Testing and demonstrating systemic innovations in support of the Farm-to-Fork Strategy

Testing and demonstrating systemic innovations in support of the Farm-to-Fork Strategy

Available Funding: 
€ 74,000,000

Specific Challenge:

European food is recognised as being safe, nutritious and of high quality. It should now also become the global standard for sustainability. Although the transition to more sustainable systems is in its infancy, it remains a big challenge to feed a fast-growing world population and steer food systems within a safe and just operating space - encompassing planetary health, economic viability and social welfare, and including human health. Many current production practices and consumption patterns still result in air, water and soil pollution, contribute to the loss of biodiversity and to climate change, challenge animal welfare and consume excessive amounts of natural resources, including water and energy, while an important part of food is wasted. At the same time, unbalanced diets contribute to obesity and other nutrition-related, non-communicable diseases. Here are some of the facts:

  • Agriculture is responsible for 10.3% of the EU’s GHG emissions; Food is a significant source of GHG-emissions contributing to about 17% of EU household emissions, similar to housing (22%);
  • Nitrogen and phosphorus cycles exceed their safe operating space in Europe, respectively by a factor of 3.3 and 2 resulting in diffuse pollution of terrestrial, aquatic and atmospheric ecosystems;
  • The value of the direct contribution of insect pollinators to EU agricultural output has been estimated at around € 15 billion per year. Pesticides have been shown to negatively affect pollinator populations. In addition, excess pesticide can leach into soils and water potentially leading to wider biodiversity losses and impacting human health.
  • Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) linked to the excessive and inappropriate use of antimicrobials in animal and human healthcare leads to an estimated 33,000 human deaths in the EU/EEA every year, and considerable healthcare costs;
  • About 20% of the food produced in the EU is being wasted;
  • One in five EU adults are obese and half are overweight. On average, nearly one in eight children aged 7-8 is obese in EU countries. Many Europeans die prematurely, or suffer from illnesses due to diet related diseases.

In addition, the COVID19 pandemic highlighted the importance of robust and resilient EU food systems within a sustainable, circular bioeconomy to respond to global shocks and disruptions in supply chains, and to mitigate socio-economic impacts of crises notably as regards food poverty.

The Farm to Fork Strategy, which is at the heart of the European Green Deal, aims to address the challenges and accelerate the transition to sustainable food systems, to ensure that the economic, social and environmental foundations of food and nutrition security are not compromised for current and future generations. It places emphasis on enabling a “just transition” for all actors of the food systems, in which also social inequalities are reduced, food poverty is addressed, and a fair income for all actors is ensured. It requires and builds on innovative solutions that can be scaled up, such as agro-ecological and organic practices, alternative sources of protein (e.g. plant-based, ocean-based, insect-based, etc.), sustainable food from the oceans and aquaculture, and personalised advice relating to sustainable healthy diets. Concerted efforts are needed to test, demonstrate and scale-up innovative systemic solutions to achieve the Farm to Fork targets and objectives in this decade.



A range of activities will support the deployment and scaling up of innovations that contribute to the objectives of the Farm-to-Fork Strategy. Proposals will test, pilot and demonstrate innovative systemic solutions (TRL 5-7) to one of the following six subtopics, corresponding to urgent and pressing food systems’ challenges:

Subtopic A. [2021] Achieving climate neutral farms by reducing GHG emissions and by increasing farm-based carbon sequestration and storage (IA)

Subtopic B. [2021] Achieving climate neutral food businesses by mitigating climate change, reducing energy use and increasing energy efficiency in processing, distribution, conservation and preparation of food (IA)

Subtopic C. [2021] Reducing the dependence on hazardous pesticides; reducing the losses of nutrients from fertilisers, towards zero pollution of water, soil and air and ultimately fertiliser use Proposals have to address all challenges (those related to pesticides, and to fertilisers, and to losses of nutrients) specified under Subtopic C. ]] (IA)

Subtopic D. [2021] Reducing the dependence on the use of antimicrobials in animal production and in aquaculture (IA)

Subtopic E. [2021] Reducing food losses and waste at every stage of the food chain including consumption, while also avoiding unsustainable packaging (IA)

Subtopic F. [2021] Shifting to sustainable healthy diets[12], sourced from land, inland water and sea, and accessible to all EU citizens, including the most deprived and vulnerable groups (IA)


The proposals should focus on systemic innovations that maximise synergies and minimise trade-offs to deliver co-benefits on the three dimensions of sustainability (climate/environmental, economic, social/health, including biodiversity and animal welfare), that enhance resilience of food systems to various shock and stresses, and that enable them to operate within a safe and just operating space and ensure sufficient, safe, healthy, nutritious, and affordable food for all.

Proposals should pay particular attention to:

  • Applying system thinking/system approaches to define the challenge, including an in-depth systemic analysis of its drivers and root causes; to identify possible innovative systemic solutions from production to consumption; to assess their expected and actual impact including risks, synergies, and trade-offs with regards to the three pillars of sustainability (social/health, climate/environmental and economic), food and nutrition security, food system resilience, food safety and the objectives outlined in the Farm to Fork Strategy and the Green Deal.
  • Adopting a multi-actor and cross-sectoral approach engaging practitioners (primary producers, processors, retailers, food service providers, consumers), public and private institutions (governmental institutions, NGOs, industry) and citizens from farm to fork to co-create, test and demonstrate solutions from production to consumption, in practice, on a European scale but with attention for regional and sectoral needs and contexts (environmental, socioeconomic, geographical, cultural). Foster collaboration, building bridges and breaking silos between actors of the food chain and between primary sectors as well as collective action. Take specific care to engage young professionals (e.g., young farmers, young fishers, young researchers, young entrepreneurs, etc.), SMEs, consumers and citizens.
  • Including the most appropriate mix of innovations, such as novel, digital and space-based technologies using EGNSS and Copernicus data and services, new business and supply chain models, new governance models, ecological and social innovations while taking into account regional and sectoral contexts (environmental, socioeconomic, geographical, cultural) and needs, both for production and consumption. The projects should focus on upscaling innovations (TRL level 5-7), and can include limited research activities to address specific gaps for solution building, testing and demonstration. Particular attention should be given to understand behaviours, motivations and barriers, with a view to maximizing the uptake of solutions. The innovations delivered by the proposals have to take into account the EU market regulatory frameworks (e.g. safety, environmental) and relevant requirements.
  • Where appropriate, capitalise on existing testing and demonstration facilities to strengthen their capacity to address the challenge and showcase solutions.
  • Delivering and implementing an action plan for dissemination, communication and engagement, for building awareness, education and skills relevant to the solutions on a European scale, in and beyond the regions where the activities take place, among businesses, investors, entrepreneurs, institutions, stakeholders and citizens. Promote their widespread uptake, realize behavioural change, and stimulate investment. Proposals should foresee a dedicated work package for cooperating with European Commission services and with all selected projects under this topic on the implementation of this action plan, with a view to increasing the impact of that plan. Projects may link with other relevant European and national programmes, where appropriate.

Expected Impact:

Proposals are expected to:

1. Demonstrate innovative systemic solutions that have the potential to generate significant positive impacts by 2030 with regards to : 

  • Achieving climate neutrality of farms and farming systems (on land, water and sea); reducing GHG emissions; increasing carbon sequestration and storage (Subtopic A);
  • Achieving climate neutrality of food businesses; reducing energy use and increasing energy efficiency in processing, distribution, conservation and preparation of food (Subtopic B);
  • Decreasing the dependency on the use of hazardous pesticides (Subtopic C);
  • Reducing loss of nutrients from fertilisers and ultimately fertiliser use; increasing the efficiency of fertilisers (Subtopic C);
  • Decreasing the dependency on antimicrobials in animal production and in aquaculture (Subtopic D);
  • Reducing food losses and waste and the use of unsustainable packaging, at every stage of the food chain including consumption (Subtopic E);
  • Increasing the share of citizens that adhere to healthy sustainable diets, including among the most deprived and vulnerable groups (Subtopic F);
  • Providing sufficient, safe, nutritious, healthy and affordable food for all (Subtopics (A), (B), (C), (D), (E), and (F));
  • Improving the overall sustainability of food systems (social/health, climate/environmental and economic) (Subtopics (A), (B), (C), (D), (E), and (F));
  • Improving the resilience of food systems to shocks and stresses (Subtopics (A), (B), (C), (D), (E), and (F)).

2. Contribute significantly to the achievement of the objectives and targets of the Farm to Fork Strategy and The European Green Deal[18], and in particular to: 

  • Reducing GHG-emissions by at least 50% by 2050 compared with 1990 levels (Subtopics A, B, E, F);
  • Reducing the overall use and risk of chemical pesticides by 50% and the use of more hazardous pesticides by 50% by 2030 (Subtopic C);
  • Reducing nutrient losses by 50%, which will reduce the use of fertilisers by at least 20% by 2030 (Subtopic C);
  • Reducing the EU sales of antimicrobials for farmed animals and in aquaculture by 50% by 2030 (subtopic D);
  • Halving the per capita food waste at retail and consumer levels by 2030 (Subtopic E);
  • Reversing the rise in overweight and obesity rates across the EU by 2030 (Subtopic F);
  • Bringing European diets more in line with dietary recommendations (Subtopic F).

3. Achieve an increase in awareness among policy makers, businesses, investors, entrepreneurs, institutions, stakeholders and citizens of selected innovative systemic solutions, of their potential and of the requirements to promote and realise their uptake at EU scale and behavioural change (Subtopics (A), (B), (C), (D), (E), and (F)).

Eligible Applicants: 

Eligible countries 

Described in Annex A of the Work Programme. A number of non-EU/non-Associated Countries that are not automatically eligible for funding have made specific provisions for making funding available for their participants in Horizon 2020 projects. See the information in the Online Manual.

Project Length: 

The call opens 22/09/2020 and the deadline for submission is 26/01/2021.

Participants will be informed on the outcome of the evaluation 5 months from the deadline for submission.

Further Financing Information: 

The Commission considers that proposals requesting from EUR 6 million up to 12 million would allow the specific challenge to be addressed appropriately under each of these subtopics (A), (B), (C), (D), (E), or (F). Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

For more Information: 

For more information please access the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme webpage here.