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Using interdisciplinary foresight studies to explore key topics 

Updated on 01/23/2017
Published on 12/14/2016
Keywords: Inra2025 - FOCUS

Using a scientific foresight approach, three interdisciplinary research topics will be addressed: agroecology, the future of livestock farming, and the nexus among human health, food consumption, agriculture, and the environment. The goal will be to identify novel research directions and delineate scientific partnerships. The results will also highlight the data that must be used or collected, the skills that should be encouraged, and the key collaborations that should be established with different national and international academic institutions. Ultimately, this work should lead to proposed research programmes.



Agroecology is an emerging scientific discipline at the crossroads between ecology and agricultural science. As part of a partnership with CIRAD, INRA has been studying the mechanisms underlying biological and ecological controls in agricultural systems and exploring an engineering strategy targeting these controls and system yield (#3Perf).This strategy involves making use of biodiversity, closing biogeochemical cycles, and managing landscapes within regions . To flesh out the agroecology foresight study, the following supplemental topics will be addressed: modelling field- to landscape-level dynamics of the populations and communities found in agroecosystems  (see #OpenScience-3 and the post « Predictive approaches in biology and ecology » ); defining the multiple criteria to target in efforts to genetically improve crops and livestock; sustainable development and multifunctionality of soils and water resources; steps for co-designing agroecological systems; methods for studying and supporting the agroecological transition; the role of advanced technologies; the industry’s incorporation of agroecological principles downstream from food production (i.e., during processing, distribution, consumption, and nutrition).


The nexus among human health, food consumption, agriculture, and the environment

Adopting a more global perspective on food production systems requires novel multidisciplinary approaches operating at the crossroads among human health, food consumption, agriculture, and the environment. Attention needs to be paid to the entire food production chain, the interactions among industries, and the creation of closed cycles (“from farm to fork to intestine and back”). The number of links in the chain connecting the consumer to the farm and processing plant should be reduced, and both consumer behaviour and the social value of food must be taken into account. To arrive at this systems-level perspective, researchers will develop quantitative models, which will explore how health concerns can drive the transformation of food production systems (e.g., “nutrition-sensitive agriculture” or “sustainable nutrition”). These models will also examine how the “one health” policy, which seeks to strengthen relationships among human health, animal health, plant health, and the environment (especially biodiversity and ecosystem services), can also be applied to food production systems1. This study will aim to integrate all of the dimensions of sustainability and human health by determining the research directions, skills, and innovations to emphasize and by focusing on key issues related to ethics, public policy, regulations, and the media.


The future of livestock farming

The livestock industry seeks to maximise productivity so it can supply quality products at low prices. However, it is coming under increasing scrutiny because of concerns over profitability (farmers have low incomes), working conditions (farmers work extremely long hours), animal welfare, climate impacts, and food security. The foresight study will focus on livestock (e.g., biology, genetics, health, behaviour, and ethical concerns), livestock practices (e.g., nutrition and feeding, biogeochemical cycles, and effects on biodiversity), and the livestock industry (e.g., social and economic factors, product quality, and role in human health and nutrition). It will rely on collective scientific expertise on the topic of livestock welfare and the services provided by livestock systems, a bibliometric analysis, and discussions carried out in different INRA research divisions together with exchanges with partners in the economic and development sectors. Using the information gathered, the study will examine the controversies associated with each of the three levels of focus mentioned above and identify different possible outcomes. The result will be a roadmap for the livestock sciences, an analysis of the changes that have taken place, and a holistic perspective on future multidisciplinary priorities.


1. (Angelos et al, 2016)