The decline of High Nature Value agrarian systems is a fact. Several driving forces of different kinds — markets, policies, social structure and values — have been changing the HNV systems into an alarming direction. Reversing such negative trends requires adapted approaches changing the farm perspective which, in the current situation, are leading to the intensification and/or abandonment of HNV farmland. Much of such changes are to take place at a local level, where actors can implement innovations addressing the problems faced by farmers while conserving the HNV attributes. Indeed, we can then speak of “HNV innovation projects”, in which local actors are engaging in the process.
However, combining economic sustainability with nature conservation is a real challenge and such projects do not take place spontaneously. They need to engage a set of actors who, prior to the project were unconcerned, sceptical or even opposed, and to make them mobilised in a coordinated way for developing HNV farming systems with consideration for HNV values. HNV innovation projects can be defined as such that prioritise social processes, change actors’ views and organisation to propose and implement sound innovations.
Based on the H2020 HNV-Link project, which is accompanying 10 “learning areas” in such HNV innovation projects, the analysis aims to analyse how such a social process has been initiated in the 10 cases. Each case is highly context-dependant, considering the geographical, agrarian and rural backgrounds, the institutional context and the ways HNV-Link project personnel are engaging with local actors and stakeholders. The project personnel thus act as the “HNV innovation brokers” among the project learning areas. The acknowledgement of the importance of each context does not contradict the interest of proposing a common framing to properly engage local actors. In HNV-Link, this framing consists in a sound agro-ecological assessment revealing, on one hand, what could be the “business as usual” scenario without innovation taken in favour of HNV farming systems, and, on the other hand, what could be a desirable and engaging HNV farming system vision and what innovations are required for this vision to materialise.
Based on feedbacks and assessment from the 10 learning areas, the paper describes the key characteristics of different nature explaining success or difficulties in initiating and, in one case, implementing an HNV innovation social process. It also aims at identifying the conditions for improving the relevance of such projects in their initial design, considering that success stands on a combination of an adapted project methodology and the skill and involvement of local catalysers. While the latter is a matter of personal values (although financial resources would add to the attraction of the HNV innovation projects for such catalysers), methodological key points can be put forward to maximise the chance of success when engaging for HNV innovation.
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