Crop diversification systems for the delivery of food, feed, industrial products and ecosystems services - from farm benefits to value-chain organisation

Specific Challenge

The temporal and spatial diversification of crops through rotation and associations allowing low-input agronomic practices are drivers for resource-efficient farming systems that can fulfil the need simultaneously to produce food, feed, industrial products (e.g. bioenergy, biomaterials, biochemicals) and other ecosystems services. These diversified and low-input farming systems will emerge if clear benefits to farmers and society are demonstrated and if the downstream value chains are properly organised.


Proposals should involve field experiments of diversified cropping systems with different species, low-input agronomic practices in conventional and/or organic sectors, and locations in Europe over several years, in order to optimise the use of resources and increase overall farm yield and/or the land-equivalent ratio thanks to the synergistic effect of crop associations in time and space. Proposals should investigate crop diversification by growing different crop species on the same land in successive growing seasons (i.e. rotation) and within a growing season (i.e. multiple cropping), and growing different species in proximity in the same field (i.e. mixed, row and strip intercropping). Proposals should address all these options (rotations, multiple cropping and intercropping) using either only annual crops (scope A) or annual and perennial crops (scope B). Proposal should consider activities on improved machinery for low-input agronomic practices and harvesting. Breeding activities are excluded. Technical, economic, social and environmental evaluations of the tested diversified systems should be carried out at farm level.

The proposals should also investigate, on the basis of existing case studies, how downstream value chains and the various actors and stakeholders involved (e.g. farmers, cooperatives, logistics providers, industry, consumers) can be impacted by the diversification of cropping systems. Proposals should carry out technical, economic, social and environmental evaluations of the diversified systems at overall value chain level, on the basis of case studies, quantifying the potential for food, feed and industrial products from harvested crops and residues/co-products. Proposals should address technical, social, cultural and economic barriers (e.g. logistics, volume of markets, transparency along the chain, payment for ecosystem services) and drivers. Proposals should analyse path dependencies and lock-ins affecting the various actors and produce roadmaps/recommendations for successful value chain organisation, with a focus on resource-efficiency along the chain.

Proposals should fall under the concept of the 'multi-actor approach' engaging relevant actors such as farmers, cooperatives, logistics providers, industry and should include public engagement targeting consumers and civil society. SME participation is encouraged. Selected projects should liaise closely together and with complementary activities funded in response to topic SFS-02-2016 on 'mixtures and associations in cropping systems' and SFS-31-2016 on 'farming for tomorrow'.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of up to EUR 10 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless. this does not preclude the submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts. At least, one project in scope A and one project in scope B will be funded (above the evaluation threshold).

Expected Impact

The expected impact of the project will be assessed on the basis of:

  • higher arable land productivity, and land-equivalent ratio for intercropping systems;
  • diversification and increase of farmers' revenues through access to new markets and reduced economic risk;
  • lower environmental impact of diversified cropping systems with reduced use of pesticides, chemical fertilisers, energy and water;
  • improved delivery of ecosystem services, including biodiversity, soil fertility, pest and disease control, groundwater and surface water quality and carbon sequestration;
  • organisation of resource-efficient downstream value chains with the involvement of relevant actors and decreased use of energy along the chains;
  • market provision of food, feed and industrial products from harvested crops and residues/co-products produced from diversified cropping systems; and
  • increased awareness and knowledge/data exchanges among actors on the benefits of diversified cropping systems (covering different pedo-climatic conditions, using different crops) and on downstream value chain organisation across Europe.

In the long term, this action will help to increase crop diversification and biodiversity in Europe, which is an objective of the common agricultural policy. It will also contribute to the sustainable development of the bioeconomy.

Application date
Social sciences
Humanities : Anthropology & Ethnology