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Call: Uncovering lock-ins and levers to encourage farmers to move to and stay in sustainable, climate-neutral and biodiversity-friendly farming systems: from experiments to systemic mechanisms

Type of Fund Direct Management
Description of programme
"Horizon Europe - Cluster 6 - Destination 2: Fair, Healthy and Environmentally-friendly Food Systems from Primary Production to Consumption"

National, EU and global food systems are facing sustainability challenges, from primary production to consumption, that could jeopardise food and nutrition security. The farm to fork strategy, which is key to the success of the European Green Deal and achievement of the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs), aims to address these challenges and to deliver co-benefits for environment, health, society and the economy, ensuring that actions leading to recovery from the COVID-19 crisis also put us onto a sustainable path going forward. Research and innovation (R&I) are key drivers steering and accelerating the transition to sustainable, safe, healthy and inclusive food systems, from farm to fork, thereby ensuring food and nutrition security for all.

Sustainable farming systems provide a number of economic, environmental, social and health benefits, and are the main prerequisite for food and nutrition security. For farmers, who are the backbone of food systems and the immediate managers of natural resources, the Green Deal sets ambitious targets with respect to the sustainability and safety of feed and food production. These targets are included in the core Green Deal policy initiatives, in particular the farm to fork strategy, the biodiversity strategy, zero pollution efforts and climate action. R&I in line with the strategic approach to EU agricultural research and innovation[[]] will be key enablers if these challenging targets are to be achieved. They will speed up the transition to sustainable and competitive agriculture by unlocking the potential of agroecology[[]], including improving organic farming as part of the agroecological transition, boosting production of EU-grown plant proteins and advancing digital and data technologies (Destination ‘Innovative governance, environmental observations and digital solutions in support of the Green Deal’). R&I will support farmers to manage land, soil, water and nutrients in new, sustainable ways, in particular through the Horizon Europe mission in the area of ‘soil health and food’. New knowledge and innovative solutions will improve plant and animal health and welfare, prevent interspecies disease transmission through food production and trade systems, and reduce farmers’ dependency on pesticides, antimicrobials and other external inputs. Thanks to R&I, farming systems will maximise provision of a wide range of ecosystem services from more sustainably managed EU agro‑ecosystems and landscapes, and help to reverse the loss of biodiversity and soil fertility while ensuring resilient primary production (Destination ‘Biodiversity and ecosystem services’). Farmers will be better equipped to make a significant contribution to climate neutrality and become more resilient to climate change (Destination ‘Land, ocean and water for climate action’). Also, R&I will support the development of policy (in particular the common agricultural policy (CAP)), business models and market conditions enabling transition to sustainable food and farming systems. Effective agricultural knowledge and innovation systems (AKISs) will speed up innovation and the uptake of R&I results from farm to fork (Destination ‘Innovative governance, environmental observations and digital solutions in support of the Green Deal’). As a result, farmers will be able to transform their production methods and move to climate- and environment‑friendly, and resilient farming systems, thereby contributing to sustainable food value chains that provide producers with fair economic returns and consumers with affordable, safe, healthy and sustainable food (Destinations ‘Biodiversity and ecosystem services’ and ‘Land, ocean and water for climate action’).

Sustainable fisheries and aquaculture contribute directly to environment‑friendly, inclusive, safe and healthy food production by providing highly nutritional proteins, lipids and micronutrients for a healthy diet. Sustainably produced food from marine and freshwater bodies can and should account for a much bigger proportion of our overall food consumption. The farm to fork strategy seeks to help fishers and aquaculture producers to achieve better climate and environmental results and to strengthen their position in the supply chain. R&I will directly support the common fisheries policy (CFP) and deliver inclusive, diversified approaches to allow fisheries management to adapt to different realities, including in the international context. Sustainable and resilient aquaculture systems, including the use of low trophic species (e.g. algae and herbivores), high animal welfare standards and alternative sources of protein for food and feed, will increase seafood production and reduce its environmental impact while adding economic value to the chain. Seafood security will benefit from a drastic reduction in the current massive pre- and post-harvest losses in seafood biomass. Producers’ and consumers’ awareness, trust and behaviour with respect to the responsible production, consumption and disposal of seafood will contribute directly to the competitiveness and sustainability of the sector. An overarching partnership for a climate‑neutral, sustainable and productive blue economy will contribute to food security, added value, blue growth and jobs in Europe through a jointly supported R&I programme in the European seas, coastal and inland waters.

Transforming food systems for health, sustainability and inclusion requires robust, system-wide changes at all governance levels (from local to global and vice versa) as food systems are intertwined with all other sectors and are among the key drivers of climate change and environmental degradation. Food systems are to be understood as covering all the sectors, actors, stakeholders, organisations and disciplines relevant to and connecting primary production from land and sea, food processing, food distribution and retailing, food services, food consumption, food safety, nutrition and public health, and food waste streams. The European Green Deal and, in particular, the farm to fork strategy support a shift to more resilient and environmentally, socially and economically sustainable food systems, as required to deliver safe, healthy, accessible and affordable food and diets for all sourced from land and sea, while respecting planetary boundaries. This will involve a better understanding of the multiple interactions between the components of current food systems, to foster solutions that maximise co-benefits with respect to the four priorities of the Commission’s ‘Food 2030’ R&I initiative:

  • nutrition and health, including food safety;
  • climate and environmental sustainability;
  • circularity and resource efficiency; and
  • innovation and empowering communities.

R&I will accelerate the transition to sustainable, healthy and inclusive food systems by delivering in various areas: dietary shifts towards sustainable and healthy nutrition; supply of alternative and plant-based proteins; prevention and reduction of food loss and waste; microbiome applications; improving food safety and traceability; fighting food fraud; behavioural change; personalised nutrition; urban food systems (Destination ‘Resilient, inclusive, healthy and green rural, coastal and urban communities’); food systems governance and systems science; and digital and data-driven innovation (Destination ‘Innovative governance, environmental observations and digital solutions in support of the Green Deal’).

R&I activities supporting the partnership for safe and sustainable food systems for people, planet and climate will help identify and deliver innovative solutions providing co-benefits for nutrition, food quality, the climate, circularity and communities.

The EU also aims to promote a global transition to sustainable food systems. Targeted R&I activities, in particular under the EU-Africa Partnership on Food and Nutrition Security and Sustainable Agriculture (FNSSA) and global initiatives involving international research consortia, will contribute to this ambition.

Expected impacts:

Proposals for topics under this destination should set out credible pathways to fair, healthy, safe, climate- and environment‑friendly, resilient food systems from primary production to consumption, ensuring food and nutrition security for all within planetary boundaries in the EU and globally.

More specifically, proposals should contribute to one or more of the following impacts:

  • sustainable, productive, climate-neutral and resilient farming systems providing consumers with affordable, safe, traceable healthy and sustainable food, while minimising pressure on ecosystems, restoring and enhancing biodiversity, improving public health and generating fair economic returns for farmers;
  • sustainable fisheries and aquaculture increasing aquatic biomass production, diversification and consumption of seafood products for fair, healthy, climate‑resilient and environment‑friendly food systems with low impact on aquatic ecosystems and high animal welfare; and
  • sustainable, healthy and inclusive food systems delivering co-benefits for climate mitigation and adaptation, environmental sustainability and circularity, sustainable healthy nutrition, safe food consumption, food poverty reduction, the inclusion of marginalised people, the empowerment of communities, and flourishing businesses.

When considering their impact, proposals also need to assess their compliance with the ‘do no significant harm’ principle[[See Article 17 of Regulation (EU) No 2020/852 on the establishment of a framework to facilitate sustainable investment (EU Taxonomy Regulation).]], whereby R&I projects should not support or involve activities that significantly undermine any of the six environmental objectives of the EU Taxonomy Regulation.

To unlock the full potential of R&I and maximise impacts, participatory approaches, e.g. multi-actor approach, involving input from industry, technology providers, primary producers, the food, drink and hospitality industry, consumers, citizens, local authorities, etc. should be promoted with a view to co-creating innovative systemic solutions in support of food systems’ sustainability.

Topics under this destination should have impacts in the following impact areas of the Horizon Europe strategic plan for 2021-2024:

  • sustainable food systems from farm to fork on land and sea
  • climate change mitigation and adaptation;
  • enhancing ecosystems and biodiversity on land and in waters;
  • good health and high-quality accessible healthcare;
  • clean and healthy air, water and soil;
  • a resilient EU prepared for emerging threats; and
  • inclusive growth and new job opportunities.
Link Link to Programme
Uncovering lock-ins and levers to encourage farmers to move to and stay in sustainable, climate-neutral and biodiversity-friendly farming systems: from experiments to systemic mechanisms
Description of call
"Uncovering lock-ins and levers to encourage farmers to move to and stay in sustainable, climate-neutral and biodiversity-friendly farming systems: from experiments to systemic mechanisms"

Expected Outcome:

In line with the Green Deal, notably the farm to fork and biodiversity strategies, climate action, zero pollution ambition and the common agricultural policy (CAP), the successful proposals should support the development of policies, business models and market conditions that enable sustainable, productive and climate-smart agricultural systems. The farming systems should provide consumers with healthy and sustainable food affordable for all, improving public health, minimising pressure on ecosystems, enhancing biodiversity, and generating fair economic returns for farmers.

Project results are expected to contribute to all of the following expected outcomes:

  • improved understanding of challenges and opportunities for the development of sustainable, climate-neutral, biodiversity-friendly farming systems at the farm and landscape levels;
  • improved understanding of farmers’ individual (behavioural/decision-making) and systemic ‘lock-ins’ and ‘levers’ for moving to and staying in sustainable, climate-neutral and biodiversity-friendly farming systems;
  • improved understanding of consumers’ behaviour (decision-making) and market segmentation with regard to buying food from sustainable, climate-neutral and biodiversity -friendly farming systems;
  • improved understanding of behaviour (decision-making) of upstream and downstream operators in agri-food value chains and other relevant actors across food systems with regard to hindering/facilitating transition to sustainable, climate-neutral and biodiversity-friendly production and consumption systems;
  • better design and implementation of relevant policies, in particular the CAP, the farm to fork and biodiversity strategies, that effectively incentivise large-scale and long-term behavioural shifts by farmers to sustainable, climate-neutral and biodiversity-friendly farming systems;
  • improved farm advice, business strategies and relationships building on common interests among relevant food systems operators and actors across sectors, helping farmers to produce in a more sustainable manner, contributing to climate neutrality and reversing biodiversity decline; and
  • improved capacities of researchers in behavioural and experimental research, and systems thinking.


Although the EU has made strides in improving the sustainability of agriculture, substantial efforts are still needed to achieve the ambitious targets of the European Green Deal, in particular the farm to fork strategy and the objectives of the future CAP. Many emerging approaches, such as agroecology (including organic farming), etc., have the potential to make farming systems more sustainable in climate, environmental, economic and social terms. However, multiple ‘lock-ins’ are preventing farmers from scaling the transition up and out to more sustainable production systems. Policy and business shifts are needed to help them escape from the ‘lock-ins’ and change at the requisite pace. An in-depth understanding of farmers’ ‘lock-ins’ and ‘levers’ is key to spurring large-scale and lasting shifts to sustainable farming systems. Behavioural and experimental research that unpacks the decision-making involved in adopting sustainable practices holds significant potential when it comes to identifying ‘lock-ins’ and ‘levers’, thereby improving the effectiveness of the CAP and contributing to the successful implementation of the farm to fork strategy. In addition to unpacking the pieces of the behavioural (decision-making) puzzle, it is important to compile a wider, more comprehensive picture of the food systems in which farmers operate and of their governance, structures, mechanisms and dynamics that lock them into unsustainable practices or incentivise them to take and stay on a sustainable path.

Proposals should investigate farmers’ decision-making (behaviour) and the broader food systems in which they have to operate (and/or create collective action), so as to uncover what locks them into unsustainable practices and what incentivises them to move to and stay in sustainable production systems. Attention should be paid to the full range of decision-making factors (e.g., behavioural, economic/regulatory, knowledge, biophysical, gender, cultural, etc.) and food systems’ structures, mechanisms and dynamics (e.g., feedback loops, trade-offs and synergies, etc.).

Proposals should take a comprehensive behavioural approach and investigate proximal and distal factors to understand farmers’ behaviour (decision-making) better, in order to inform the design and implementation of policies (in particular the CAP) and the European Green Deal initiatives (in particular farm to fork and biodiversity strategies). Extensive experimental research should cover, for instance (but not limited to) ‘nudges’, voluntary schemes or mandatory regulation, to fill gaps in policy-oriented research and support effective, evidence-based policy design and implementation.

It is also important to analyse behaviour (decision-making) of other food system actors and their role in/influence on hindering or incentivising farmers’ decisions as to whether to adopt and maintain sustainable practices in the long-term. To this end, proposals should thoroughly analyse consumers’ preferences (habits, choices), decision-making and shopping behaviour, in particular looking at market segmentation and willingness to pay versus buying acts, in various contexts. This knowledge should be shared broadly with farmers, so that they can respond better to changes in consumer demand, which is a strategic CAP objective. In addition, proposals should explore the behaviour (decision-making) and actions of downstream and upstream operators in agri-food value chains (e.g., input industry, food companies, retailers, hospitality industry, etc.) and other relevant food system actors that lock farmers in unsustainable practices or enable/encourage them to adopt sustainable practices and stimulate or hinder consumer demand for more sustainable food.

With an interdisciplinary lens, proposals should also consider the ‘whole-systems’ in which farmers operate and analyse the systemic mechanisms, structures and dynamics that lock farmers (and landowners) into unsustainable states and ways to break away, build collective interest for and incentivise them to move to and remain in sustainable farming systems.

Concurrent research should be conducted using the same (or similar) methods in a variety of settings representative of the diversity in agri-food systems and conditions in the EU and Associated Countries (e.g., a wide range of farm typologies, diverse farming systems, including (but not limited to) various agroecological approaches and organic farming, sectors/value chains, collective actions, regions and communities, etc.) in order to be able to derive meaningful conclusions on the general validity of decision-making (behavioural) factors and systemic insights across countries and contexts.

Proposals should also explore and propose ways to engage diverse food system operators and actors (e.g., through innovative policies, improved farmers’ organisation, social innovation or new business models, etc.), in enabling farmers to move to and stay in sustainable farming systems.

Based on the research results, proposals should formulate and disseminate widely to relevant actors:

  1. policy recommendations and innovative policy options, in particular for the CAP, environmental policies, and relevant Green Deal initiatives; and
  2. business strategies (including the identification of end markets for sustainable products on a cross-sectoral basis);

for encouraging farmers to lastingly adopt sustainable practices and progressively raise their sustainability performance.

The possible participation/contribution of the JRC in the project would consist of being involved in the selection of policies, business models and market conditions to be tested, the design of the experiments and the formulation of the policy recommendations.

Proposals should build and expand on the achievements of past and current research and innovation (R&I) projects, e.g., those funded under topic SFS-29-2017. Collaboration with future projects to be selected under topic HORIZON-CL6-2021-FARM2FORK-01-09 is encouraged. This topic should involve the effective contribution of SSH disciplines.

Link Link to Call
Thematic Focus Research & Innovation, Technology Transfer & Exchange, Capacity Building, Cooperation Networks, Institutional Cooperation, Clustering, Development Cooperation, Economic Cooperation, Climate, Climate Change, Environment & Biodiversity, Circular Economy, Sustainability, Natural Resources, Agriculture & Forestry, Fishery, Food, Health, Social Affairs, Sports, Administration & Governance, Digitisation, ICT, Telecommunication
Funding area EU Member States
Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)
Origin of Applicant EU Member States
Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)
Eligible applicants Research Institution, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises, SMEs (between 10 and 249 employees), NGO / NPO, University, Enterprise (more than 250 employees or not defined), Federal State / Region / City / Municipality / Local Authority, Lobby Group / Professional Association / Trade Union, Public Services, National Government, International Organization, Microenterprises (fewer than 10 employees), Start Up Company, Education and Training Centres
Applicant details

eligible non-EU countries:

  • countries associated to Horizon Europe
At the date of the publication of the work programme, there are no countries associated to Horizon Europe. Considering the Union’s interest to retain, in principle, relations with the countries associated to Horizon 2020, most third countries associated to Horizon 2020 are expected to be associated to Horizon Europe with an intention to secure uninterrupted continuity between Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe. In addition, other third countries can also become associated to Horizon Europe during the programme. For the purposes of the eligibility conditions, applicants established in Horizon 2020 Associated Countries or in other third countries negotiating association to Horizon Europe will be treated as entities established in an Associated Country, if the Horizon Europe association agreement with the third country concerned applies at the time of signature of the grant agreement.

  • low-and middle-income countries

Legal entities which are established in countries not listed above will be eligible for funding if provided for in the specific call conditions, or if their participation is considered essential for implementing the action by the granting authority.

Specific cases:

  • Affiliated entities - Affiliated entities are eligible for funding if they are established in one of the countries listed above.
  • EU bodies - Legal entities created under EU law may also be eligible to receive funding, unless their basic act states otherwise.
  • International organisations - International European research organisations are eligible to receive funding. Unless their participation is considered essential for implementing the action by the granting authority, other international organisations are not eligible to receive funding. International organisations with headquarters in a Member State or Associated Country are eligible to receive funding for ‘Training and mobility’actions and when provided for in the specific call conditions.
Project Partner Yes
Project Partner Details

Unless otherwise provided for in the specific call conditions , legal entities forming a consortium are eligible to participate in actions provided that the consortium includes:

  • at least one independent legal entity established in a Member State;and
  • at least two other independent legal entities, each established in different Member States or Associated Countries.
Further info

Proposal page limits and layout:

The application form will have two parts:

  • Part A to be filled in directly online  (administrative information, summarised budget, call-specific questions, etc.)
  • Part B to be downloaded from the Portal submission system, completed and re-uploaded as a PDF in the system

Page limit - Part B: 45 pages

Type of Funding Grants
Financial details
Expected EU contribution per projectThe Commission estimates that an EU contribution of around EUR 4.00 million would allow these outcomes to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of a proposal requesting different amounts.
Indicative budgetThe total indicative budget for the topic is EUR 12.00 million.
Typ of ActionResearch and Innovation Actions (RIA)
Funding rate100%

The Joint Research Centre (JRC) may participate as member of the consortium selected for funding.
Submission Proposals must be submitted electronically via the Funding & Tenders Portal Electronic Submission System. Paper submissions are NOTpossible.

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