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Agroecology: INRA at the heart of the matter

From the development of its 2010-2020 strategy, INRA has made agroecology, an emerging field of research and innovation, a top priority. Today, agroecology, which seeks to apply ecological tools to agronomic systems, is considered one of the most promising ways to ensure that agricultural systems respond adequately to the food and non-food needs of tomorrow, while reconciling competitivity and respect for the environment. The Institute has made significant headway in agroecology-related research, contributing ideas and proposals to develop a national strategy in this field.

Environs of Mur de Barrez in Aveyron (south of France). © INRA, WEBER Jean
By François Houllier, President of INRA, translated by Inge Laino
Updated on 10/13/2013
Published on 06/19/2013

Pursue research in agroecology and bring the economic, social and environmental performance of agriculture and forestry in line with one another: these are two of the priorities outlined in INRA’s 2010-2020 orientation document. The former was the subject of a report published in 2012 under Jean-François Soussana, the Scientific Director for Environment at INRA, which aims to define the priorities of research in agroecology.

In a related context, INRA was selected for a project initiated by the General Commission for strategy and foresight (CGSP, formerly CAS), to find ways to “boost the productivity and competitivity of organic farming” on the one hand, and “ease the transition from traditional agricultural systems to more earth-friendly ones” on the other.

Several months after the study was launched, in early September 2012, the Minister of Agriculture, Stéphane Le Foll, entrusted Marion Guillou, President of the Administrative Council of Agreenium, with the following mission: “To assess best farming practices and skill sets available, in France and abroad, in innovative agricultural systems […] so as to improve the management of natural resources, within a framework of incentives”.  To reach that goal, Marion Guillou was asked to “mobilise the skill sets of all members, and especially those of the National Institute for Agricultural Research […]”.

It goes without saying that INRA is prepared to rise to this challenge, and has taken steps on both fronts:

1. The Institute co-authored a progress report with Marion Guillou, which was submitted to Stéphane Le Foll early May, and officially presented on 11 June 2013: “The agroecology project: boosting the performance of agricultural systems to reconcile competitivity and respect for the environment; proposals for the Minister of Agriculture; M. Guillou (Agreenium), Co-authors: H. Guyomard, C. Huyghe and J.-L. Peyraud (INRA), Contributing reporters: J. Vert and P. Claquin (MAAF CEP)”.

In the summer of 2013, INRA will report on the roll out of the study initiated by CGSP, outlining results in detail in terms of production, economic performance and environmental impact of basic practices and agricultural systems seen as a whole. A specific section will be dedicated to progress in organic farming.

2. A complementary report that outlines the analysis of several major crop initiatives was submitted to the Minister of Agriculture in May 2013:

“The agroecology project: boosting the performance of agricultural systems to reconcile competitivity and respect for the environment; outline of several major crop initiatives. H. Guyomard, C. Huyghe and J.-L. Peyraud ; B. Coudurier, F. Jeuland, N. Urruty and INRA sector groups, May 2013”.

Both projects were carried out at INRA under Hervé Guyomard, Scientific Director for Agriculture, who formed a team of colleagues, INRA experts and partners from agricultural sectors, as well as INRA sector groups consisting of INRA scientists and their partners in R&D. Organised by production type and sector, their goal is to monitor scientific and strategic progress, and share research results. The efforts of the INRA sector groups will be the subject of a specific volume of the report submitted to CGSP.

These studies on agroecology and the manifold aspects of agricultural systems will be presented and discussed within the framework, notably, of two scientific conferences: the first in France on 17 October 2013 under the aegis of the Minister of Agriculture, which will bring together all players in the agricultural field, and the second in 2014 at international level in tandem with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).