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The Policy learning week: SME competitiveness day

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On 15 March 2022; the Policy Learning Platform organised the second day of its Policy learning week. The focus was on SME Competitiveness and throughout the day we organised different standalone sessions. 

Ask an Expert session

During the session, our experts Rene Tönnisson, Luc Schmerber and Mart Veliste have answered some of the questions sent by the community members on topics that are high on the political agenda of policymakers: digital transition for SMEs, circular economy, social entrepreneurship…they have mentioned several good practices from Interreg Europe projects and other Policy Learning Platform resources that can be of inspiration for many organisations across Europe, daily involved in delivering policies in those fields. All the sources of information are available in a hand-out document.

Travel with us to Valletta 

Workshop: Challenges and opportunities for the European agri-food sector

Workshop agenda

00:00:00 Introduction of the topic and Policy Learning Platform by Luc Schmerber and Mart Veliste

00:05:03 Keynote speech by Elvira Domingo from EIT FOOD

00:30:38 Keynote speech by Szabolcs Biro from EIP-AGRI

Thematic session I – Brands, labels and quality

00:57:19 Presentation by Mart Veliste and Luc Schmerber on “Brands, labels and quality”

01:01:53 Presentation by Eva Gomar from the Ministry of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda of the Catalan Government (QUALIFY)

01:13:23 Presentation by Jérôme Cinel from

01:31:40 Presentation by Hanna Meriläinen from the Regional Council of Ostrobothnia (FRiDGE)

Thematic Session II – Entrepreneurship in the agri-food sector

01:51:16 Presentation by Orsola Milani from the Metropolitan City of Bologna (SinCE-AFC)

02:04:07 Presentation by Patrick Devine from the Northern and Western Regional Assembly of Ireland (EUREGA)

02:19:22 Presentation by Anna-Katharina Distler from the Competence Center for Nutrition, Germany (FRiDGE)

Key learnings

The keynote speeches from Elvira Domingo, Regional Innovation Scheme (RIS) Programme manager, EIT Food, and Szabolcs Biro, EIP-AGRI, Research & Innovation Officer, Head of Divison B: Fostering a smart and resilient agricultural sector and food security, provided a comprehensive overview of the global challenges ahead for the European agri-food sector:

  • Food prices have increased due to a decrease in grain reserves, the high demand in China, the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on maritime transport and the shortage of ingredients such as oil and cereals. This situation could have an impact on food security and affordability.
  • The pandemic has also changed customer behaviours, showing a strong increase in online sales and making prices for low-income consumers even more important criteria for food choice, often to the detriment of the healthier options.

There is a clear need for transforming the food and land use systems to achieve sustainable development goals, but these changes do come with significant opportunities for economic and social return on investment. Both EIT Food and EIP-AGRI are working on emerging trends and new technologies to bridge the gaps between research and practice in agriculture, forestry and agribusiness. Both are also sharing innovative ideas and solutions, to put them into practice. Both organizations offer support facilities and access to funding opportunities.

The following picture illustrates the innovation priorities and cross-area enablers of EIT Food:

Transformation of the food system

EIP-AGRI brings together the actors of the European agri-food sector with the following objectives:

  • Building up a well-functioning Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems at EU level
  • Bolstering environmental care and climate action and contributing to the achievement of EU environmental and climate objectives
  • Strengthening the socio-economic fabric of rural areas
  • Facilitate peer-to-peer learning and interaction among all agricultural and rural stakeholders
  • Foster innovation support with the inclusion of all stakeholders in the knowledge exchange and knowledge building process.

Brands, labels and quality

  • The first thematic session was dedicated to brands, labels and quality. The discussion developed around three policies and good practices: “Actions to prevent fraud and foster authenticity” (QUALIFY), presented by Eva Gomar, Directorate General of Agrifood Industries, Quality, and Gastronomy of the Department of Climate Action, Food, and Rural Agenda of the Catalan Government (Spain), Territoire BIO Engagé Label (SME ORGANICS), presented by Jérôme Cinel, Interbio Nouvelle Aquitaine (France), and Development of the regional Food Province Label of South Ostorbothnia (FRiDGE), presented by Hanna Meriläinen, Regional Council of South Ostrobothnia (Finland).

What have we learned?

  • It is important to proactively inform the industry and give them the correct tools to ensure that quality regulations are upheld. Information that is prepared in an informative and practical way help increase the understanding of the norms and their interpretations. In the case of SMEs that have less capability to be up to date with the latest requirements, food fraud control authorities could start with “soft visits” that do not immediately sanction the companies but rather inform of the changes needed.  
  • Increasingly consumers demand transparency in the products they consume. QR codes on packaging could be the future how consumers can easily access the background of the product (which conditions have been used to grow the produce, who is the producer, who is involved in the supply chain, etc). Blockchain technology also has high potential to provide transparency and traceability for consumers.
  • In the development phase of a regional brand, it is also useful to gather perspectives from outside of your organization and region. For example, an outsider's perspective can help decide the visual design of the brand as the insiders might overlook or overthink some details.
  • A territory certificate or regional label also brings benefits and visibility to the SMEs in the region.
  • The public sector can be the role model of organic and locally produced consumption. For example, in the case of Territoire BIO Engage Lable, this is done through promoting the use of organic produce in school cafeterias. If the school can increase its use of organic products, so can the local residents.     

Entrepreneurship in the agri-food sector

The second thematic session addressed the topic of entrepreneurship in the agri-food sector. The discussion developed around four good practices: Agrofood BIC (SinCE-AFC), presented by Orsola Milani, Città Metropolitana di Bologna (Italy), Food Works Programme and Food Academy Programme (EUREGA), presented by Patrick Devine, Northern and Western Regional Assembly (Ireland), and Food Startup Incubator Weihenstephan FSIWS (FRiDGE), presented by Anna Katharina Distler, Competence Center for Nutrition (Germany).

What have we learned?

  • Responsible and sustainable consumption have a strong impact on new businesses’ positioning: a major driving force for entrepreneurship in the agri-food sector is the customer’s appetence for shorter, local value chains. To some extent, this can be a limitation to the growth prospects of the companies.
  • There is a need to strengthen networking and peer learning among companies in the agri-food sector to foster more entrepreneurial and innovative developments. This includes collaboration with large companies (e.g. in open innovation processes).
  • Providing opportunities for the access to market, i.e. the end customer, is a necessary support to be provided to agri-food startups.
  • Digitalization of the agri-food sector, despite the availability of technologies, is not very advanced yet. Many businesses are reluctant towards introducing complex digital technologies in their processes. There is room for awareness-raising and promotion of new technologies.   

In addition to the insights provided in the workshop, the Interreg Europe Policy Learning Platform can help you address any policy challenges. Through matchmaking sessions and peer reviews we can provide you with experiences and in-depth knowledge from other regions that have successfully found solutions for the challenges you are experiencing. Curious about how these services work? Visit our expert support webpage and contact us.   

Policy Learning Platform resources