If you are wondering what kind of benefits you, as a small farmer or a potential small- or medium-sized enterprise (SME), can get from a DIH, we have you covered. Below, you will find a complete and easy-to-understand guide on the nature and opportunities of agricultural DIHs.
What are Agricultural DIHs?
Agricultural DIHs provide tools to farmers, SMEs, agri-cooperatives, and non-tech industries for their digitalisation in the agriculture sector. In this manner, agricultural DIHs provide technology opportunities for agribusiness. The resources DIHs usually provide are software/hardware, workspaces, workshops or training programs, mentorship opportunities, and networking events.
DIHs were pushed into the foreground in April 2016. That is when the European Commission (EC) launched the “Digitising European Industry” (DEI) initiative. The main reason for the initiative’s inception was the fact that certain entities (individuals, start-ups, SMEs), that take part in manufacturing processes and provide services, are finding it difficult to adapt to new conditions that are changing rapidly due to digital transformation. The DEI initiative included support for Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs). More precisely, DIHs were one of the four DEI pillars of the initiative’s idea of forming a European platform of national initiatives on the digitising industry.
Why Are Agricultural DIHs Important to the European Union?
We are in the middle of a fourth industrial revolution, where industrial activity stands as a key driver of the European economy, with the manufacturing sector comprising a substantial portion of this activity. Food production is one of the main parts of the manufacturing sector.
To keep food production in step with the demand, the European Commission recognised, through the DEI initiative, the importance of equipping individuals with tools and knowledge necessary for digitalising their production, sales, and consumption of food and services. Notably, small EU farms especially lag behind other agricultural entities when it comes to digital literacy – and the percentage of farms with less than 5ha in the EU is nearly 70%! Thus, DIHs step in as a resource for small farmers to bridge the gap between their hard work and achieving prosperity through the integration of digital tools. DIHs use a “bottom-up” approach.
They focus on the farmer, while farmer cooperatives act as representatives between the DIHs and the farmers in the fields. As representatives, farmer cooperatives raise awareness among farmers about the benefits of new technologies, simultaneously understanding the undeniable foundational role farmers have in the EU economy.
Not to mention that the EU and United Nations (UN) set an achievable yet ambitious challenge for themselves thanks to the Sustainable Development Goals. There is now a reduced timeframe for achieving sustainable food production and overall food security. DIHs can play an important role in achieving these goals, as they can contribute to a more productive and sustainable agriculture system.
3 Most Important Resources Small Farmers Get from Agricultural DIHs
Innovative Technology for Small-Scale Farmers
One of the main points of DIHs is to provide access to digital technologies for experimentation and validation in the field. Through the Hubs, small-scale farmers get access to novel digital technology that hasn’t been tested yet in the field. Usually, farmers are unwilling to risk their everyday activities and their output by using solutions that haven’t been tested in real life. But when provided with testbed facilities needed for the testing and validation of the new solutions, and when they are freed from the worry about the proper return on investment, farmers are more willing to take part in the experimentation with new technology.
A prerequisite is that farmers get proper training in using the technology for sustainable agricultural production (more on that later) and it requires the agricultural DIH to do its homework. That means that the DIH needs to do research beforehand to understand the needs of the small farmers and map out how the newest technology the DIH has access to helps the small farmers in their everyday lives.
Access to Public and Private Funding for Small Farmers
Agricultural DIHs provide several funding options to small-scale farmers. These funding options are from different sources, but their goal is the same – stimulate the implementation of novel technologies in agricultural practices.
The different funding sources can be on a local, national, regional, or wider scale (such as EU funding programs). For a small-scale farmer, tracking and mapping out these funding opportunities would be a tasking job that takes a lot of time. So, one of the benefits of using the services of a DIH would be easy access to funding information.
Agricultural DIHs in Europe are commonly connected to funding programmes of the EC such as Horizon Europe and Interreg. When connected to programs such as Horizon Europe, agricultural DIHs take place in agriculture-focused European projects, some of which offer Open Calls. These calls are invitations to farmers to apply for funding and training opportunities. A good example is the Farmtopia project’s Open Call, which will select 9 new farms to take part in 9 Sustainable Innovation Pilots (SIPs) to co-create agricultural digital solutions and test them on their farms.
Further, farmers can get private funding thanks to DIHs. Private investments are a popular option, as private companies are investing in the development of innovative ideas. They do this to save costs in their Research and Development and Innovation departments. Instead of expanding their R&D&I operations, they co-create DIHs. That is something that GAIA EPICHEREIN from Greece has done. This farmer association cooperative helps small-scale farmers access necessary digital solutions and farms.
Digital Technology and Business Training for Small Farmers
Easy access to digital skill training is crucial for a fair society that offers opportunities for prosperity to all. Agricultural DIHs offer training as one of their core services.
DIHs either have a member who already provides this service, thus making the training in-house, or they may have established partnerships with organizations that provide training courses. One of the most important prerequisites of properly formed training programs is to have the curriculum tailored to the skill level of its participants.
Not only do farmers get training for the usage of new software and hardware, but they also get training for running their operations as a business. After all, more and more farmers act as business owners as well, so they have to deal with managing their farms and meeting EU requirements and directives for sustainable farming practices.
To transform their farms into sustainable businesses, many farms thus turn to DIHs to improve their production processes.
Existing Initiatives in the Field of Agriculture
The pan-European network of DIHs keeps growing, and some examples of agricultural DIHs that may help you in expanding your activities and transforming them into sustainable operations are:
- gaiasense – In Greece, gaisense provides farmers with scientific knowledge and reliable information that equips them to deal with the risks and obstacles faced on the field and in barns. That DIH aspires to provide a digital collaborative workspace for all stakeholders of the agrifood value chain. Its specific field of expertise is IoT. gaiasense has a network of IoT environmental stations and a cloud infrastructure that gathers data from IoT stations and remote sensing sources. gaiasense for farmers provides data tools and computational infrastructure.
- AgriFood Lithuania – This non-profit organisation connects big names in R&D, business experts, and public stakeholders in Lithuania. Together, they strive for digital transformation in AgTech and food security. Their collective expertise helps small farmers in co-creating and piloting novel digital solutions.
- The Green Supply Chain DIH (GSC) – This DIH has several focuses, one of them being SMEs. Its idea of helping SMEs not fall into the digital gap is providing them with new knowledge, sustainable innovation mentoring, capacity building, skill development, and technology transfer. For farmers who are looking to transform their farming practices into viable businesses, the GSC is a good door to knock on.
Role of Agricultural DIHs in the EU Project Farmtopia
The goal of Farmtopia, an EU-co-funded project, is to democratise digital farming to all. The main way of achieving this is through empowering small farms with digital technologies.
The team around Farmtopia is working to create a symbiotic relationship with the pan-European network of agrifood DIHs. The DIHs serve as a source of information about the requirements, needs, and opportunities of farmers. These will then be woven into new business and governance models, and addressed in real life through SIPs. Also, Farmtopia’s reusable assets such as reusable software modules, governance models, and sustainable collaborative business models will be freely offered to the European DIHs community. This will allow small farmers the opportunity to ‘test before they invest’.
To provide as many small farmers with novel digital solutions as possible, Farmtopia will co-develop cost-effective Agricultural Digital Solutions (ADSs) and then collaborate with DIHs and agri-cooperatives in Greece, Cyprus, Spain, and Turkey through the first of its 9 pre-selected Pilots, which focuses on avocado production. Moreover, to connect farmers with experts in knowledge sharing and social innovation, Farmtopia’s fourth Pilot will utilise AgriFood Lithuania and other DIH in the Baltic countries to expand hemp production in the region. Furthermore, Farmtopia partner ITC and another DIH will work with other DIHs from its network in Pilot 5, while the farming cooperative and Farmtopia partner FRcuma Ouest will use its vast network to promote Farmtopia’s mission to other DIHs.
Small farmers are the backbone of the European agricultural scene. Agricultural DIHs are safe spaces where farmers can further thrive and preserve their operations. The EU project Farmtopia is dedicated to this goal, as well. To stay in touch with the project’s latest developments and find out more about the upcoming Open Call, visit Farmtopia’s Newsroom.