Multagri is a Specific Support Action undertaken within the 6th Framework Research Programme of the European Commission. With a partnership of 26 research organisations from 15 countries this project will provide a comprehensive overview of existing research, particularly in Europe, on different aspects of the multifunctionality of agriculture.

The essential approach adopted in this initiative is based on the premise that the multifunctional character of agriculture must be acknowledged and promoted in order for agriculture to become sustainable (and fulfil its potential as a central pillar of sustainable development).

A long term goal : an european model of agriculture

The EU has ratified a European Model of Agriculture that is evolving towards this new multifunctional, sustainable, paradigm. Citizens acknowledge the importance of agriculture as a provider of non-agricultural related goods and services. It is now necessary to examine, and more precisely define, the multiple roles and functions of agriculture (i.e. its multifunctional character), the suitable parameters and indicators to assess them, and the (private and public) goods and services that it provides.
For agriculture to play an effective role in securing better social, environmental and economic conditions for sustainable development, a broader approach to multifunctional and sustainable agriculture, and the role they play in wider rural development, needs to be developed.

A method to contribute to European research goals

Although the notion of multifunctionality only recently appeared on international political agendas, numerous social, cultural, technical and research practices have already referred to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Thus the concept of multifunctionality is already embedded in a broad range of research approaches, scientific disciplines and social practices. In some areas there is a long established body of work on such practices. It is important to structure, assess and interpret this research work within a global framework of multifunctionality and sustainable agricultural development. This will enable the identification of relevant questions for future research. This will be the role of Multagri, which will reinforce and promote sustainable agriculture and integrated rural development by building on the results of such research.

The results of existing research will be developed through six stages.:

1. Evaluating the state-of-the-art of current research.

2. Further analysis and understanding of ongoing research work.

3. Identifying the main institutions and networks involved in this type of research, both inside and outside Europe, and paying special attention to new EU member countries.

4. Identifying the different disciplines and scientific approaches that are generating knowledge and conceptual backgrounds in this area.

5. Providing a conceptual and analytical framework that allows for the identification of approaches and topics for further research.

6. Formulating recommendations for a future research agenda concerning the multifunctionality of agriculture and rural areas.

Six research issues

There is already a broad and diverse range of scientific disciplines, research approaches and social practices that are relevant to a state-of-the-art review of research. Six thematic axes of research have been identified in order to structure these and guide the development of recommendations for promising lines of future research, within the wider topic of multifunctional and sustainable agriculture:

i) Definitions, references and interpretations of the concept of multifunctionality and its contribution to sustainable development.

ii) Consumer and societal demands

iii) Knowledge, models, techniques, tools and indicators for examining the multifunctionality of agriculture.

iv) Multifunctionality of activities, plurality of identities, and new institutional arrangements.

v) Setting-up and management of public policies with multifunctional purpose: connecting agriculture with new markets and services and rural SMEs

vi) Evaluation of policies with respect to multifunctionality of agriculture: observation tools and support for policy formulation and evaluation.

Impact, results and dissemination

The results of Multagri will contribute to a better understanding amongst policy makers, stakeholder groups, scientists and society at large, of the current and potential impacts of EU policies on the economic, environmental and social sustainability of agriculture and rural development.

The Multagri project will
-organise several European workshops strengthening European research capacity in this area ;
-deliver free access to its scientific reports on the website ;
-contribute to the development of a future research agenda through by a concluding international seminar.

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