On 1 March 2016, a new 3-year transnational project „Advancement of non-technological innovation performance and innovation capacity in fruit growing and processing sector in selected Baltic Sea Region countries” (InnoFruit) has been launched. It is funded under the EU Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme 2014-2020, which supports integrated territorial development and cooperation for a more innovative, better accessible and sustainable Baltic Sea Region. The project falls under the thematic field “Priority 1: Capacity for innovation”, which int. al. offers support for development of innovation infrastructures, implementation of smart specialisation strategies, and development of non-technological innovations.
The overall aim of the InnoFruit project is to develop the fruit-growing potential in the Baltic Sea Region to secure the availability of healthy, high quality fruit and fruit products through research-driven innovation, thereby increasing the competitiveness and sustainability of the fruit chain in Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Sweden. In particular, it focuses on facilitating knowledge and technology transfer between research organisations, NGOs, and SMEs involved in the fruit growing and processing sector both within the individual countries and between the partner countries. InnoFruit brings forward the idea of an open network of demonstration farms that is to be created as a result of this project. It shall provide a valuable and much-needed demonstration base of modern equipment, technologies, and management techniques for companies in order to facilitate learning and innovation processes in the given sector. Aside from being part of research, innovation, and training infrastructure the demo-farm network will also serve as a communication platform for promoting future collaboration between diverse stakeholder groups to enhance the overall competitiveness of fruit industry.
Lead by the Institute of Horticulture of the Latvia University of Agriculture (LV), the consortium brings together eight partner organisations from the four countries, covering public research organisations, associations, and enterprises working in the fruit-growing sector, incl. the Lithuanian Research Centre for Agriculture and Forestry (LT), the Research Institute of Horticulture (PL), the Latvian Fruit Growers' association (LV), the Swedish Pomological Science Center (SE), “LaSad Ltd.” (PL), the Latvia University of Agriculture (LV), and “Berry plus Ltd.” (LV).
Researchers from the Baltic Studies Centre (BSC) (LV) have also been attracted to the execution of the project in order to apply their expertise as sociologists in studying and facilitating the development of agricultural knowledge systems and learning networks. This project thus bears the potential of serving as yet another example of the way rural sociology can contribute to the advancement of practical collaboration between researchers of life sciences and social sciences and between researchers and practitioners in the agricultural sector. The social science knowledge accumulated by BSC so far on the various dimensions of rural development, sustainable agriculture, food supply chains, innovation networks, peri-urban agriculture, community development, and public policy analysis, as well as experience in carrying out action research involving diverse stakeholder groups is expected to provide a solid ground for the production of new research-based academic, applied, and policy-relevant knowledge on the present and prospective dynamics of knowledge exchange and mutual learning among the various agents in the fruit sector involved and the project and beyond.