Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

H2020

SERBIA FOR EXCELL Report Summary

Project ID: 691998
Funded under: H2020-EU.4.b.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SERBIA FOR EXCELL (SERBian- Austrian-Italian (SAI)partnership FORcing EXCELLence in ecosystem research)

Reporting period: 2016-01-01 to 2017-03-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Managing the complex impacts of climate change on ecosystems and the related adaptation/mitigation options is a formidable global challenge in view of chronic global undernourishment (faced by 805 million individuals worldwide, 2012-2014 (FAO, 2014)) and food security, poverty, and different socioeconomic and weather-related risks in numerous countries. In the coming decades, the worldwide research community, particularly in agrometeorology, ecophysiology and related fields, will be an indispensable component of the necessary solutions to these challenges. The general objective of this project is to strengthen the research excellence and capacity of a representative Serbian institution specifically focused on ecosystem and environmental research (PFNS) in cooperation with well-established and internationally recognised institutions in this field from western European countries (BOKU-Austria and UNIFI-Italy), with the ultimate aim of building mutually beneficial and sustainable networks between all the partners and beyond – "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" (Chinese proverb). The need for better cooperation is a driving force and motivation for researchers from PFNS to upgrade the current state of scientific interaction and to establish a network of PFNS researchers (AgMnet+) from different research fields as well as researchers and experts from other institutions, including students who can introduce new perspectives, needs and problems.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

Based on elaborated and summarised strengths, identified weaknesses, discovered possibilities and noticed and predicted treats, the following networking gaps and deficiencies at PFNS were addressed: deficiencies in up-to-date applied methods and techniques in experimental and modelling tools; the low level of S&T capacity and a lack of young researchers and PhD students at PFNS interested in agrometeorology and ecosystem research. The BOKU, UNIFI and PFNS partners agreed on most effective methodology to overcome these gaps and deficiencies, which can be summarised by the following project objectives and work carried out towards their achievement.
Objective 1: People - Establishment and growth of the open AgMnet+ research group
The core group of the AgMnet+ network (PFNS, BOKU and UNIFI researchers) was extended by introducing 7 new researchers and PhD students from PFNS, four from the UNIFI group and three from BOKU. The PFNS members initiated collaboration with Prof. A. Manschadi (Division for Agronomy, BOKU) in the field of ecophysiological research. The visibility of this research group was increased by strengthening existing and establishing new research communication with project partners, including Prof. T. Weidinger (Eötvös Loránd University, Department of Meteorology, Budapest, Hungary), Prof. L. Saylan (Istanbul Technical University, Department of Meteorology, Istanbul, Turkey), and Prof. B. Wu (Division of Digital Agriculture, Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China).
Objective 2: Knowledge and Skills - Identification of topics and tools important to harmonise and upgrade AgMnet+ members’ knowledge and skill. During the expert trainings related to agrometeorological measurements (1 BOKU) and crop modelling (2 UNIFI), teachers of the Meteorology and Crop physiology courses improved their knowledge related to micrometeorological measurements, data assimilation and analysis techniques, as well as modelling of physiological processes. As a result, new teaching materials for meteorology, crop modelling, plant physiology, ecotoxicology and agroecosystem protection courses were introduced. Short term scientific visits (STSVs), accompanied by guest lectures (GLs), initiated a new scientific collaboration (PFNS/Plant physiology group - UNIFI) and widened the existing one (PFNS-Meteorology group - BOKU). During GLs by UNIFI (A. Dalla Marta) and BOKU (J. Eitzinger) teachers, students expressed high interest for the presented topics. As a result, (a) five papers were prepared and/or submitted for publication in top scientific journals (PFNS, PFNS-BOKU) and (b) four joint conference proceedings have been submitted for international conferences, of which one has been printed as scientific publication (2 PFNS-UNIFI, 2 PFNS-BOKU). Additionally, two joint project proposals (PFNS-BOKU) (one accepted -COMBIRISK), one PFNS crew proposal on the national level and two proposals for joint COST actions (UNIFI and PFNS coordinators) were submitted.
After the initial limited success of the first joint small study student group with undergraduate and master’s students, a new and successful attempt included 7 PhD students from PFNS, UNIFI and BOKU (spring semester of 2016/2017). Meanwhile, one PFNS PhD student (M. Danicic, Plant physiology group) spent one month at BOKU (Prof. Manschadi).
Objective 3: Ideas - Introduction of a "problem solver" approach
The “AgMnet+ International Summer school in agrometeorology and crop modelling 2016” included 38 participants from 14 countries, who attended specialised training courses in agrometeorological measurements, numerical weather prediction and crop modelling. It was challenging to encourage young people to think creatively, identify problems and look for solutions. To put creative thinking issue “on the table”, in the 2017 summer school session, we introduced a roundtable with PhD students and researchers from 12 countries. This will initiate discussion and activities on how to strengthen scientific education and training, as well as problem-oriented and creative thinking. During the winter semester of 2017/2018, we plan to hold sessions with PhD students on this topic. These should also give momentum to our “problem solver” challenge and introduce more young people to research. The joint student book that includes teaching and training materials related to agrometeorology/agroclimatology is progressing well, and more than 50% of the English language draft is completed. In the long term, this product will harmonise knowledge among PFNS, BOKU and UNIFI students and provide important social effects.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The socioeconomic situation in Serbia, which resulted from attempts to translate "a tenuous economic recovery into jobs and poverty reduction in a tight fiscal environment" (World Bank, 2014), is not strong. Because of limited job and carrier opportunities in the more highly qualified and research-intensive sectors in Serbia, a “brain-drain” effect is hindering the sustainable development of the country as a whole. The expected results and planned activities that will ensure the continuity of work beyond the end of the project are as follows: (a) a network of internationally embedded researchers with improved S&T capacities who are able to prepare and manage international projects; (b) improved curricula for the selected courses; (c) a joint teaching product and research publications; (d) a regularly updated web page that remains live once the network is established; (e) active participation in international study programmes (i.e., Danube AgriFood Master). It is expected that beyond the end of the project, the established AgMnet+ programme will remain functional as a research network since it is an excellent framework for future collaboration in the environmental sciences, with a focus on agriculture, ecosystem research and agrometeorology.

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