Published June 16, 2021 | Version v1
Project deliverable Open

Report on Territorial Impacts and Lessons Learnt of the Diffusion of Agro-ecological Farming Systems (AEFS) in the European Union

  • 1. University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU)
  • 2. Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL)
  • 3. The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
  • 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. In this deliverable D4.3, the results from a large-scale implementation of various agro-ecological approaches, from single practices such as undersowing in cereals to more systemic approaches, such as agroforestry, and to a full agro-ecological transformation of the agri-food system are presented. Based on the case-study results from WP3, various bundles of agro-ecological innovations have been identified in a multi-step stakeholder process. Suggested practices and approaches ranged from plot and farm-level to whole food-system level and a selection of those was then chosen for implementation in the two biophysical mass-flow models BioBaM_GHG_EU and SOLm. In BioBaM_GHG_EU, an option space of 432 options was built by combining several variants of a) more or less mixed-farming approaches integrating crop and livestock production; b) livestock diets (fully grass-based ruminant production); c) manure management (conventional, biogas digesters, etc.); d) hedges and undersowing on croplands; e) grassland use in a land sharing or land sparing variant with vegetation regrowth; d) reduced grassland use intensity in high nature value farmland. In SOLm, a detailed implementation of agroforestry systems was implemented, based on parameters from state-of-the-art literature, such as the different crops and trees varieties used and their respective shares per hectare agroforestry, the yield potential of agroforestry, and the performance regarding a number of environmental indicators (e.g. water use, NH3 emissions, C-sequestration). In all these scenarios and options, a number of environmental and socio-economic indicators was assessed, such as land use, GHG emissions, nutrient surplus, etc. or food supply and calorie and protein provision self-sufficiency.

Key results show that many agroecological futures are possible in the EU without compromising food security and with improvements along a number of sustainability indicators if embedded within wider food-systems changes. Sustainable agro-ecological production cannot be addressed without addressing consumption. Key aspects of this are that a) the overall size of the food system is a strong determinant for the potential to increase agro-ecological farming practices and the current amount of livestock production needs to be reduced and redistributed in order to remain within current agricultural land endowment in the future; b) to play out the full potential of improvements, livestock production needs to be linked to cropland (monogastrics) and grassland (ruminants) potentials within the EU, and in combination with innovative livestock diets, is able to re-balance nutrient supply and demand at the sub-national scale; c) in such a contest, an increase in land under agro-ecological practices and a reduction of GHG emissions is possible within the EU in the year 2050 without compromising food security. A particularly large potential for climate change mitigation can be realized with agroforestry and the related carbon sequestration in woody biomass, which can compensate GHG emissions of future agriculture; d) agro-ecological practices such as undersowing cereals with leys and clover allows to reduce the utilization of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and provide roughage for ruminant livestock and also reduces grazing intensities on grasslands; e) reducing grazing intensities on high natural value farmland is possible without the risk of shortages in grass supply for domestic ruminant livestock or strong ecological impacts. However, in all agroecological scenarios, adequate nutrient supply is a challenge that has to be addressed explicitly.

The information compiled in this report illustrates the large option space that exists for sustainability improvements in the EU agriculture and food systems. It is aimed to help to inform and support the needed actions to implement the farm-to-fork strategy and the EU plans for maintaining biodiversity, as well as the Paris agreement. Policy makers can make use of the information provided in this deliverable to inform agricultural policy and decision making to align agricultural production and consumption in the EU with the broad sustainability goals while ensuring long-term food security. Regional policy makers and stakeholders with their detailed, specific knowledge base can gauge which innovations are best suited for a specific region and can then contextualize these agroecological innovations for the specific regions while still firmly linking them to the larger EU agri-food system policies.

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 D4.3 Territorial Impacts and Lessons Learnt of the Diffusion of AEFS in the EU.pdf

Additional details


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