Partner interview about the Sustainable Innovation Framework

We are excited to present our interview with three of our partners, who work actively within the Ploutos’ Sustainable Innovation Framework and make a reality the project’s purpose of re-balancing the agri-food value chain and making it more sustainable. Dr. José A. Gutiérrez from the Agriculture and Food Development Authority (Teagasc), Μr. Nikos Kalatzis from NEUROPUBLIC S.A. and Mr. Frank Berkers from the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) discuss about Ploutos’ innovation pillars.

Read below as they shine a light about why behaviour innovation matters, what is the added value of collaborative business models and how technology can benefit the agri-food sector.

Behaviour Innovation with Dr. José A. Gutiérrez

Dr. Gutiérrez from TEAGASC has an interest in agricultural development and conflict, with experience as a researcher in both Europe and Latin America. An important aspect of his work, is the use of participatory methods of research in multi-actor contexts, which is an integral aspect of the work currently done in Ploutos. He plays a central role in the behaviour innovation pillar and applies it to the Sustainable Innovation Pilots in the Ploutos consortium, such as the one in Ireland.

Why do you think behaviour is so important for sustainable innovation?

J.A.G: Well, innovation is about people at the end of the day. Things are part of the process, but it is ultimately people that engage with them, apply them and so on. Most importantly, a lot of areas of innovation identified as necessary are not necessarily about creating new technologies, but innovating on the ways we organise, we think and we behave. At all levels, innovation behaviour is an integral part of it, enabling or hindering innovation. This is even more so the case with sustainable innovation that requires us to depart from traditional ways of doing things and be even more careful of the impact of our actions at a local and global level.

How in your view the Ploutos project matters? What is the importance of rebalancing the agri-food value chain in order to work better for the environment and the society?

J.A.G: Ploutos is facing the challenge of sustainable innovation from an integral perspective. Sometimes people refer to sustainability as reducing the impact on the environment. Other times this concept is reduced to the economic side of it, and less frequently, some people refer to it from the point of view of society and community cohesion. In Ploutos we aim at re-balancing the value chain in the agri-food sector to address these three dimensions of sustainability: economic, social and environmental. There are difficulties in this, of course, as different actors across the value-chain have different views on all these matters, but a multi-actor approach, that takes all of the views of these actors, and generates spaces for collaboration, for mutual learning, and the production of mutual value can provide enormous opportunities to see more sustainable innovation coming in the future.

Collaborative Sustainable Business Model Innovation with Mr. Frank Berkers

Mr. Berkers is a Senior Scientist at TNO, where he is responsible for business modeling and value network analysis. He has developed several methods to support collaborative business modelling and analysis in the context of sustainability and digitalisation, among others. In Ploutos he is leading the sustainable collaborative business model (SCBM) pillar of the project, which interacts strongly with behavioural change interventions and digital innovations in the Framework.

How do you think an innovative reusable approach of business models can help towards a more sustainable agri-food sector?

F.B: The importance of the agri-food sector for our global food supply, as well as its current toll on the planet, is becoming more and more visible on a daily basis. Knowledge on more sustainable practices can be implemented, by using digital technologies in order to support farmers and the general food chain. These changes require new ways of working for the different actors. The Ploutos SCBM can help in shaping the new business models for the whole value chain, dealing with their simultaneous need for change.

What is the added value of collaborative business models, in comparison to simple business models?

F.B: Business models are typically focused on a “focal” organisation. However, if you want to establish new, or substantially changed food chains, as is the case in Ploutos and the transitions in the general agri-food sector, then you need to support business model innovation for multiple actors in coherence. The Ploutos support aims to design and evaluate from an economic perspective, that is also sustainable.

What do you think are the collective benefits coming out of Sustainable Collaborative Business Models?

F.B: The SCBMs once designed, decided for and implemented, can define a new way of working for the different actors in the agri-food value chain. They are designed to achieve higher levels of sustainability, as well as economics. In Ploutos, we also try to establish better positions for the farmer in these new business models. We look critically ahead at expected innovation and scaling risks and try to mitigate these in the plans. So improved sustainability, economics and the farmers’ positions are the type of collective benefits that we expect to come out of using the SCBMs within the Ploutos’ Framework.

Data-driven Technological Innovation with Μr. Nikos Kalatzis

Μr. Nikos Kalatzis is a Technical Project Manager at NEUROPUBLIC S.A. He has an extensive experience, participating in more than 15 (inter)national research development projects and publishing over 40 scientific articles. His research interests include sensing technologies, information systems interoperability and decision support algorithms, among others. In Ploutos, he is head of the technology innovation pillar and applies Smart Farming solutions, offering his valuable knowledge and experience, as he is also a part-time farmer.

How do you think technology can benefit a more sustainable agri-food sector?

N.K: We are currently facing a global multilevel crisis with significant societal implications. Climate change, environmental degradation, food production and distribution are highly interrelated forming a sensitive and currently unbalanced ecosystem. At the same time, ICT based solutions are getting more robust, easier to use and cheaper. It is now technical and financial feasible to deploy and utilise ICT solutions capable to address the emerging challenges for a more sustainable agri-food sector.

Technology can contribute in a more sustainable food production in various ways:

  • IOT based technologies (e.g. sensonrs) combined with data-driven decision making algorithms, demonstrate the potential to provide better insights to farmers, allowing the optimization of agricultural inputs (fertilisers, pesticides, irrigation and fuel). At the same time, the utilisation of these technoloiges, generate extensive data logs which may act as evidences of applied farming practices, supporting better monitoring of the farming process, both for the farmer but also for the rest of the agri-food value chain.
  • Data collections generated during the various stages of food production can now be shared in a controlled, meaningful and accountable manner, among the food-chain key stakeholders, including end-consumers. This allows for a more transparent food production and also incentivises the implementation of more sustainable practices, that may escort the final food product as a competitive advantage.

Why is the reuse of existing ICT solutions more sustainable?

During the recent years, there are already significant efforts invested on developing Information Systems addressing the technical requirements imposed at the various stages of the agri-food chains. There are currently in use mature and efficient ICT solutions supporting cultivation practices, food processing factories, logistics services and retailers. However most of these solutions are isolated with limited capabilities for interaction with 3rd party systems. On the other hand, and in order to support a more transparent agri-food system there are significant efforts invested on data sharing technologies (e.g. interoperability mechanisms) including the standardization of data models and ontologies for the agri-food sector.

It is not realistic to expect the total replacement or the implementation of drastic changes on currently operational Information Systems in order achieve openness and data sharing. We need to avoid developing new information systems, new protocols, and new data models without considering the existing ecosystem of agri-food information services.  It is a more realistic and sustainable approach that data sharing mechanisms and innovative data-driven solutions will reuse and adapt on existing operational systems selecting of course existing solutions with a proven track record of best practices.

How do you think the development of interoperability architectures can enhance the usage of ICT solutions form the farmers?

Agri-food ICT solutions are thriving. There is a continuous increase on the quality and the quantity of the offered services. On the other hand, these systems are mainly isolated, focus on a specific application domain and act as “vertical silos”. For example, an ICT solution that controls a spraying implement attached on a tractor may not be possible to interact and share data logs of executed tasks with the digital farm-book where all the performed cultivation practices are recorded. Here is where interoperability comes into play. Interoperability is defined as “the ability of two or more ICT systems to exchange information and to use the information that has been exchanged.” Interoperability allows the development of innovative cross-platform, cross-domain, and cross-organisational services unlocking the potential for generating additional value from existing deployments.

Could you elaborate on the Ploutos’ approach for enabling interoperability and how it is connected with the Innovation Academy and will contribute to the legacy of the project?

The Ploutos’ data sharing approach is based on a business, social and technical requirements analysis conducted on 11 pilots representing a variety of actors in the food system, including farmers, food industry companies, advisors, researchers and ICT providers. The pilots cover a range of agri-food ecosystems, covering arable, horticulture, perennials and dairy production among others.

The developed mechanisms where designed, considering behaviour change, collaborative business modelling and data-driven innovation in an integrated manner aiming to deliver the most environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable solutions. Three are the main design principles that drove the development of Ploutos data sharing mechanisms:  a) reuse of existing best practices on data modeling/management b) integration with legacy/operational ICT food systems and c) a distributed architecture allowing queries across a federated network of agri-food data repositories where stakeholders control access to their own data. The developed solution is following open science principles hence it aims for increased rigor, accountability, and reproducibility of the results. The openness of the source code and the fact that the solutions are evaluated in commercial agri-food environments from an early stage ensures that are addressing real world needs that will be exploitable even beyond Ploutos project life time.

We would like to thank our partners for sharing all this valuable information about how Ploutos’ achieves sustainability in the agri-food sector. If you are interested in finding more, you can read our webinar’s presentation on how SCBM archetypes work in practice, as well as our Pilots that are applying the aforementioned innovations in 13 countries.