Published March 4, 2021 | Version v1
Project deliverable Open

Report on Participatory Scenario Development of Agro-ecological Farming Systems

  • 1. The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
  • 2. University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU)
  • 3. Research Institute of Organic Agriculture
  • 4. University of Aberdeen


The UNISECO project aims to provide recommendations on how the sustainability of agro-ecological farming systems (AEFS) in Europe can be promoted. These recommendations build also upon scenario development and assessment of territorial effects of a large-scale implementation of agro-ecological farming innovations in the EU. This Deliverable describes in detail the scenarios and related storylines developed with stakeholders and first results from the biophysical modelling of the five scenarios using the BioBaM model, and the economic modelling.

Five storylines were developed in a participatory process involving all project partners and project stakeholders. The main determinants of the storylines are their level of implementation of agro-ecological farming practises and the localisation of food system (i.e. level of trade within the EU and globally). The first storyline Business-as-usual, extends the dynamics and critical aspects of current agri-food systems into the future and highlights current policy barriers to the expansion of agro-ecology. The second storyline, Agro-ecology-for-export, depicts a future in which medium-large agricultural farms and large companies in the food processing and distribution sectors promote a weak agro-ecological approach as a marketing strategy. The third and fourth storylines describe a future in which food systems are localised but for different reasons. In both these storylines, local foods, regardless of production methods, are given priority over agro-ecological farming practises. In consequence, production practises remain similar to current ones or further intensify. Localisation-for-protectionism do this for reasons of rising nationalism and protectionism, and calls the centrality of the EU into question and promotes further re-nationalization of agricultural policies. The Localisation-for-sustainability on the other hand promotes local food system not for protectionist reasons, but in an ambition to increase food system sustainability and resilience by cutting food miles and diversifying local production systems. The fourth storyline, Local-agro-ecological-food-systems, reflects the implementation of more advanced stages of agro-ecological transition – redesign.

The qualitative descriptions of the storylines are translated into quantitative inputs to be used in the biophysical modelling, including quantifications of diets (determining total demand), waste, production levels, livestock diets etc. Storylines are modelled at the NUT2 level and results are presented for land use, biomass production and consumption, rates of self-sufficiency and greenhouse gas emissions. Results show that a decrease in land use, land use intensity and greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved without compromising food security and regional food self-sufficiencies. Drivers behind sustainability improvements are an overall reduction of the size of the food system measured in total land use and in particular in total biomass production and in particular biomass production. This is achieved by combining consumption-side measures that mainly aim at realising less animal source food in diets, and production side measures, that aim at shifting from crop-based to roughage-based animal production on the one hand (an agro-ecological systems re-design), and at distributing the different production activities to the regions where they can be done most efficiently, as well as efficiency increases in general (expected yield increases, etc.). The choice of the production systems itself – agro-ecological, organic, or conventional in this case – is less relevant for greenhouse gas improvements than the reduction of the quantities produced. If demand and supply side measures are applied together and in close coordination, trade-offs between less intensive agricultural production and putting land aside for nature-based climate solutions are possible. Thus, a more sustainable and less intensive form of agricultural production that implements agro-ecological practices does not necessarily come at a high price for climate-change mitigation if the size of the total food system is reduced.

The results will be analysed further and more results will be added and analysed in the following months and reported in Deliverable D4.3 (Mayer et al., 2021) and publications in peer-reviewed journal articles. This will also include the assessments of the second biophysical mass-flow model SOLm, an intermediate assessment in 2030 and including an analysis of further indicators for environmental and social aspects, as well as certain economic assessments. The economic model finds that a combination of EU production taxes, EU consumption taxes, and EU import tariffs are sufficient to generate the quantity outcomes from the biophysical model. This deliverable contains some minor inconsistencies related to the qualitative storyline descriptions and the modelling input. The scenarios will be further refined in coming work to resolve these.

UNISECO is a European research project aiming to develop innovative approaches to enhance the understanding of socio-economic and policy drivers and barriers for further development and implementation of agro-ecological practices in EU farming systems. Learn more about the project:

This project has received funding from the European Union's H2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 773901.

This publication reflects only the authors' view and the European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.


UNISECO D4.2 Report on Participatory Scenario Development of Agro-ecological Farming Systems version 2.0.pdf

Additional details


UNISECO – Understanding and improving the sustainability of agro-ecological farming systems in the EU 773901
European Commission