STRING improves the performance of regional development instruments and programmes in building strong agrifood innovation systems across Europe.
Food industry, perceived as traditional, is in fact a challenging driver for innovation and growth today. STRING unifies regions sharing the ambition to improve the innovation capacity of their food clusters, enabling them to meet the increasingly diversified needs and the growing demand for larger quantities of food. These clusters are often impeded in their development and thus fail to efficiently support the innovation eco-system and hinder the partners’ access to new markets. The shared bottlenecks of agro-food innovation eco-systems –often rooted in the malfunctioning of policy instruments– urge partners to work on solutions adaptable to specific regional contexts.
All STRING-regions have been renown for their food production traditions, and for their innovation potentials. They all are engaged in food innovation and production in different roles. The overall objective of the partners - independent from their development level and the strength of cohesion in their regional food sectors – is to improve the performance and implementation efficiency of development policies and programmes related to food R&D&I and clusterization to promote innovation value chains for the sector. By deepening cluster integration and creating more added value - contributing to smart growth – each region will reach this ambition.
Research and innovation
With their triple helix partners the 3 Southern provinces (NL) developed a RIS 3, linking societal and economic opportunities and challenges. OP South Program was based on the RIS 3. The aim is to develop the region to an innovative top region, where innovation is the key to smart and sustainable growth.
The OP priorities are Innovation (strengthening the R+D+I infrastructure and capacity; stimulating investment in R+D instruments) and Low carbon economy (stimulating research, innovation and use of new technologies and of ICT). The overall budget is 321,6 million euro.
To create a structure strengthening mechanism (stimulating cross sectoral cooperation, attracting (risk) capital and new companies) the following methods are used: living labs; testing grounds; social innovation; the use of design to enable (open) innovation. The innovative opportunities mentioned e.g. Smart Food; Smart Technology; Smart Materials and Smart Logistics. For Smart Food the objectives are 1) The cross sectoral cooperation between Agrofood and High Tech Systems 2.) between Agrofood and Health sector and also 3) stimulating the development of added value (demand driven) concepts.
The OP provides the framework. Implementation should be organised through projects. The province and its partners aim to influence the strategy of the OP through the development of tangible projects. For that it has to find and discuss real solid measures for which this international learning approach is a crucial aspect.
The Emilia-Romagna Regional Operational Programme (ROP) defines the strategy and implementation of the ERDF funds. Within the STRING project the focus will be put on the implementation of the Actions foreseen under the priority 1.b.
The objective of the priority, for which 140 million euro has been allocated, is to enforce the regional innovation system strengthening the cooperation between enterprises and innovation hubs, specifically involving the “High Technology Network”. This network was created during the previous programme period by financing the establishment of research infrastructures in the entire region. The network is divided into Thematic Platforms that reflect the key areas for Regional Smart Growth, as identified in the Regional and Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialization (RIS3). One of the five priority sectors is the Agrifood sector with 15% of the total budget. All interventions for the agrifood sector will be subject of analysis for improvement.
The main need for improvement is to assure the continuity of the collaborative research, anticipating the most significant innovation paths, promoting projects of strategic relevance and improving a holistic approach to the regional innovation system: these objectives are particularly relevant for the agrofood industry, for its importance at regional level and for its production system. The lack of coordination of interventions with other funds such as the Rural Development Plan (EARDF) is also in need.
TOP allocates a budget frame to regional actors such as counties and cities with county rights and provides them with a planning framework to prepare their Integrated Territorial Programmes (ITP). Priority 6 “Sustainable urban development” within TOP is dedicated to cities acting as regional centres, such as Debrecen, which has a budget of 144 million euro. The Debrecen ITP is tailored to regional characteristics and structured into 7 ERDF and 2 ESF measures, including a preliminary list of projects for each measure. ERDF Measure No. 1 represents the highest share (30%) and provides space for initiatives related to innovation, incubation and cluster development for sectors prioritized in county level RIS3. Under the topic of innovation, The Debrecen Innovation Centre project is the sole project initiative. It aims to improve innovation capacities in the region with a focus on food industry. As such, it is a real flagship serving not only the city but also the whole region. Furthermore, two additional ESF projects also contribute to the operation of innovative chains and the Innovation centre.
Yet, the budget allocation structure does not reflect the high ambitions of the city to become a real R+D+I centre in priority fields such as food production. Also breakthrough solutions to ensure efficient use of funding are needed. Finally, additional, smaller scale projects should also be funded supporting the flagship project, promoting investment in infrastructure and services.
The objectives of ERDF Operational Programme of Castilla y León relevant for STRING are:
• promoting innovation and contributing to a change in the production model of Castilla y León;
• promoting the sustainability of enterprises, especially those with a high innovative competence, and the creation of new businesses.
The OP consists of 6 priorities; the 1st priority is Fostering of R&D and innovation. The objectives of the region are in line with those of STRING: Strengthening R&D and innovation institutions and improving the R&D infrastructures; promoting R&D&I activities by enterprises and supporting the creation and consolidation of innovative SMEs; transferring new technology and fostering cooperation between innovation chain entities.
The expected outcomes on the OP level imply increasing number of enterprises cooperating with research institutions and increasing number of enterprises supported from the OP. The target values include SMEs from all sectors including food industry, which is the strength of the region. The overall OP budget is 628 million Euro of which 183,7 million euro is allocated for the first priority (29,7%).
The above characteristics reflect that the region is especially sensitive to SME development and the promotion of innovation among them. However, in the OP there should be more attention paid for the preparation and the inclusion of food sector SMEs joining the innovative communities of the food industry (see state of the pay below).
The Policy Instrument “Focused Growth” covers a few high priority growth areas among which the food sector is a top area of intervention. It highlights the use of clusters, open innovation and smart specialisation to raise the number of innovative SMEs. The target of raising R&D to 3% of GNP has been reached and now there is need to transform the increased R&D into innovation and growth in the food industry.
The National Structural Fund program (ERDF) has four priority axes. Priority 1: Strengthening SME innovation represents 41,48% of the total budget and promotes a. innovation partnerships and b. increased SME innovation through strong cluster organisations. The regional policy instruments for the implementation of the OP are the so called Focused Growth Documents of regions. Regarding Foodstuffs, Central Denmark is to focus on innovation, differentiation of regional products and services and raising skill levels so that Central Denmark’s food businesses can maintain global competitiveness and increase their contribution to the overall growth and the creation of added value.
The policy instrument of Central Denmark Region is considered as quite elaborate and prudent, however there is a need to improve flexibility and alignment with other policy instruments – both regional and national - to better use the cross-fertilizing and also the synergic effects of programmes and projects at the interface of different financing and activity scopes of the distinct policy instruments.
The National Spatial Development Strategy of Romania along with the Structural Fund Regulations define the main policy principles and operative actions of integrated territorial development in Romania. The Structural Fund resources serving regional development are allocated via the Regional Operational Programme (POR) for 2014-2020.
The relevant OP related PI for Covasna County is the Central Region Development Strategy for 2014 – 2020. Within the six priorities Priority 2 aims to Increase economic competitiveness, stimulate research and innovation. Measure 2.2 deals is most relevant for food innovation and clusterization: Expansion and diversification of regional and local infrastructure, business clusters and networks for economic cooperation. This is intended to be implemented through projects for construction and development of industrial, technology, agro-industrial parks and technology transfer and business incubator centers, cluster development, and projects to improve the economic performance of firms. Funding for the 2nd priority represents only 2,95% of the overall regional budget frame, being the smallest among the priorities.
The region primarily aims to make the innovative organizations in food sector more prepared and cohesive and properly backed by innovation infrastructure. The targeted OP does not respond to this need soundly. The use of funding should be more fitted to the conditions prevailing in Romania so that more stakeholders can benefit from SFs.
The relevant policy instrument for Alsace Region in STRING is the Operational Programme ERDF Alsace 2014-2020. The OP aims to support the regional development in Alsace in a smart, innovative and sustainable way. The ERDF budget is 89 M €; while the overall programme budget is 266 M €. Food sector finds relevance in Priority 1 (Innovation) and Priority 3 (SME’s competitiveness). Priority 3 supports increasing R&D added value especially in topics prioritised in the regional S3. Food industry is among these topics. Priority 3 also supports SME’s to access new, especially international markets, and to become “factories of the future”, based on the up-scaling of innovative solutions.
The food industry is the first French industrial sector on a national level, and the second one in Alsace in terms of GDP. It is therefore a key sector for regional competitiveness, and a key target for the OP. But while innovation and export are top priorities for the food industry, companies in this sector are often family-run SME’s with limited time frame or lacking competencies to innovate and export.
The financial support of the ERDF programme is intended to help the sector to reach these goals through the support of joint initiatives backing the small and medium enterprises to keep up with the expectations of the new potential markets. The OP is to be made more supportive of these innovation centers as hubs of testing the new products or processes.