Rural Living Labs
“Let’s change the message: we are no longer talking about bringing opportunities to the rural areas but to visualize the rural areas as an opportunity.”
The main objective for this ENoLL Action-Oriented Task Force is to consolidate a critical mass of stakeholders –both from the ENoLL Community and externals- around strategic projects in the topic of Rural Living Labs, to jointly tackle in an efficient way the main challenges -namely: Depopulation, Sustainability, SME’s digitalization, rural tourism, and Smart Agrifood- in order to facilitate a systemic transition to a sustainable innovation ecosystem. For this aim, the following strategic lines of work are defined:
- Enabling end users: Living Labs for digital and entrepreneurial capacitation and ICT applied in rural areas.
- Precision agriculture.
- Smart farming, demonstration farms.
- Digital Innovation Hub (DIH) in the Agrifood sector.
- Circular and sustainable bio economy for systemic transition: Participatory and Sustainable Regional Development through rural living labs.
1 ENABLING END USERS: LIVING LABS FOR DIGITAL AND ENTREPERNEURIAL CAPACITATION AND ICT APPLIED IN RURAL AREAS
Living Labs appear as a powerful tool for enabling end users in rural areas with digital and entrepreneurial capacitation, and the tools for the developing ICT-based solutions. The development of such a European Innovation and Capacitation ecosystem in Rural Areas is proposed to be built over three main pillars:
1.1 Digital Inclusion: Making accessible all the eGovernment trends, technologies and procedures to the rural areas is a must: digital certificates, support in updating the local town halls and providing direct services to citizenship, e.g. online financial transactions to overcome the lack of physical banks, reducing environmental impact, new mobility solutions, etc.
1.2 Digital Competences: As an evolution from the digital literacy in the early 2000s, it is no longer about bridging the digital gap between rural and urban areas and providing broadband access and ICTs to the rural environments, but it is about to evolve end user’s capabilities and competences and enabling innovative transformation of the rural areas. Thus digital capacitation as a mean for grassroot transformation:
- Training in Digital competences based in the DigCOMP framework (Joint Research Centre): https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/digcomp
- Different training pathways according with the different users profiles.
- Digital competences certification
1.3 Innovation: As a result of the previous pillars, grassroot transformation of the territories turns in real rural innovation:
1.3.1- Entrepreneurship competences. Following a similar scheme to the Digital competences, entrepreneurship can also be taught and trained. It is also about empowering and enabling people to lead new ideas, projects and proposals to face new rural challenges:
Training in Entrepreneurship competences based in the EntreCOMP framework (Joint Research Centre): https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/publication/eur-scientific-and-technical-research-reports/entrecomp-entrepreneurship-competence-framework
Identifying, defining and developing profiles: Unemployed, rural entrepreneur, local innovation agent, youth, intrapreneur, etc.
1.3.2- Supporting and executing innovation projects. As a result of the previous capacitation, our rural ecosystem should be prepared to support all the innovative projects about to emerge due the end user’s capacitation. 4 helix innovation model is a must, thus Living Lab is not a mere testbed but a real connector of the different actors taking part in the innovation model: end users, public entities, SMEs and private companies, and research bodies (Universities). Therefore the living lab in the rural areas turns in a catalyst which optimizes any investment (both public and private).
1.3.3- Rural FabLabs: applying robotics, 3D printing, drones, XReality, and others to the rural areas sparking creativity and discovering new possibilities.
2 PRECISION AGRICULTURE
State of the art precision agriculture in rural areas implies management of spatial and temporal variability to improve economic returns and reduce environmental impact. While evidence suggest an increase in end user adoption rate of technology in agriculture that boosts efficiency and manages cost, precision agriculture is still an area that develops faster than any other discipline in agriculture: due to the evolution of information and communication technologies that follows the evolution of computer power (Moore’s law: processing power for computers doubles every two years), there is a continuous offer of farming technologies, especially in rural areas.
Its timeliness, as the offer of Precision agriculture in the market has increased over the recent years and will do so in the near future, being of key importance to set up structures for bringing together the relevant actors in order to keep up with the innovations and set the research agenda for developing products and services based on end-users’ needs.
Precision agriculture has the potential to contribute to the wider goal of meeting the increasing demand for food, feed, and raw materials while ensuring the sustainability of primary production, based on a more precise and resource-efficient approach to agricultural production, especially in rural areas and a scenario of farming labour shortage and climate change.
Barriers encountered by farmers for the adoption of precision agriculture in rural areas relate to the sizes and diversity of farm structures, cultural perception, lack of expertise, cost, complexity of precision agriculture, etc.
Another main barrier for mainstreaming precision agriculture in rural areas has been identified to be the increasingly high volumes and variety of data collected, which result in technical but also legal and ethical challenges. All these obstacles have resulted in a gap between the availability of precision agriculture and data solutions and their acceptance by end-users.
A greater user acceptance can only be achieved if end-users are included in the production, co-creation and assessment of the solutions. Creating a framework in which farmers, extension professionals, scientists and the private sector can effectively collaborate and co-create knowledge is essential for delivering tools for improved agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability. By addressing this pressing cross-sectorial issue it will lead to contribution to a sustainable and inclusive digitisation of agriculture in rural areas, ultimately enabling higher levels of productivity and sustainability.
Next steps should include going beyond the state of the art in terms of a greater user acceptance and a more intensive, targeted and broader dissemination of Precision agriculture technologies and data solutions, through the implementation of a multi-actor approach that includes the social dimension in the collection and dissemination of knowledge. On the other hand, new funding measures should be provided, for cross-border Operational Groups, as mini-projects for co-creation, joint development and demonstration, with reduced red tape for farmers and advisors. A challenge-based approach could be implemented in leaner and smaller multi-actor collaboration projects, oriented to transfer, adoption and absorption of technologies.
Furthermore, creating small networks of end-users at the regional scale, interested in the research results and solutions of the Thematic Networks and multi-actor projects. These networks could be further supported by involving different actors, such as technology specialists, public organisations, technology centres, universities and public authorities (local, regional) that can provide impartial information.
- SMART FARMING, DEMONSTRATION FARMS
Demonstration farms in rural areas should promote an attractive career and working environment for their own contexts to young farmers, students, their parents, teachers and other interested individuals. Rural farmer community should consist of members who promote co-creation, a safe working environment with sustainability and quality of life benchmarks as well as technical, quality and economic performance indicators. These farmers also have a passion for what they do and an ability to motivate and culture the interest of younger minds towards the career possibilities. It should be particularly attractive to farmers who open their farms for visits, skills demonstrations, innovation updates and social learning. It could help to demonstrate alternative ways to becoming a farmer, and newer career paths to be involved in farming both full and part time. New organisational structures like partnerships and share farming will then be promoted as well as traditional family farming.
Demonstration farms should boost the exchange of knowledge among farmers, farm advisers, and scientists to foster uptake of smart farming solutions that increase productivity and quality in organic cropping in rural areas. These solutions are then scientifically sound, accepted by farmers and embedded in organic farming systems.
In order to prepare, carry out and evaluate an on-farm smart farming demonstration in rural areas, 6 steps should be considered:
- Smart demonstration objectives and targeted groups (stating clear objectives, targeting farming audience in line with objectives, inviting other actors to increase the impact)
- Demonstration farm (selecting host farm, picking out an innovative and credible host farmer, ensuring access by good location and facilities)
- Smart demonstration set-up (composing a balanced organisation team, providing enough time for interaction and networking, compensating the host farmers)
- Promotion (stating a key message that is in line with the demonstration objectives, sending out a clear and appealing invitation, using multiple communication channels)
- Learning and facilitation (relating learning content to faming practice, engaging participants in active knowledge exchange, using a variety of learning methods)
- Evaluation and follow up (evaluating if the objectives have been met, using and implementing results of the evaluation, organization of follow-up activities)
Smart Farming applications in rural areas need to be shown on several demonstration farms, focussing on informing colleague farmers on the added value in term of income, production quantity and quality, environmental impact, investments needed and user friendliness of the application. The objective of the demonstrations should aim at the uptake of smart farming technologies amongst farmers and to organize feedback from farmers to research and commercial organizations in order to increase the uptake and impact of these technologies.
- DIGITAL INNOVATION HUB (DIH) IN THE AGRIFOOD SECTOR
Digital Innovation Hub (DIH) refers to an ecosystem through which any business can get access to the latest knowledge, expertise and technology to test and experiment with digital technology relevant to its products, processes, or business models. The DIH also provides the connections with investors, facilitates access to financing and helps to connect users and suppliers of digital solutions across the value chain. Such an ecosystem accelerates digital innovation, because it makes the connection between technology, business, and the market. It is important that a DIH offers all required innovation services for all categories at a certain minimum quality level to acquire full representation of the local ecosystem.
The collaboration between the ICT sector and the farming sector can be highly beneficial for both sides and can be tightened through Digital Innovation Hubs, leading to faster adoption of digital innovations and more robust products and services. As of today, DIHs in agriculture are in general incipient initiatives, but things are moving fast and the expectation is that some on-going initiatives will consolidate in the next years, whereas many others will flourish
DIHs must help the Agrifood sector to understand the opportunities brought about by digital technologies to overcome the sectorial challenges, facilitate the adoption of those technologies and make the best from them in their practical application. In order to achieve these general objectives, the following dimensions (among others) must be addressed:
- Have an overview of the current status of the agrifood ecosystem in terms of actors, like farmers and cooperatives, stakeholders, networks, technological solutions, ongoing research, production chain
- Understand the issues faced by its members and the solutions available so to propose the best possible solutions by matching issues with opportunities
- Analyse and establish networks and create profiles of their members (so to facilitate matchmaking), bringing together farmers, scientists, ICT companies, entrepreneurs in order to create a hub in agri-tech
- Define the processes, ensure cooperation and build trust among members, manage issues (e.g. intellectual property, data ownership, transparency and trust on data sharing) etc.;
- Be able to understand the different “language” used by different stakeholder types and “translate” it, facilitating the communication between them;
Among DIH’s objectives is to expand business opportunities and export potential for technological providers, by facilitating networking between different types of stakeholders, such us academic institutes, research companies and farmers in order to generate solutions and improvements demanded by the agrifood sector.
5 CIRCULAR AND SUSTAINABLE BIO ECONOMY FOR SYSTEMIC TRANSITION: PARTICIPATORY/SUSTAINABLE REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT WITH RURAL LIVING LABS
Finally, bio economy can be boosted by the development of living labs, interconnected and related through circular economy in a sustainable way. The challenge is the systemic transition which rural areas need to capture the social, economic and environmental value of this economic model. This implies the understanding about how the next Rural Development Programs of the European Commission 2021-2027 can encourage the development of sustainable bio economy value chains in rural areas. A number of pilot experiences have been selected as case studies to explore awareness-raising and knowledge transfer approaches that effectively reach rural stakeholders and increase their capacity to benefit from bio economy.
PROJECTS AND INITIATIVES