Advisors' roles in the functioning of AKIS and advisory policies boosting innovation in sustainable agriculture
There is a need to analyse the role of advisors in the Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation System (AKIS) and explore farmers' decision making processes.
Advisors' short- and long-term influence on farm decisions, their impartiality and the way practical knowledge is kept public and conserved in the longer term are determined by how various types of advisor are embedded in their national or regional AKIS, by how public and private advisory services interact, and by the type or combination of financing sources they use. This complex relationship is governed by public policies at national, regional and EU level and increasingly impacts on whether society can sufficiently move to more sustainable agricultural systems.
While the term 'advice' normally refers to an 'opinion or recommendation offered as a guide to action' in a context of linear knowledge transfer from science to agricultural practice, the term 'advisor' appears to cover various and different roles. The role that authorities and private industry attribute to advisory services, and their expectations in terms of how this will help them fulfil their own objectives needs to be researched if we are to understand how AKIS really functions. New approaches need to be developed to enhance advisors' potential to boost innovation through their function as intermediaries connecting science and practice. The focus should be on the farmers' needs and behaviour, improving connections with research and finding ways of providing accurate and timely advice, including the use of new ICT advisory tools. The quality, efficiency and effectiveness of an advisory service rely on a relationship of trust over time between advisor and farmer and on the advisors' qualifications, experience and networking capacity. Therefore, the sustainable financing of specific basic functions of existing public/private advisors may be a key to success. The growing number and impact of private advisors and the shrinkage of public extension services makes cooperation between different types of advisors more challenging. New forms of interaction among advisors and between advisors and scientists need to be explored, in order to ultimately improve knowledge flows in Member States' AKIS and in the EU, and to conserve and develop public knowledge for agriculture.
Considering the different types of farming systems and farmers, proposals should examine how farmers make their decisions and who influences them most. Within this context, activities should analyse the role of the various types of advisor in the AKISs. Taking into account the impact of face-to-face interaction, projects should identify the key factors in the creation of trust between farmer and advisor so as to enable effective knowledge transfer and exchange. They shall, as a minimum, explore the relationship between advisors and researchers and between advisors and farmers, identifying the main elements facilitating the flow of information in both directions. Apart from linear knowledge transfer processes, particular attention should be paid to advisors' potential to boost innovation, inter alia by funnelling practice needs into research activities, participating and intermediating in farmer-to-farmer learning processes and interactive innovation projects, and by acting as innovation brokers or as an innovation support service encouraging innovation projects and capturing grass-roots innovative ideas from practice for further development.
Moreover, projects should examine which governance models are most appropriate for empowering such multi-functional advisory services: how can the various advisory roles be embedded in regional, national and EU AKIS policies, how can public and private advisors be interconnected (both at MS and at EU level), are they in competition or well-coordinated, how is the lifelong training of advisors organised (who, when, why etc), what are the minimum education requirements for an advisor, how to support farmer-to-farmer learning or organise knowledge building using ICT tools or the internet, etc.
Proposals shall also explore the role of advisors in innovation networks at local, regional, national and European level (e.g. within the EU Farm Advisory System, the European Innovation Partnership 'Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability' (EIP-AGRI) network, National Rural Networks, the European Network for Rural Development, Leader, etc.) and the role of farmers' associations (trade unions, cooperatives, irrigation associations, etc.) or private advisors linked to agricultural input suppliers.
Activities should analyse the impact of funding for multi-functional advisory services under national policies and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in general, including the impact of public procurement for the selection of advisory services, possible difficulties for smaller advisory services wishing to participate, the requirement that advisors should follow regular training etc. Projectss shall identify best practices from a broad series of practical cases across the EU. They fall under the concept of the 'multi-actor approach. Consortia must include a range of key actors with practical experience in the subject such as private and public advisors and advisory services, and also other relevant players such as farmers, farmers' organisations, social scientists, researchers, authorities, businesses or cooperatives providing advice etc. The project should provide input to and liaise with the SCAR- AKIS Strategic Working Group.
The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of up to EUR 5 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude the submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.
This action should contribute to understanding the future role of advisors in AKIS and their potential to boost innovation, and improve related public policies. The following impacts can be expected:
- improved understanding of farmers' decision making processes across the EU and the impact of advice/advisory services on the sustainability of agricultural practices;
- enhanced impact of advisory systems on the strengthening of knowledge flows between science and practice, including suggestions for efficient support and training systems for advisors
- from the cases discussed, a set of good examples and best practices for well-connected and effective advisory systems, focusing on ways of preserving practical knowledge in the long-term and including identification of success elements and possible novel roles for advisors with a view to boosting innovation and improving networking;
- transition pathways and recommendations for improving the performance and effectiveness of advisory services, including interconnection and networking of advisory services and innovation support services at national/regional and EU level, supporting the implementation of the EIP AGRI;
- suggestions for governance models and public policy mechanisms, contractual arrangements and appropriate funding instruments providing effective support for improved interactivity of advisors, enhancing innovation-driven research and advisory services to support the transition to more sustainable and climate-smart agriculture; and
- suggestions on how to deepen the networking capacity and impact of the CAP's horizontal Farm Advisory System, including a thorough understanding of the impact of and mechanisms under 2014-2020 rural development support for advisory services.