Linking innovation and SMEs

The companies that invest in innovation are more sustainable over time and will go faster than those focused only on pure production

Paula Hafner EIT Food

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) play a central role in the path towards more sustainable Mediterranean agrifood systems and achieving the 2030 Agenda, as they are positioned at the intersection between small-scale producers and local consumers. A better integration of SMEs and small producers in food chains and regional economies would significantly improve food security, nutrition and livelihoods, with positive impacts on the sustainability of Mediterranean agrifood systems.

A wide range of innovative approaches, technologies and practices exist that can contribute to transforming agrifood systems to nourish people, nurture the planet, advance equitable livelihoods and build resilient ecosystems.

However, there is a substantial gap in access to innovation between large-scale agrifood industries and SMEs and small-scale producers. Strategies to remove barriers to infrastructure and market access are needed. They should also support farmers and small producers who are working more sustainably using new business models. This is possible with an increase in investments and direct subsidies being made available for the uptake of renewable energies in food production and processing. Additional resources and capacities should also be dedicated to research and development services tailored to SMEs. Collaborating with large-scale companies to reach consumers and SMEs link to levers “Small in scale, big in value” training project link to levers

The role of multistakeholder collaboration in bringing these actors into the agrifood systems arena is fundamental. The collaborative process needs to be one that is open and inclusive, and where new knowledge, technologies and organizational processes are co-designed by all agrifood systems actors. Innovations are needed to connect farmers and SMEs with researchers, entrepreneurs and youth. Cooperation is key to bridge the science and knowledge gap of SMEs and can also provide an opportunity for enhanced dialogue. The Climakers initiative: an example of multistakeholder collaboration link to levers

Building human capital through training programmes for youth will be key to developing the skills needed to match graduates and employment demand from the agribusiness sector, enhancing the innovation chain through new professional profiles. Scientific knowledge sharing is also important even with non-scientific stakeholders, such as policymakers and business actors, leveraging co-creation and win–win solutions through alliances that engage all shores of the Mediterranean on a level playing field. Fostering human capital for innovation link to levers

Furthermore, finance is one of the main challenges in the agrifood sector. Innovations are also needed in the creation and design of new financial mechanisms to enhance SME access to affordable innovation and technology. Some of these innovations come from partnering with business incubators, accelerators, and innovation hubs which can help SMEs embrace innovation through the adoption of new business models. EIT Food’s Challenge Labs link to levers

Innovation, science, multistakeholder collaboration, and a change in mindset are all necessary to ensure small-scale stakeholders like producers and SMEs are well integrated in agrifood systems and able to access the ecosystem of innovation that exists. This will allow producers and SMEs to become protagonists of a blue, green and circular transition of Mediterranean agrifood systems, making them both more sustainable and prosperous.