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The Government encourages the agri-food sector to “rearm” through R + D + i with new European funds

The State Research Agency (AIE) urges that the projects presented for the Next Generation be “ambitious” and the CEOE warns that the great challenge of the PERTE Agroalimentario will be “to execute it quickly and reach SMEs”

From left to right, Enrique Playán (director of the State Research Agency (AEI)), Antonio Leiva (executive secretary of Biovegen), Eva Bataller (Sakata Seed), Amparo Monfort (IRTA-CRAG), Carlos Baixauli (Cajamar), José Pellicer (president of Biovegen), Gonzaga Ruiz de Gaunas (director of Biovegen), Gonzalo Arana (CEOE), Ágatha Agudelo (Sakata Seed). / Biovegen

Valencia Fruits. Drafting.

The economic recovery after the pandemic stopped will also affect agricultural R & D & i. This was indicated by the director of the State Research Agency (AEI), Enrique Playán, in his speech during the Biotech Attraction Conference organized by Biovegen during the great fruit and vegetable fair held in Madrid last week. Playán advanced that the reinforcement in the endowment of the large programs already in progress managed by the IEA during this year and until 2023, plus the impact of the recovery funds “will represent a great opportunity to rearm the research groups.” And regarding the projects that are candidates for Next Generation funds, the director of the IEA demanded that they be “ambitious”. Not in vain, as Gonzalo Arana, head of European Projects of the CEOE, later indicated, the great challenge of these funds and the PERTE Agroalimentario that, with a budget of about 1,000 million euros, will come out in November, it will be “to be able to manage it quickly and that its resources also reach SMEs ”.

The Biovegen conference, which once again filled the Fruit Forum with almost 200 people, served to confirm, in the words of its director, Gonzaga Ruiz de Gauna, the “good prospects for disruptive technologies.” And among them he cited bioinformatics (which combines genetics with data generation); solutions against biotic (pests) and abiotic stress (soil conditions, climate); gene editing (for improved crops, varieties or patterns), as well as other trends in which the EU wants to be at the forefront, such as the circular economy, the fight against food waste (Food 2030 Program) or policies in favor of sustainability, biodiversity or against climate change (Farm to fork / Green Deal), as well as the opportunities opened up by the new European framework program for R & D & I Horizon Europe.

Biovegen, the plant biotechnology platform, has registered in 2021 the highest growth of members in its history and hopes to expand its base thanks to the contacts maintained during the fair

These technologies and policies are what have contributed to triggering interest in platforms such as Biovegen, dedicated to building bridges between the supply and demand of biotechnology and generating business opportunities through collaboration between scientific centers and companies. Only in this way can it be understood that, with three months to go to the end of this year, this platform has registered the largest annual increase in the number of member companies and centers in its history —22 revenues— to total 142 members. Figures that, given the success of the public and the results of Biotech Attraction – the new space created by Biovegen for fruit and vegetable innovation at Fruit Attraction – are expected to improve in the coming weeks.

Enrique Playán, director of the IEA, during his presentation. In the background, Gonzaga Ruiz de Gaunas (director of Biovegen) / Biovegen

Reinforcement and Next Generation

The director of the AEI —the public agency that, together with the CDTI, channels most of the aid and credits to R&D in Spain— reviewed the evolution of this organization and its prospects for the coming years. Thus, he highlighted how during 2021 the calls for subsidies are expected to skyrocket with respect to 2020 (from about 780 million euros to 1,550); calls that will allow, thanks to the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan, that investments in 2022 approach the record figure of almost 600 million euros (for 140 this year) and will be around 500 million in 2023. “Until 2023 We will have a great opportunity to improve research groups, associating more postdoctoral researchers, to access first-line equipment and to develop more projects, ”concluded Playán.

Along the same lines, the representative of the CEOE – the national employer’s association where Biovegen is also integrated – described to the audience how the different sectorial, national PERTE’s will be developed (with 40-45% of the funds); regional (55%) and municipal (5%) in which the Next Generation will be structured. “The PERTE’s are nothing more than an administrative umbrella from which the different subsidies will be lowered,” Arana clarified. Of the one corresponding to the agri-food sector – as reported – it is already known that they will attend to projects that affect the entire value chain and that cover three basic areas: competitiveness (automation, digitization, export); sustainability (energy saving, circular economy, water use) and traceability / food safety. “To streamline bureaucracy and ensure that these funds reach SMEs, we have asked for a one-stop shop. So far, without success, “said Arana.

Appearance of the Fruit Forum at one point during the Biovegen event, sponsored by Biorizon Biotech, with around 200 attendees. / Biovegen

Disruptive projects

And to exemplify the projection of new disruptive biotechnological techniques, Biovegen offered a real success story, that of Green Universe and an initiative of Sakata Seed Ibérica, a candidate for the Horizon Europe program. It was Ignacio Horche himself, CEO of the first company mentioned and one of the creators of Tradecorp (the world’s third largest producer of iron chelate), who presented the solutions that Green Universe offers for, through microorganisms that act consistently, improve plant nutrition, combat abiotic stress (environmental factors) and, thanks to all this, increase crop immunity. By certifying by third parties each of these bioactivators, bioprotectors and bioinductors, the company manages to increase the yield and profitability of the crops (in strawberry, for example, they improve it by 5,516 euros / ha).

Agatha Agudelo and Eva Bataller, both heads of Collaborative Projects of the biotechnology multinational Sakata Seed Ibérica, exposed the possibilities of exploitation of glucosinolates, which are known to be found in crucifers (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbages, cabbage, rape or turnip ). Thus, in line with the trend promoted from Europe to activate a circular and more sustainable economy, the two researchers defended reusing this compound for the phytosanitary industry —to take advantage of its properties known as bactericidal, fungicidal, nematicidal and insecticidal—; for the health and cosmetic industry —because they are known to activate protection against some cancers; for its anti-inflammatory and anti-osteoporosis properties, for its usefulness against obesity or to treat abnormalities in skin pigmentation — and for the agri-food industry itself —because it can act as a preservative and flavoring agent.

Carlos Baixauli, head of Agrosustainability at Cajamar, developed the Tierra project. With this initiative, which is already a reality and which even aroused the interest of the Minister of Agriculture himself, Luis Planas, the entity wants to tackle the challenge of digitizing the agri-food sector – another of the major processes promoted by Europe. The platform for professionals provides “digital services with which to improve access to information, as well as its treatment for correct decision-making,” he explained. As soon as the site can offer reports on markets (prices, production, stocks, exports …), sectoral analyzes, innovations in each phase of the chain such as training and specialization (events, webinars and courses) or ‘toolboxes’ (plans of irrigation and fertilization, integrated pest control …). Finally, Amparo Monfort, researcher at IRTA-CRAG, analyzed the evolution of agricultural biotechnology in recent decades, from spontaneous mutation, improvement of varieties by hybridization and crosses to current advances in genetics, with sequencing, bioinformatics, molecular marker-assisted improvement and gene editing or CRISPR-Cas9.

Sonia Gupta
Soniya Gupta, who joined the Technical University in October 2015, continues his education life at Technical University. As the passion for aviation increases day by day, it has a great interest in technology and gaming.


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