutions to real problems encountered in the field. Over sixty multi-actor projects are already up and running, including 17 thematic networks, showing clearly that this approach can bring in new parties into the broader field of research and innovation, with great success.

This new work programme doubles the total investment in Horizon 2020 multi-actor projects, bringing it to around €1 billion distributed through 180 grants over the seven years of Horizon 2020. As agriculture and rural development Commissioner Phil Hogan said at the Lisbon Agri-Innovation Summit in Lisbon on 11-12 October, "this represents an unprecedented effort to put farmers in the driving seat of innovation".

Sustainable agriculture and healthier food through respecting our ecosystems
The sustainable food security call dedicates €753 million to a more sustainable use of resources and to producing better quality food, building in particular on better-managed ecosystems and natural resources. Improved ecosystem management can help fight pests and diseases in sustainable ways, decreasing chemical inputs or the use of anti-microbials.

Key features of this call also comprise a €75 million investment in soil management, including the creation of a €40 million European joint programme on agricultural soil management as a major contribution to climate-related mitigation efforts. This will be implemented in tandem with a global initiative for soil research. Beyond soils, the work programme also invests €45 million in environment and climate-smart farming systems as well as €63 million in breeding and genetic resources. The call will also support international cooperation activities, especially with China and Africa (€112 million).

Investing in younger, smarter, greener and more circular rural areas
The rural renaissance (RUR) call offers €263 million to promote smarter, younger, greener, more circular and better-connected rural communities and value chains.

The emphasis is on making the digital transformation of society a reality for rural people and communities. Around €100 million is dedicated to activities under both RUR and the ICT part of the work programme focused on the uptake and development of digital technologies and on exploring the impact of these changes to prepare for the future.

Almost €100 million will also be invested in innovation in value chains, with a focus on the circular bioeconomy. This will be a source of opportunity for new businesses and industries improving welfare in rural areas. The RUR call will also provide €60 million of funding for projects which will help modernise policies to favour so-called generation renewal (i.e. getting more young people interested in farming and rural business in general), increased capacity to adapt to climate and socio-economic changes and better environmental protection. It will finally invest in further boosting knowledge exchange and innovation systems.

More information about the research and innovation opportunities in agriculture and rural development is available during the Horizon 2020 Societal challenge 2 Infoweek in Brussels on 14-17 November 2017. The week includes in particular a high-level policy event on digitising agriculture and food value chains.

Source: European Commission