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AGROECOLOGY and research © Arnaud Veldeman, Véronique Gavalda

Agroecology at INRA: mobilising research

INRA’s agroecology research programme

INRA plays a leading role in France’s agroecology research strategy, which is undergoing considerable changes and taking stock of its strengths.

By Pascale Mollier, translated by Teri Jones-Villeneuve
Updated on 10/28/2013
Published on 10/11/2013

National leadership

Research at nine of INRA’s 17 centres is focused on agroecology: Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Dijon, Montpellier, Poitou-Charentes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, Rennes, Toulouse and Versailles-Grignon. Three other centres – French West Indies-Guiana, Nancy and Orléans – are directly affiliated with the sector to some extent.

Dijon’s Agroecology Unit is the second largest of INRA’s units, with more than 300 people involved in research on such areas as soil biodiversity, weed control and the use of pulses in crop rotation.

INRA’s metaprogrammes are a bridge between research projects from the institute’s different divisions, and seven out of eight of the current metaprogrammes fall under the agroecology sector (see Section 5).

Building scientific partnerships

The thematic working group Agroecology and Soil led by AllEnvi, an alliance of environmental research bodies, is an opportunity for concerted scientific research on the environment on a national level. Partnerships with CNRS and IRSTEA facilitate the inclusion of ecology and the environment into INRA’s research programme. Additional partnerships through the Agreenium consortium with CIRAD and universities teaching agricultural sciences represent a genuine advantage for INRA’s agroecology research.

The AgroBiosphere programme, directed by the French National Research Agency (ANR), is a continuation of the Systerra programme and deals with sustainable farming systems and socio-ecological systems on a regional scale. INRA is coordinating fifteen Systerra projects and three AgroBiosphere projects with a focus on agroecology.

INRA collaborates with CNRS and universities through regional programmes such as the INSU’s Observatories of Sciences of the Universe (OSU) and DIPPEEs (ecology and environment partnerships) in Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Montpellier, Rennes, Toulouse, Versailles-Grignon, Nancy and Orléans.

Multiple professional partnerships

INRA has teamed up with a number of professional organisations to establish partnerships in several areas. These include:

- Agricultural partnerships: Agro-transfert structures, Joint Technology Units, Joint Technology Networks, the GC HP2E and Agricultural Stimulus Scientific Interest Groups, PSDR (INRA-Region partnership programme) and INRA’s sector groups.

- Environmental partnerships: framework convention with Onema.

Reinforcing French Stimulus Initiative programmes

INRA research sites in agroecology. © INRA, INRA
INRA research sites in agroecology © INRA, INRA

The Laboratories of Excellence (Labex) are multi-institutional researcher networks that promote interdisciplinary research.

There are three Labex whose work is directly related to agroecology: BASC (1), AGRO (2) and ARBRE (3).

A number of others have indirect links to agroecology:
- in the field of biodiversity: CEMEB (4) and COTE (5)
- in the fields of biological, environmental and socio-economic sciences: TULIP (6), VOLTAIRE (7), ECOFECT (8) and IAST-TSE (9).

(1)     BASC: Biodiversity, Agroecology and Climate Sciences, Saclay (Versailles-Grignon).
(2)     AGRO: Agronomy and Sustainable Development, Montpellier.
(3)     ARBRE: Advanced Research on the Biology of Tree and Forest Ecosystems, Nancy.
(4)     CEMEB: Mediterranean Centre for the Environment and Biodiversity, Montpellier.
(5)     COTE: Continental to coastal ecosystems: evolution, adaptability and governance, Bordeaux.
(6)     TULIP: Towards a unified theory of biotic interactions, Toulouse.
(7)     VOLTAIRE: Earth, atmosphere and interactions – resources and the environment, Orléans.
(8)     ECOFECT: Eco-evolutionary dynamics of infectious diseases, Lyon.
(9)     IAST-TSE: Multi-disciplinary approach to economy and ecology, Toulouse School of Economics.
Two Equipex projects work to further research in the field of agroecology: CRITEX (1), which studies watersheds, and XYLOFOREST (2), which studies forests.
(1)     CRITEX: National network of innovative facilities for the spatial and temporal study of the French Critical Watershed Zone.
(2)     XYLOFOREST: Forest-wood-fibre-biomass research, innovation and services platform.

Three infrastructures are directly involved in this research: ANAEE-services (1), which brings together INRA’s Environmental Research Observatories (2) (see Section 6), the CRB Animal (3) and PHENOME (4).

(1)     ANAEE-services: Analysis and Experimentation on Ecosystems.
(2)     ERO: Environmental Research Observatories.
(3)     CRB Animal: Biological Resources Centre for Animals.
(4)     PHENOME: Centre for plant phenotyping.

European and international programmes

One of the five themes of the Joint Programming Initiative on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate (JPI FACCE) addresses sustainable intensification in agriculture. A second theme deals with ecosystem services.

There are several agroecology-focused ERA-NET projects, including Biodiversa (biodiversity), Core Organic 2 (organic farming), and Arimnet and Ruragri (ecosystem services). These ERA-NET projects are carried out jointly with the JPI FACCE.

ANAEE (Analysis and Experimentation on Ecosystem) is a European ESFRI-certified infrastructure; ANAEE-services is the French organisation.

The European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme supports agroecology projects through its Knowledge Based BioEconomy (KBBE) programme. INRA coordinates eight European projects through KBBE. The ENDURE network plays an important part in research on integrated crop protection.

Currently, there is one international research network: Diversitas’ Agrobiodiversity programme.

Observation and Experimentation

The Experimental Units (EUs) make significant contributions to innovations in environmentally-friendly production methods and system transitions. Based on an estimate made with support from the French commission on experimental units, there are more than thirty EUs involved in experiments related to agroecology. Eleven use an integrated approach (e.g., landscape, complementary livestock raising/crop methods), ten deal with animal production and thirteen with crop production.
The ANAEE network is also a network of experimental programmes (EROs, mesocosms, etc.) which could soon begin research on furthering understanding of biogeochemical cycles (see Section 5).


When used in conjunction with observation and experimentation, modelling is an excellent tool for developing theories and concepts in agroecology. The priority lies in better integrating biotic components in agricultural ecosystem models. Modelling is driven by transversal platforms, such as the RECORD platform, which enables the coupling of different models (including ecology), or the MEANS platform that takes into account multiple criteria.