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Call for Experts: ‘‘Regenerative Agriculture‘‘

04 January 2021

EASAC are seeking nominations of experts for the new ''Regenerative Agriculture“ project.

“Transformation towards a Sustainable, Resilient, Regenerative Agriculture in the EU”

This proposal takes as a point of departure the recent shifting agricultural and biodiversity policy arena in Europe and the recent internationally increasing interest in regenerative agriculture as an umbrella concept for sustainable and resilient food systems. Regenerative agriculture is defined as a system of farming principles and practices that e.g. maintain agricultural productivity, increase biodiversity, enrich soils, restore watersheds, and enhance ecosystem services incl carbon sequestration (Oberč and Arroyo Schnell 2020).

Several ongoing and previous projects of EASAC  are of relevance for this proposed project. In particular, Sustainability of Europe's soils which examines the threats to the sustainability of soils, the potential contribution to worsening or mitigating climate change, the importance of soil biodiversity, and interactions between soil health and human health is highly relevant. Also the previous project Multi-functionality and Sustainability in the European Union's Forests is highly relevant.

The EASAC Biosciences program has produced several relevant project reports, such as EASAC The imperative of climate action to protect human health in Europe (addresses agriculture), the report Global Food Security, and the EASAC Commentary and Statement on new breeding techniques in agriculture (includes issues for climate-resilient agriculture).

Note also that the Biosciences program produced a report on Regenerative medicine.

Multiple discussions in the Environmental Steering Panel, the Bioscience Panel the Bureau and the Council of EASAC during 2020, a more stringent focus of the project has emerged. The project will review and critrically analyse the concept of regenerative agriculture with a strong focus on restoration ecology in the agricultural landscape. This review and critical analysis will then relate to the Farm to Fork Strategy and the Biodiversity strategy and outline policy options.

The plan is to finalize a report in late 2021 to feed into the policy discussion in view of major decisions on agricultural policy planned to 2023.

Main competencies identified for a multidisciplinary working group on ‘‘Regenerative Agriculture“:

  • Restoration Ecology, including ecosystem theory, theory on restoration, practical applications in different bioregions in Europe
  • Agricultural sciences including crop production, animal husbandry, fertilizers, pesticide use, soil biology, new technology
  • Agricultural ecosystem science including biodiversity and environmental impact of agriculture
  • Climate change and agriculture including effects of climate change on production and role of agriculture in mitigation and adaptation
  • Economics, including analyses of subsidies and natural capital

To express an interest in being nominated by the Royal Irish Academy, please submit your CV, a bio sketch, and a short statement outlining your suitability for this project to policy@ria.ie by midday on Friday 22nd January 2021.

This opportunity is publicly advertised by the Royal Irish Academy and while the Academy is happy to nominate suitable candidates for this role and will fully endorse successful nominations and assist in communicating the delegate’s activities to national academics and policymakers, any financial costs involved in this project must be self-funded by the nominee, or if applicable, funded by the nominee’s home institution.

All expressions of interest received will be considered by the Academy’s Policy Oversight Group - the unit tasked with advising upon the initiation and implementation of all of the Academy’s policy and international activities and responsible for overseeing a standardised quality process for all outputs. Chaired by the Academy’s Secretary of Policy and International Relations, the six members of this group are all elected Members of the Royal Irish Academy and come from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds in several institutions across the island of Ireland- both north and south of the border. On occasions, the Policy Oversight Group may also consult additional experts to inform their assessments and evaluations.

The Royal Irish Academy values diversity and strives for a culture of equality and inclusion in all of its activities. As outlined in its Strategic Plan 2019-2023, the Academy is committed to ensuring greater gender, disciplinary, institutional and overall diversity in every area of the Academy and its work throughout the island of Ireland.  It particularly welcomes nominations from under-represented groups and communities.

EASAC - Criteria for Project Selection

1. What policy problem is the project addressing? Why does the problem merit the attention of EASAC?

This proposal takes as a point of departure the recent shifting agricultural and biodiversity policy arena in Europe and the recent internationally increasing interest in regenerative agriculture as an umbrella concept for sustainable and resilient food systems. Regenerative agriculture is defined as a system of farming principles and practices that e.g. maintain agricultural productivity, increase biodiversity, enrich soils, restore watersheds, and enhance ecosystem services incl carbon sequestration. The proposed report will critically analyze the scientific robustness of the concept, where knowledge gaps are present and where there is a need for innovative policy development.

While the detailed structure will need to await inputs from the expert panel, an initial concept includes:

  • Building on previous EASAC work on e.g. soils to update issues relevant to soil sustainability.
  • Building an evidence base around e.g: ecological restoration in agricultural landscapes, evolution of agriculture including crop and feed management, sustainable fertilizer and water use, recycling of phosphorus (strengthening urban-rural connections) nitrogen, enhancing biodiversity within agricultural systems, social dimensions in ecological restoration.
  • As a broad concept, regenerative agriculture could be very useful in informing a whole range of policy measures likely to be under discussion, as the detail of new policies decided in principle in 2020, are translated into specific measures.  Timing of the outcome of a full report is likely to be compatible with the Commission and Parliament’s debate to decide the detailed implementation of the biodiversity, farm to fork and post-COVID recovery broad strategies.


2. Is the project relevant to the EU agenda and to EASAC’s objectives? Does it fit in with the current range of EASAC advisory work? If not, is there a case for expanding that range?

Yes, the project is relevant for the new EU policy frameworks within the Farm to fork and Biodiversity strategies. It builds on several projects of EASAC, in particular, “Sustainability of Europe's soils” which examines the threats to the sustainability of soils, the potential contribution to worsening or mitigating climate change, the importance of soil biodiversity, and interactions between soil health and human health. Also the previous project “Multi-functionality and Sustainability in the European Union's Forests” is highly relevant.

The EASAC Biosciences program has also produced several relevant project reports, such as EASAC  “The imperative of climate action to protect human health in Europe” (addresses agriculture), the report “Global Food Security”, and the EASAC Commentary and Statement on new breeding techniques in agriculture (includes issues for climate-resilient agriculture).

Over several meetings, the Environment Steering panel has identified areas such as resilience of agriculture to climate change, agriculture’s contribution to climate change mitigation, and resilience in a post-COVID environment.  During the panel meeting in May 2020, the concept of regenerative agriculture was discussed and the increasing international interest it is gaining (note that the Biosciences programme has recently issued a report on regenerative medicine). A first draft of the project proposal was reviewed by panel members during summer, and further discussed at panel meeting October 2. The draft was also discussed at the BioScience Panel meeting October 19. Feedback from the two panels have been included in a new draft.

3. Is the project relevant to other parts of the world?

Yes, EU has the ambition to be world leader in implementing sustainable agricultural practices and support a similar development in major import markets in third countries.

4. Is the problem such that objective scientific evidence is relevant for the policy maker? If so, can EASAC secure access to that evidence?

Yes, the project will explore the concept of regenerative agriculture in relation to the ambitious goals of the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies. The concept is viewed as broader than most of other concepts related to sustainable agriculture, such as carbon farming, ecological intensification, organic farming etc. Regenerative agriculture aims to go beyond just reducing negative environmental effects of agriculture to actually produce positive environmental externalities. As a concept and approach, it is gaining increasing international interest, but a critical scientific evaluation of objectives and assumptions has yet to be made.

5. Who is responsible (or should be) for the problem at the EU policy level? What might they do differently as a result of the EASAC project? What is the evidence that they are interested in the problem as formulated?

The implementation of the above mentioned strategies is a joint responsibility for the EU Commission, the EU Council and the EU Parliament. The strategies will also be linked to the development of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which is under negotiation. The aim of the project is to point to the potential of new frameworks, such as Regenerative agriculture, for a successful transformative implementation process.

6. Who are the other stakeholders in the issue being addressed? Does the project proposal accommodate their concerns?

The project will take a systemic approach addressing the perspectives of both producers and consumers in the long chain from farm to fork.

7. What external factors influence the timing of the project, i.e. should it be completed by a certain date in order to have maximum impact?

The project will be timed to be published at an appropriate time (fall 2021) in the rather long temporal chain of decisions regarding the EU Farm to Fork policy package, and with the decision on the legislative framework for sustainable food systems scheduled to 2023.

8. What work is already done by others in this area? Have member Academies already been active? Why would EASAC intervention have added value and how would it be distinctive?

See under point 2 above.

9. Is there a case for doing the project together with anyone else?

We have a dialogue with the Bioscience program.

10. What are the intended project deliverables (e.g. detailed report, shorter statement, workshop or other event)? Why is this particular deliverable the best way to influence the target customer?

A full detailed report with appropriate dissemination. In the short term we are discussing an interim report focusing on soil and soil restoration potentials (an update of the EASAC report “Sustainability of Europe's soils”).

The details will be further discussed by working group and Steering Panel.

11. What issues need to be taken into account by Council for allocation of EASAC resources, e.g. timetable, choice of chairman and experts for multidisciplinary working group; and is the topic within the competencies and interests of EASAC member Academies?

At this stage the main competencies identified for a multidisciplinary working group fall into the areas of:

  • Restoration Ecology, including ecosystem theory, theory on restoration, practical applications in different bioregions in Europe
  • Agricultural sciences including crop production, animal husbandry, fertilizers, pesticide use, soil biology, new technology
  • Agricultural ecosystem science including biodiversity and environmental impact of agriculture
  • Climate change and agriculture including effects of climate change on production and role of agriculture in mitigation and adaptation
  • Economics, including analyses of subsidies and natural capital

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