It goes without saying that SMEs play a significant role in shaping a country’s economy. Small and medium-sized enterprises are considered strategic sectors in an economy because of their social and economic benefits. It is therefore important to support growing businesses and provide them with opportunities to succeed.

One of the panel discussions at the AgriFood Forum 2022 tried to answer the question how SMEs, industry, and farmers can maximize their opportunities. As the first speaker, Marco Francini, Head Regional EIB Group Office for the Baltic States, took the podium. During his presentation, he talked about  the European Investment Bank group and what kind of products and services it can provide to support the value chain of agrifood.

European Investment Bank (EIB) is the bank of the EU with shareholders of 27 state members. They finance projects in 4 key areas such as infrastructure, environment, innovation, and SMEs. The headquarter is situated in Luxembourg and they opened the office for the Baltic States in 2020.

By the end of 2021, Lithuania had a record number of transactions with 14 contracts signed by EIB and the European Investment Fund (EIF). Vilnius’ district heating network, as well as water and wastewater infrastructure, were also supported by the organization.

The majority of their loans are long-term loans to public and private sector counterparts. Like any other bank, the counterparty and the project must undergo financial diligence in order to assess their creditworthiness. Yet why do they support agriculture, bioeconomy, and rural development?

To address challenges like the growing demand for food, global warming, and the use of renewable bio-based materials, they are developing innovative, sustainable agricultural practices and technologies. Farmers, micro-enterprises, and SMEs need access to finance through their financial intermediaries in order to make food production more sustainable and efficient.

5 project opportunities at FoodScale Hub

A few funding opportunities that FoodScale Hub is offering for the future were presented by Grigoris Chatzikostas, Vice President of Business Development at FoodScale Hub. Over the next 4 years, FoodScale Hub will distribute around 9.5 million Euros to third parties in support of 5 projects. Grigoris Chatzikostas’ most significant message to the SMEs was to “get informed” about any opportunities in projects, as there are plenty of them, and SMEs could choose to participate in the most suitable ones.

There were several projects presented, including:

  1. DRural – Service Marketplace, end-users and service providers in rural areas will be connected, enabling a broad spectrum of services while boosting economic growth and improving citizens’ quality of life.
  2. TITAN – Transparency solutions for transforming the food system – supports individuals and SMEs in developing sustainable leadership and innovation skills.
  3. INCiTiS-Food – Integrated and Circular technologies for Sustainable city region Food systems in Africa.
  4. Eco-Ready – achieving ecological resilient dynamism for the European food system through consumer-driven policies.
  5. ICAERUS – explores the multi-purpose applications of drones in agricultural production, forestry, and rural communities through an application-oriented approach using five specific drone applications.

Support activities and funding opportunities for SMEs in urban agriculture and food processing

AgriFood Lithuania‘s Senior Innovation Officer, Thomas Gitsoudis, presented two European projects that are great opportunities for SMEs.

The SUAVE project was the starting point of his presentation. This project aims to boost urban agriculture (UA) towards sustainable and resilient food systems in urban areas. Through networking activities, innovation support, SMEs’ adoption of innovations, and training, EuroCluster brings together five experienced agrifood and digital clusters. A total of 1,050 M€ is designated for SMEs from Europe for the development of original ideas in urban agriculture and entry into new markets.

HighFive is working to develop a new methodology – Integrated Design, which is based on existing methods and approaches. It integrates valuable areas such as problem-solving methodologies (Design Thinking and Problem Based Learning), sustainable development, circular economy, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

As a result of this program, SMEs will be able to develop and bring to market innovative digital solutions that address the real challenges facing food processing companies, strengthen the European agrifood value chain, and make the sector more digital, sustainable, and resilient by facilitating targeted and interregional investment actions.