Step up measures to strengthen innovation in forestry
Even though the EU Rural Development Programme entail measures to boost innovation in forestry, there is still much to be done by public authorities to have the effects on the ground. This was one of the main findings of a workshop on interregional cooperation in forest management, use of wood and forest-related services, co-organised by the Confederation of European Forest Owners (CEPF) in Brussels on 29 January 2016.

More than 100 participants from regional, national and EU level gathered for a workshop on cooperation of regions on innovation in forest management, use of wood and forest-related services to discuss the funding opportunities provided by the European Innovation Partnership on Agriculture (EIP AGRI) Operational Groups under the Rural Development Programmes for 2014-2020.

The event provided an opportunity to bring together stakeholders across all levels of the EU to improve their project ideas and to help Managing Authorities of Rural Development Programmes in better targeting their priorities when implementing their measures to support innovation in forestry.

During the day, representatives of the European Commission shared a common view on the relevance of forest innovation to the success of the Rural Development Programmes. Doru Leonard Irimie, Research Programme Officer of the Agri-Food Chain Unit of the DG Research and Innovation (DG RTD) highlighted aspects on the EIP AGRI relation with Horizon 2020 and particularly the new concepts of multi-actor approach and thematic networks that foresee interaction between researchers and businesses, farmers and producers, advisors and end-users in the project proposals. In his presentation, Irimie also portrayed the main expectations for the H2020 forthcoming programming cycle (2018-2019).

Johan Elvnert, the Managing Director of the European Technology Platform for the Forest-Based Sector (FTP) stated that knowledge, ideas, cooperation and investments are the key drivers for forest management and development. As Europe's 16 million private forest owners are the ones that manage approximately 60% of Europe’s forests, their involvement is of utmost importance when talking about developing the rural sector.

Recalling that research and innovation is in the roots of the EU Forest Strategy, the Head of the Forest Sector in the Unit Bioenergy, Climate Change and Forest of the DG Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI) Maria Gafo Gómez-Zamalloa emphasized that a number of opportunities for the forest sector will be available under the EIP AGRI, including the Focus Groups.

Several research and innovation projects were showcased during the event and these projects demonstrated the successful set up of Operational Groupsin European regions such as in Tuscany, Veneto (Italy) and Rhône Alps (France). Moreover, Juan Botey Serra, a forest owner from Catalonia, Spain, presented an innovative applied research project from his region. This example on understory biomass for Mediterranean forest care combines different technologies and processes, such as applications from forest fire protection to energy market production with a sustainable production of understory biomass for conservation. Furthermore, it includes a Forest Living Lab setting that is established at the forest estate to be used by scientists and researchers.

At the brokerage session, the participants had a chance to update on current opportunities to cooperate in forest innovation topics in the areas of: impacts of climate change, wood and biomass mobilisation, ecosystems services and sustainable forest management approaches and tools.

Forest owners were actively represented during this afternoon session. Thomas Schenker, a forest owner and director from Austria, spoke about a new innovative technology that uses drones to identify bark beetle attacks two months before the damage becomes destructive. Clotilde Giry from the National Center for Forest Ownership (France) discussed the challenge of mobilizing the key stakeholders and rose awareness on EIP AGRI possibilities. Giry mentioned that France has established a national platform to support the development and promotion of EIP AGRI and forestry at national and regional levels. First calls for Operational Groups were conducted in several regions, but there is still a lack of visibility of the EIP AGRI and of coordination in the Forest sector.

The participants also exchanged information about the status and opportunities provided by other research and innovation funding mechanisms that also approach interregional cooperation: LIFE, COSME and INTERREG.

The event was organized by the ERIAFF Network (European Regions for Innovation in Agriculture, Food and Forestry), the European Forest Institute (EFI), EUROMONTANA (the European Association of Mountain Areas), the European Confederation of Forest Owners (CEPF), EUSTAFOR (the European State Forest Association), COPA-COGECA (European Farmers and Agri-cooperatives) and ERRIN (European Regions for Research and Innovation Network), supported by the regions of Catalonia, East and North Finland, Extremadura, Tuscany and Veneto. It was sponsored by the Bavarian State Forests. The Representation of the Free State of Bavaria to the European Union offered the venue.

The main outcomes of the workshop will be summarised and communicated to the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Member States, the Regions and major stakeholders of the forest sector for consideration when further developing the innovative forest-based bioeconomy.

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