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[Event Review] Black Sea International Workshop: “The Future of Agriculture: Global Challenges and Technological Change”

On March 3, 2016, National Research University - Higher School of Economics (HSE) hosted international workshop “The Future of Agriculture: Global Challenges and Technological Change”. The workshop was organized under Horizon 2020 project Black Sea Horizon. Read more about the outcomes of the workshop in a comprehensive event review including presentations from the event. 

[Event Review] Black Sea International Workshop: “The Future of Agriculture: Global Challenges and Technological Change”
  • Posted on: 18.03.2016
  • Russia

Contact: Elena Nasybulina, enasybulina@hse.ru

The workshop aimed to discuss and identify pertinent research topics of mutual interest for science, technology and innovation (STI) cooperation between the EU member states, Horizon 2020 associated countries and countries of the Black Sea region in view of further take-up in Horizon 2020, and future bi- or multilateral joint calls in the following thematic areas:

  • Towards sustainable agriculture based on new technologies and new institutional designs; 
  • Genetic engineering: future prospects;
  • Food security: new challenges for agricultural countries. 

In the frame of these three thematic sessions, workshop participants were tasked with discussing and identifying future research topics on the basis of i) mutual interest; ii) most relevant challenges; iii) excellence available in the region; iv) existing cooperation patterns, and v) personal expertise.

Representatives of Russian government authorities, EU Delegation to the Russian Federation, and leading Russian and international research organisations took part in the event. In particular, workshop speakers included prominent researchers from the EU Member States, Horizon 2020 Associated Countries and countries of the Black Sea region identified by BSH consortium partners. Altogether, experts from 11 countries (Armenia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Germany, Greece, Georgia, Moldova, Poland, Russia, Romania, and Ukraine) took part in the workshop. The topics of the workshop stimulated great interest of the public, and the workshop audience included around 100 attendants. In particular, the event was attended by representatives of foreign embassies and diplomatic missions to the Russian Federation, such as Royal Embassy of Denmark; the embassies of the Republic of Malta, Argentina, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania, Israel, France, Switzerland, India, Brazil; Moscow-Taipei Economic and Cultural Coordination Commission, and some others.  

The workshop featured five sessions: 

  • Prospects of agriculture development;
  • Prospects of S&T international cooperation between the EU and the Black Sea region countries in the field of agriculture;
  • Towards sustainable agriculture based on new technologies and new institutional designs;
  • Genetic engineering: future prospects for international cooperation;
  • Food security: new challenges for agricultural countries.

Opening the workshop, Leonid Gokhberg, First Vice Rector of HSE, Director of HSE Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge, stressed that the world economy today faces numerous social, environmental, and technological global challenges. One of the key problems in today’s world is food security, lack of food and quality of nutrition. Search for technological solutions to ensure food security has long been beyond the remit of individual countries and macro-regions, and today largely depends on effective infrastructural solutions that support global value chains in the agricultural sector. Leonid Gokhberg emphasized the need to develop practical tools that representatives of government, business, academic and educational institutions could use to support effective international S&T cooperation in agriculture. 

Elena Metelkova, Director of the Department of S&T Policy and Education of the Ministry of Agriculture of the Russian Federation, emphasized the great interest of this agency in developing proactive and evidence based managerial decisions, as well as in implementing a long-term sectoral strategy which should be focused on finding innovative solutions as well as on supporting international S&T collaboration between researchers and entrepreneurs.
Richard Burger, Head of Science and Technology Section of the Delegation of the European Union to the Russian Federation, provided an overview of opportunities for collaboration in the framework of joint research projects funded by the European Commission under “Horizon 2020” (H2020) program. He presented open opportunities for collaboration in the area of agriculture in H2020 Work Program 2016-2017 and outlined possibilities for participation of Russian research teams, including calls organized by the Russian Ministry of Education and Science.

In the framework of first session “Prospects of agriculture development”, leading experts of HSE ISSEK International Research and Educational Foresight Center Ozcan Saritas, Alexander Chulok and Ilya Kuzminov provided an overview of foresight instruments, such as monitoring of global technological trends, and of the recently launched S&T foresight for agriculture exercise. In particular, in his presentation “Global challenges and opportunities in agriculture and food industry”, Ozcan Saritas provided a nexus perspective of factors affecting food industry, including those related to climate change, water resources, and energy. He continued by describing S&T trends related to agriculture (in domains such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, automation, sensor and engineering technologies) and, furthermore, to sustainable agriculture (fertilizer consumption, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), No Till/Conservation Agriculture (NT/CA), Salty-water agriculture, organic agriculture, etc.).

In his presentation “S&T foresight for agriculture”, Alexander Chulok continued the discussion by giving an overview of S&T foresight instruments and methodology, with emphasis on S&T Foresight: 2030. He then briefly described the main objectives of the recently launched S&T foresight for agriculture project commissioned by the Russian Ministry of Agriculture. Finally, in his talk “Promising areas of agricultural S&T development”, Ilya Kuzminov provided a detailed description of the methodology of identifying S&T priorities in agriculture.

The presentation of Anca Ioana Nicolau (Food Microbiology Laboratory, Faculty of Food Science and Engineering, Dunarea de Jos University of Galati, Romania) “Connecting food industry with agriculture based on the principle of circular economy” provided a detailed description of the basic principles of the concept of circular economy and the possibility of its application in agriculture. The speaker elaborated on the key challenges faced by the modern food systems: inefficient use of resources and wastefulness (1/3 produced food does not reach the stage of consumption); decrease of healthy ingredients in food; increasing side effects on the environment. Furthermore, the researcher demonstrated the use of some of the tools to create a closed cycle circuit: ReSOLVE (McKinsey), resource efficient agricultural practices and regenerative farming practices, restoration and preservation of natural capital, development of peri-urban and urban farming, and developing digital supply chains.

Alexei Nistrean, Executive director of the Permanent International Secretariat of the Organisation of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), opened session “Prospects of international S&T cooperation between the EU and the Black Sea region countries in the field of agriculture” with a presentation focusing on potential areas for joint projects. The speaker provided an overview of the current state and prospects of cooperation between the BSEC member states, the European Union and Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). Furthermore, he presented strategic development priorities included in the BSEC Economic Agenda and highlighted priorities of Russia’s chairmanship in BSEC (January 2016 – June 2016) in the field of agriculture and agro-industry – food security, agro-industry development, infrastructure of agri-food market, and mutual food supplies. Finally, Alexei Nistrean listed topics and areas for joint research projects: 

  • harmonizing the labelling standards for food products, as an important part of food quality and food safety, taking into account the obligations arising for BSEC member states in the framework of their membership in other regional and international organizations and agreements;
  • enhancing bio-technology methods, taking into consideration the issue of genetically modified food products and radiation control of food;
  • elaboration of joint regional programs for effective management and control of the plant quarantine disease;
  • optimization of cooperation between the BSEC member states in vine-growing and wine-making sectors
  • exploring opportunities for cooperation in fields such as fishery, rehabilitation of aqua- and marine culture in the Black Sea.

Georgia Chantzi (International Centre for Black Sea Studies, Greece) presented the project “Enhanced bi-regional science, technology and innovation cooperation between the European Union and the Black Sea Region” (Black Sea Horizon) focusing on one of its specific aims, identification of pertinent thematic priorities for STI cooperation. She noted that the expected impact of this and other project activities aimed at supporting joint STI activities will be increased cooperation between the EU and the Black Sea region countries in targeted thematic areas of mutual benefit. 

In her presentation “Subprogramme “Food security and sustainable agriculture” in the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation “Horizon 2020”, Alena Lavrova (Federal Research Centre “Fundamentals of Biotechnology”, Russian Academy of Sciences; Horizon 2020 NCP “Biotechnology”) gave an overview of the priorities of joint EU-Russia biotechnology development. These include bio-innovations, sustainable food security, “blue” growth, and cooperation between urban and rural areas. For each of these areas, the speaker identified topics for the implementation of joint research projects, specified priority areas of research in Russia, as well as funding opportunities. Special attention was given to state policy instruments aimed at stimulating innovations in the field of bioeconomy, such as technology platforms and clusters. 

Session “Towards sustainable agriculture based on new technologies and new institutional designs” was opened by presentation “Biotechnology improvement and international collaboration to foster the development of Bulgaria’s livestock breeding” by Elena Kistanova (Department “Embryo Biotechnologies in Animals”, Institute of Biology and Immunology of Reproduction, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences). Taking up the subject of biotechnology applications in agriculture, Elena Kistanova pointed out challenges faced by the implementation of biological innovations in Bulgaria. The main barriers include insufficient investments in agricultural research, restrictions on the use of certain biotechnologies, decreasing number of employees, and low attractiveness of work in the industry. The researcher also stressed the importance to use all of the available opportunities for developing livestock breeding sector. 

Boris Boincean (Department of Sustainable Farming Systems, Research Institute of Field Crops “Selectia”, Balti, Republic of Moldova) in his presentation “Agroecological principles for sustainable agriculture”, presented the results of the long-term field study of winter wheat yields after different predecessors in crop rotation and in permanent mono-cropping. The speaker emphasized that the quality of the soil plays a key role in creating sustainable agriculture and should be regarded as one of the main challenges to agricultural development, in addition to high dependence on non-renewable energy sources and their derivatives, pollution and declining quality of natural resources, inability to ensure food security on all levels, and the negative effects of global warming. 

In her presentation “The knowledge-based bio-economy as a driver of sustainable, internationally competitive agricultural sphere of Ukraine”, Olga Kot (Dobrov Centre for S&T Potential and Science History Studies, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine) provided an overview of the current situation in the agricultural sector of this country. In particular, she outlined the most successful biotechnologies used in the agriculture of Ukraine, such as biofuels, waste bioutilisation, cultivation of plants resistant to viruses, probiotics, and biopharmaceuticals. Olga Kot also mentioned strategically important areas for biotechnology development in Ukraine and listed promising areas of STI cooperation between the EU and the Black Sea region – development of microbial technologies and R&D in biofuel production (low-molecular alcohols, methane and hydrogen) from organic waste; genomic  approaches for efficient use of traditional European oil plant potential for food and biodiesel production; meeting global food security challenges through development of cereal varieties resistant to devastating diseases; improving microbial plants secondary metabolite production as food additives and compounds of functional products; exploration of plant and fungal cytoskeleton. The speaker also stressed the need for developing and supporting a network of agro-innovation structures within the BS region.

The development of research practices in the agricultural industry of Georgia was the subject of the presentation of Giorgi Badrishvili (Scientific Research Center of Agriculture, Georgia) “Research and inclusion in international research topics of Georgia’s germaplasm resouces”. Due to the strategic plan of the Ministry of Agriculture of Georgia, the Scientific Research Center of Agriculture was tasked with supporting the commercialization of R&D results in agriculture and with keeping and facilitating the development of local agro-biodiversity, including local endemic species and imported varieties. Other areas of the Center’s research activities include livestock breeding, annual and perennial crops, integrated plant protection, agro-biofarming, agro-machinery, food safety, creation of gene banks, evaluation and adaptation of imported crops in Georgia, development of standardization and certification of sowing materials, and creation of common databases in agriculture.

The session was concluded with presentation on “Agrochemical characteristics and ways of efficient utilization of bio-residues separated in the process of obtaining biogas from poultry droppings” by Silva Atoyan (Institute of Botany, National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia). The speaker presented the results of studies on the use of a new form of organic fertilizers, which allowed to increase the potato yields by 30-40% depending on the type of residues. These results served as a basis for developing a set of recommendations for Armenia’s farmers on the use of bio-residues. The expert emphasized that the adoption of such measures is necessary due to a serious shortage of organic fertilizers and the improved chemical composition of products after their use.

Session “Genetic engineering: future prospects for international cooperation” featured two presentations. In their talk on “The prospects and reality of GM crops”, Sergey Zavriev and Konstantin Shestibratov (Shemyakin and Ovchinnikov Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences) presented the results of a study on genetically modified tree species commissioned by the Russian Ministry of Education and Science. As a result of the study, a number of forms of transgenic aspen and birch trees (more than 100 clones) with resistance to herbicides, increased growth rate and reduced content of lignin were created and already tested. The speakers emphasized that the use of transgenic trees needs a strong environmental risk assessment. They furthermore noted that the prospects for development in this area are associated with improving the legislation in the field of genetic engineering, in particular, with the ratification of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the Aarhus Convention and the Nagoya Protocol, and with harmonization with the international legal framework. Another way of the national biosafety system development is the creation of a Biosafety system in the framework of the Customs Union.  

Further developing the subject of genetic engineering, Ervin Balazs (Department of Applied Genomics, Agricultural Institute, Centre for Agricultural Research, Hungarian Academy of Sciences) in his presentation “Molecular Mutagenesis, by genome editing”, spoke about the prospects of using OTNE, ExZact, CRISPR/Cas9 technologies for editing genomes of plants and animals. Using various examples, the expert demonstrated that technologies allow not only to create disease-resistant plant species, but also to rewrite the entire genome sequence. The speaker emphasized that the described technologies are safe, as they exclude the introduction of “foreign” genes, combinations with which cannot occur naturally. 

Session “Food security: new challenges for agricultural countries” was opened by presentation by Dirk Freese (Department of soil protection and recultivation, Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus, Germany) on “The potential role of agroforestry in tackling food security and bioenergy”. The presentation was devoted to the new model of farming, which combines the cultivation of forest, crops and/or breeding livestock in the same area at the same time. The speaker presented the results of a pilot project on agroforestry implemented in Germany (“AGFORWARD”), which demonstrated a number of positive effects of combining fields and forests, such as increased carbon sequestration and nutrient use efficiency, minimized leaching, water regulation, water quality and control of soil erosion resulting in an increase of soil fertility.  

Concluding the session, Anna Augustin (Independent network and think tank on European agricultural and rural development policies “Groupe de Bruges”, Poland) made a presentation on “Prospective role of local food supply and urban agriculture in providing food security of large cities”. The speaker highlighted key aspects of food security in relation to large urban areas, as well as main approaches to improving this sphere: spatial, technological and social. The report also addressed current challenges facing the development of urban agriculture – poor performance coupled with high demand, environmental pollution, lack of space, high prices of land lease, product certification, difficulties of access to local markets, lack of food strategies, and legal restrictions.

Summing up the workshop discussions, Georgia Chantzi noted that all the Black Sea countries have strong potential for agriculture, which creates a solid basis for developing and enhancing bilateral and multilateral cooperation both within the Black Sea region and inter-regionally with the EU. She further stressed that it had become evident from the presentations that in today’s world, agriculture should be addressed along with other important fields, such as energy efficiency, water resources, food security, climate change, and society. Furthermore, scientific research in agriculture should be enhanced with entrepreneurship support, which puts the issue of commercialization of R&D results very high on the agenda. Another issue that was broadly addressed by the speakers is that the introduction of new technologies in agriculture is inseparable from the modernization of social, economic, and political systems in general, which, in particular, calls for improving the legislation and regulatory framework. Finally, new promising multidisciplinary areas for cooperation are emerging, such as agroforestry and urban agriculture. 

The outcomes of the workshop will be further analysed by the BSH research team and will serve as a basis for identifying thematic suggestions for pertinent research topics in the field of sustainable agriculture, including: 

  • Research topics for further take-up in Horizon 2020;
  • Research topics for further take-up in other multilateral calls for proposals targeting the region, including the BSH Joint Call for Proposals under WP2;
  • Research topics for further take-up in other bilateral calls for proposals targeting the region;
  • Research topics for tackling societal needs. 

Please find below presentations attached. In case of any questions please contact Elena Nasybulina

Scientific field: Agricultural Sciences | Related Topics: BLACK SEA HORIZON | Geographical focus: Black Sea Region, Russia

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