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CENTER OF EXCELLENCE FOR RESEARCH AND KNOWLEDGE-TRANSFER IN PLANT PROTECTION

Final Report Summary - PLANTPROCENTRE (Center of Excellence for research and knowledge-transfer in plant protection)

PLANTPROCENTRE was a Specific Support Action (SSA) project, funded by the Sixth Framework Programme of the European Union in the area of 'Food Quality and Safety' and executed by Plant Protection Institute (PPI) in Bulgaria during the period 2005 – 2008.

At the start of the project in 2005, Bulgaria was still an associated member of the EU and was facing numerous pre-accession challenges in order to meet the standards of the Community. One such challenge was to ensure the production of safe food of high quality by establishing a firm scientific foundation to plant health in the country. In order to achieve this, two necessities of immediate concern were recognised:
1) To build an effective and flexible expert system for diagnosis and identification of pests on agricultural crops through adoption and development of simple and fast technologies in close interaction with EU experts.
2) To develop methods for biological control, sensitive to regional peculiarities and to promote organic agriculture.

With a 70-year old tradition and scientific staff with various background and expertise, PPI is leading in the field of plant protection in Bulgaria. Its main research areas cover bionomy of pests, diseases, weeds and bioagent (PDWB) and integrated pest management (IPM) of agricultural crops. The main aim of PLANTPROCENTRE was to establish PPI as a centre of excellence for research and knowledge-transfer in the field of plant protection on the Balkans and thus to facilitate the provision of the necessities listed above. In order to ensure the continuity of the related activities beyond the end of the project and remain in close interaction with the European Research Area (ERA), PLANTPROCENTRE also aimed to promote further participation in the Framework Programmes of the EU.

For the process of establishment of PPI as a Centre of Excellence, three main priorities for improvement were outlined – human potential, material resources and knowledge transfer.

In order to receive adequate training ensuring the most efficient use of time and funds, consultancies were received from 21 distinguished scientists from Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. In total, 23 programmes for qualification courses in diagnostics and identification, pest control methods and detection of pesticide residues and mycotoxins were developed by 22 EU scientists after consultation and were attended by 16 PPI specialists. The training also resulted in the establishment of collaborative links with leading research institutions in Europe thus creating the potential for developing joint research projects in the future.

Another main priority of PLANTPROCENTRE was to reinforce material resources. The upgrade and renewal of scientific equipment was considered an essential step towards the application of modern diagnostic methods and to the accomplishment of research activities meeting European standards. One of the aims to upgrade the existing laboratories of phytopatology, entomology, nematology and virology and provide a modern working environment for development and application of new methods and techniques. For the upgrade, 16 items of essential equipment were purchased and installed and consumables were supplied for their use.

The third main priority of the project was the reinforcement of knowledge transfer. Various activities were undertaken to ensure continuous transfer of information, experience and skills to and from other institutions working in the field of plant protection. One of them was to implement short study visits at the leading institutions and to discuss the opportunities for joint research, as well as to share experience in the area of elaboration of project proposals. Nine study visits were carried out by six PPI representatives.

Another activitiy aiming at knowledge transfer was participation in workshops, national and international scientific conferences in order to present their results to the scientific community and exchange knowledge and ideas for future research. For the duration of the project, 14 PPI scientists attended 14 national and international meetings and scientific events focused on various aspects of plant protection, presenting 24 oral presentations and posters which resulted in the publication of 11 abstracts and 13 papers.

The results of PLANTPROCENTRE were disseminated through:
- 148 scientific papers published in international and national refereed journals and conference proceedings;
- presentations of results, methods and experience of scientists attending training programs in the EU;
- at conferences, at meetings of the scientific committee at PPI and by press releases;
- the web site of PPI – http://www.ppi-bg.org;
- publications in the press - European Parliament Magazine, Plant Protection Journal / Bulgaria/, newspaper "Stopanin", Plant Science Journal;
- two books with proceedings of the Annual Balkan Week of Plant Health;
- Balkan Meeting (workshop) on Thysanoptera;
- leaflets and brochures presenting the new laboratory complex handed out at events.

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