Living Laboratories Initiative

The Living Laboratories Initiative is part of a $70 million investment to further agricultural discovery science and innovation. This initiative aims at the overarching goal of accelerating adoption in the agricultural sector, by innovating sustainable practices and technologies through the creation of partnerships with scientists from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, farmers, local community actors, Indigenous communities and other collaborators. In a real-life context, scientists, partners and producers work together to test the impact of best management practices on the environment, with the needs of the producers at the center of the equation. Through this initiative, four Living Labs are active  across  Canada: in Quebec, Prince Edward Island (Atlantic), Manitoba (Eastern Prairies) and Ontario.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Innovation activities are oriented towards the particular needs of the producers and  specific agri-environmental challenges identified for each Living Lab. Through co-development, the Living Lab consortium (i.e. partners, producers and scientists) identified the need for the implementation of best management practices (BMPs), which were then evaluated on their local and regional impact on soil and water quality, increase in biodiversity and climate change reduction or mitigation.

Identifying Actions

In the context of a Living Lab, farmers, scientists, local collaborators, and other partners initially meet to discuss the farmers’ needs and to identify common priorities and goals. Then, with these needs in mind, they work together to elaborate and test new practices and technologies. The process is iterative: innovations are tested, evaluated and improved through a set of repeating steps.

The first step is co-development. It involves the sharing of information, data, experiences, and ideas regarding the development of new practices and technologies. The second step involves testing these innovations. As the goal is to facilitate their implementation on farms, they are tested directly on farms and involve the participation of farmers. Through various scientific research activities, data is collected and analyzed to measure performances of the practices and technologies, including their environmental, social and economic impacts. In the final step, scientists and farmers provide their feedbacks based on research and experience, to assess their practical application and effectiveness.

The co-development process and the collaboration with farmers are essential, because they ensure that the innovations are technically feasible, economically viable, and desirable. Moreover, through this process, farmers are more likely to adopt the innovative technologies and practices.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

The outcomes expected from this initiative is to promote the adoption of BMPs by farmers, leading to agricultural adaptation and mitigation of  climate change issues, improvement of water and soil quality, and maximization of habitat capacity and biodiversity in agroecosystems. Furthermore, multiple co-benefits can emerge from the extended collaborative work involved in the Living Laboratories Initiative program. For example, scientists get to learn from the hands-on experience of farmers while producers can benefit from the perspective and expertise of scientists.

Next Steps

A new program, Agricultural Climate Solutions – Living Labs (ACS-LL), inspired by the Living Laboratories Initiative and building on its successes, is currently under implementation. This $185 million, 10-year program will build on the core principles of the Living Laboratories Initiative, which include focusing on farmers’ needs, creating broad and diverse partnerships, and conducting  tests in the real-life context. This program, however, will more directly aim at reducing Canada’s environmental footprint and improving climate resiliency. The $200 million On-Farm Climate Action Fund will help farmers adopt best management practices that improve carbon storage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.