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Programming and managing research for global challenges

Updated on 01/23/2017
Published on 12/15/2016
Keywords: Inra2025 - FOCUS

INRA is one of the biggest agricultural research organisations in the world. It is active in a wide variety of fields to address issues related to nutrition, agriculture and the environment, which are now framed in the wider context of the bioeconomy and food systems.



No interdisciplinarity without disciplinary pillars
Cross-comparison of disciplinary perspectives is often necessary to fully address the complex issues underpinning food systems: earth and environmental sciences, life sciences, and economic and social sciences. INRA must therefore implement interdisciplinary programming initiatives for research to meet identified goals and, to do so, promote the solidity of the disciplinary pillars on which interdisciplinarity naturally rests. Exploring certain disciplinary frontiers is a key component of INRA’s activities: so much so that, by default, the Institute is viewed as a leader in this domain, which is one of the missions of the research divisions.

The creation of strategic plans for the Scientific Divisions (SSD 2016-2020) promotes the recognition of advances made in key disciplinary fields at INRA: biological and environmental sciences, which are the foundation of the Institute, from the molecular and cellular level to landscapes and the biosphere, as well as the biotechnology-related fields underpinning agricultural science, biogeoscience, engineering sciences, and social and economic sciences.  For the most part, essential research questions and the frontiers of science and new technologies connected to these disciplines are identified in the SSD.

A look at the initial results of the Institute’s major interdisciplinary programmes, including the eight metaprogrammes (MP) launched since 2010, confirms the importance of combining disciplines, promoting methodological exchanges on different objects and of developing systemic and integrative approaches. (See « Metaprogrammes: programming tools for strategic goals »)

Changes in the way research is conducted have also been put into perspective. The digital revolution and the growing role of modelling and computer technology on one hand, and the importance given to citizen science in research on nutrition, agriculture and environment on the other, deserve mentioning.

INRA has always cultivated a drive towards high-quality, collaborative science with an impact. The mechanisms underlying the framework of the impact of public agricultural research, analysed as part of the ASIRPA study, show that combining these principles is the best way to maximise the positive impact of knowledge in society by creating values, jobs and competitiveness or by supporting public policies:

  • High-quality science,because every discovery is intrinsically beautiful and because ASIRPA found that innovation is frequently the product of the most internationally recognised teams, driven by curiosity.
  • Science with an impact,to meet the diverse expectations of society and to foresee future challenges by supporting public policy and playing an important role in technological, social, and organisational innovation.
  • Collaborative science,as a responsibility within the Institute, with our partners and our co-citizens – the discoveries we make today will shape tomorrow.

In addition to these shared values, a general principle guiding research at INRA is the consideration of food systems from all angles and the interdependency of agricultural production, processing and consumption and how this relationship affects the environment. Often, the solution to a processing sector or consumer issue is found in production systems. On the contrary, specifications defined upstream often place constraints on production systems which cannot be managed without upsetting the balance between economic, social and environmental performance. Food systems have both positive and negative effects on human nutrition, on the safety of the food chain, and on the well-being of the environment. They are in fact organised at the regional level, typically with production occurring in rural areas and consumption in urban areas; this territorialisation is itself a determining factor in a good number of these systems’ properties and effects.  

Lastly, we cannot address global issues without an international vision and action plan. Half of all INRA publications are the product of international partnerships. INRA must continue to cultivate this strength and promote international collaborative dynamics, to extend their perimeter beyond Europe and OECD countries and to apply them to joint programming for broad strategic goals that are shared at the global level.   

Read the post « Food systems: facing unprecedented challenges »