Localising the SDGs at the interregional level

#12, May 2021

Cecilia Gañán de Molina

International Consultant and external European Commission expert in support of regional and urban development

The S·3 Partnership on Traceability and Big Data in the agrifood value chain has begun to analyse the positive impact of this European innovation network on the achievement of the global goals.

At the time when the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were approved, in 2015, I particularly liked the way in which António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, presented them: “opportunities for all in a healthy planet”. In fact, this global strategy, part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the United Nations (UN,) establish 17 Goals aiming, precisely, at balancing and interconnecting social, economic and environmental aspects.

The European Union (EU) has shown its commitment to fulfill the 2030 Agenda through its internal and external policies, its political priorities and its work program. EU member states, on their side, are preparing voluntary national reviews, in accordance with UN guidelines. But in addition to the national level, the SDGs have also a regional dimension, called "localization", since it is estimated that around 65% of the Objectives will require the participation of local and regional authorities. In this context, the Interregional European Partnerships operating in the framework of the three Smart Specialization Platforms established by the European Commission (EC), appear as wonderful structures with the potential to contribute to the implementation of the SDGs, as they work at a territorial scale, they connect actors of the quadruple helix in each region, and they have the capability of promoting shared visions.

The Smart Specialisation Interregional Innovation Partnership on Traceability and Big Data in the agri-food value chain (S·3P TBD) has begun to analyse the positive impact that this European network can make on the achievement of the global goals. The Partnership was invited by the European Commission, in the framework of the international Webinar “Science, Technology and Innovation Roadmaps for SDGs: paving the pathways for sustainable recovery and future resilience”, in July 2020, to explain this initiative.

According to the first analysis, the Partnership’s mission is already aligned with the SDGs, since it aims at “establishing a collaborative framework for the digitalisation of the agri-food value chain through the adoption of digital technologies and the creation of value based on data, to contribute to greater efficiency, equity and transparency of the agri-food value chain” (in coherence with SDG 9).  Indeed, joining efforts to digitalise the agri-food value chain have the potential to reshape not only agriculture, but also our food systems. Besides, it makes possible to overcome the atomization suffered by the agri-food sector, as well as the digital divide that small farmers can suffer when accessing traceability solutions and big data.

In addition to this, an explicit reference to the value shared throughout the value chain is included among the common guidelines identified by the Partnership’s Action Plan to promote a data-based agri-food chain. This aspect is closely related to the spirit that informs the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 8.3 and 8.4). Complementarily, the objectives agreed by its member regions, are also potential contributors to different SDGs (SDG 8, 9, 12, 17). On the other hand, social challenges such as consumer participation, healthy lifestyles or food security; and environmental issues such as sustainable production or the life cycles of the value chain, are already being addressed in specific projects in which the Partnership is involved (like Regions 4Food, Smart Agrihubs, Complat, ICTBiochain, NIVA or TRACK). All of them have the potential to contribute to different SDGs (in particular to SDGs 2, 7, 8, 9, 12 and 17).

The European Commission has already paved the way for the contribution that Platforms and S3 Partnerships can make to the 2030 Agenda. The Traceability and Big Data Partnership has accepted this challenge and is already working on documenting it and increasing it. Further steps would reasonably include the identification of synergies in this field with the other S·3 Agri-Food Smart Specialisation Partnerships, and the development of joint diagnosis, roadmaps, or indicators. In order for no one to be left behind in the value chain.

This is a vision that is worth working for.