Flanders Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (ILVO) is an independent scientific research institute of Flanders Government. Its assignment from the government is to work on the sustainability of agriculture, fisheries and agri-food sector. ILVO's work is strongly anchored in Flanders and extends from there to Belgium, Europe and the rest of the world.
The mission of ILVO is clear and remarkably contemporary: to build knowledge that will make it possible to produce enough healthy and varied food for the 10 billion people that the world will need to feed while staying within our planetary limits.
To perform this mission, ILVO performs multidisciplinary, ground-breaking and independent research. In this way, ILVO builds the fundamental and applied knowledge needed for improving products and production methods, to ensure quality and safety of the end-products and to improve the policy instruments at the foundation of sector development and rural policy.
The organization employs a strategy where systems thinking, integration of “tacit knowledge” with new technologies, co-creation and five organizational values all take center stage. The Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations form the compass that orients ILVO’s own operations as well as the researched performed here.
Using applied research, ILVO aims to provide answers for the challenges facing everyone involved in the greater food agri-food chain and the rural environment.
Concretely, ILVO studies new and existing tracks of optimization and sustainable development with a high degree of integrity and in a proactive and objective fashion. ILVO works for the following sectors:
The ILVO vision document ‘2020 and beyond’ lists the benchmarks and ambitions of ILVO. This document was written together with a variety of stakeholders and is regularly revisited with a critical eye. From this document, 8 main research guidelines or themes arose:
ILVO regularly enters into dialogue with policymakers, stakeholders and society. To further build on its role as a future- and demand-driven knowledge center, ILVO works with living labs – “ecosystems” where researchers, end-users, stakeholders, citizens and even cities or regions can meet up and work on co-creative research.
The agro-food ecosystem is a complex system with an incredible number of interconnected elements. Because of this complexity, ILVO doesn't want to look at interventions or changes solely at the level of one element - e.g. yield or nitrogen emissions. Good analyses require a close view of the interaction between all components and aspects of the system. Only by combining knowledge of all these facets in a systems-oriented, interdisciplinary approach can effective solutions be developed for the challenges facing the agri-food chain. Besides being a way of looking at ongoing and new research, systems thinking at ILVO is both a research topic and an expertise in itself.
This is one of ILVO's strengths: the combination of technical expertise in the hard (engineering) sciences with the more methodological and socio-economic expertise in the softer sciences.
Five essential values characterize ILVO employees and the organization. These values are the touchstone used by the management in all their decisions. Based in a personnel action plan, the workers - in all groups and all levels - repeatedly encouraged to develop these five ILVO values. These values also play a role in selection criteria and evaluations.
Being an example
In 2020, "Trust" was added as an overarching value.
We expect every ILVO employee to act in accordance with the values and standards of our organization. The 5 ILVO values are the common thread in the actions of all ILVO employees and a touchstone for management decisions. In addition, we are committed to an open culture of trust and communication, so that all work-related matters can be discussed openly.
All ILVO staff members share responsibility for the organization. Every ILVO employee must be able to hold colleagues and managers responsible for the agreements made through feedback and respectful communication. In addition to the general code of ehtics for employees of the Flemish government (in Dutch) the Code of Ethics for Scientific Integrity guides our actions.
On December 1, 2020, the European Council adopted new conclusions around the in-depth review of the European Research Area (ERA). In these conclusions, even more than in the past, priority is given to Gender Equality in research and innovation. The European Council therefore calls upon knowledge institutions to work on a Gender Equality Plan (GEP). ILVO is happy to answer this call because this plan will contribute to ILVO being able to attract the right talent in the future and keep them on board. This is essential to continue fulfilling our role as a knowledge institution in terms of content, but also to continue evolving as an organization. A clearly developed GEP is also a justified condition to continue participating in European-funded research projects. This GEP will allow ILVO to identify any gaps or inequalities and tackle them effectively.
ILVO has been working on more sustainable business choices for years. A few years ago, ILVO underlined its ambitions by entering into a partnership with CIFAL Flanders (UNITAR affiliated International Training Centre for Authorities & Leaders). CIFAL Flanders helps set the broad outlines, includes ILVO in a larger learning network of organizations that are working on the same issues, and provides targeted input on specific topics. This ensured that the trajectory towards more sustainable operational management and a more sustainable research focus could be implemented more quickly. The first steps of this trajectory were honored by the award of the SDG Pioneer label. Since then, ILVO has continued to work on the roadmap towards SDG Champion with the goal of having ILVO evolve into a research institution that can contribute even more to the realization of the sustainable development goals.
In 2021, work continued on the major transition project born already in 2020: the ILVO Research Landscape ("Onderzoekskouter" in Dutch). With the appointment of a Farm Manager, ILVO wants to make the connection between innovative research and the own farm. In this way, ILVO wants to set an example in making agriculture more sustainable. A nice example of this is the opening of a number of "slow trails" throughout our trial fields and efforts towards more biodiversity in a productive landscape at the Gondebeek. This involves 8ha of land, 5ha of which is within SPA Special Protection Area. For this, cooperation was sought with various partners from the Rodeland landscape project including ANB, the province of East Flanders, ForNaLab, and Natuurpunt (SDG 6 & 15). The varied heritage of office buildings and labs, greenhouses, farm buildings, barns and stables was also thoroughly mapped out in 2021 with the aim of making clear future decisions. The 'Innovocean' building, a state-of-the-art marine research complex of eight thousand square meters that ILVO and VLIZ are building on the Oosteroever in Ostend already shows the high ambitions (SDG 9 & 11). At the Research Campus there is also room for relaxation and information sharing. In 2021 the "Kouterwandeling" was introduced: an interactive walk that, through QR codes, takes the participants into the story of ILVO, the striking landscape and its history (SDG 2, 4, 9 & 11). Finally, the ILVO Research Landscape also contributes to the stimulating work environment that ILVO wants to be with space for relaxation, its own childcare and "The Greenhouse" as a multipurpose meeting space (SDG 3).
The ILVO project in the context of the SDGs is, of course, not limited to the research couch as a transition project. Many actions were also set up outside of this context, inspired by the ILVO Vision for 2030. For example, together with IDEAConsult, a project was started that should provide an estimate of the impact of ILVO research. In addition, further steps were taken with regard to the mobility policy, HR policy (including the introduction of a Gender Equality Plan) and ongoing employee training and development via the GoodHabitz platform.