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AGroFOod clusters platform with common long-term Research and Innovation Strategy towards Economic growth and prosperity

Final Report Summary - AGFORISE (AGroFOod clusters platform with common long-term Research and Innovation Strategy towards Economic growth and prosperity)

Executive Summary:
The international competitiveness of modern economies is increasingly linked to their ability to generate, adapt and use new knowledge. Therefore, investing in and conducting research, technological development and innovation (R&D&I) activities are considered to be among the key factors contributing for further economic development, thus for achieving a more competitive position and a globally leading role. Depending the management and orientation of clusters to its unique research environment is expected to bring further development of RTD and economic activities and thus further economic development, prosperity and assertive competitiveness.
The overall objective of AGFORISE Project is to create a common dialogue platform and a joint action plan among the Agro-food clusters that will maximise capacity for research and benefit from research infrastructure through complementariness and synergy, so as to contribute for sustainable development, prosperity, economic growth and global competitiveness of the regions. In this content the specific objectives are:
• Strengthening a sustainable dialogue between the participant Agro-food clusters,
• Creating an R&D&I Strategy Dialogue & Cooperation,
• Enhancing Trade & Investment opportunities in Agro-food sector,
• Maintaining sustainability of cross-collaboration between the participant regions,
• Stimulating utilization from national/EU R&D funds.

AGFORISE project brings together three regions (Mersin, Emilia-Romagna and Murcia) where Agro-food area plays an important role in regional economies and has potential to stimulate regional economic growth and global competitiveness. With willingness for developing sustainable and strong regional economies, regional/local authorities in these three regions have been working on thickening the institutional infrastructure in order to increase the R&D&I capabilities of the research and business organisations. The consortium has been formed by 13 partners from 3 different regions (Mersin, Emilia-Romagna, Murcia) each of which will bring added value from a different perspective but with complementary properties, related with their expertise areas.

Project Context and Objectives:
AGFORISE Project aimed at creating a common dialogue platform and a joint action plan among the Agro-food clusters that will maximise capacity for research and benefit from research infrastructure through complementariness and synergy, and by this way contributing for sustainable development, prosperity, economic growth and global competitiveness of there regions (Mersin, Emilia-Romagna and Murcia).

In this content the specific objectives that were met during 36 month period had been:
• enhancing deeper understanding of strengths and weaknesses as well as opportunities and threats of the regions by means of Agro-food area through assessment studies;
• developing a dynamic communication platform among the clusters to support mutual learning by understanding the common points and differences for sustainable relationships;
• definition of a strategic framework of long-term pathway for cluster managing and support through establishing a Joint Action Plan (JAP) and a related monitoring system for sustainable collaboration between the regional key actors,
• increasing the collaboration among the regional key actors (including the local/regional authorities, research and industry entities as well as other support organisations) within and between the participating clusters to promote joint use of research and development facilities, scientific infrastructure and human resources;
• improvement of awareness on available research infrastructures and support programmes as well as on the ways and benefits of collaboration in RTD related activities; thus encouraging and promoting research activities, and then taking them to investors and collaborators to further advance new discoveries as a key to regional economic progress;
• mobilisation of financial possibilities afforded by national/regional authorities and the private sector through integral use EU level funding (FPs, CIP, Structural Funds, IPA etc.) for the benefit of RTD strategies and relevant activities.

AGFORISE project focused on three regions, Mersin in Turkey, Emilia-Romagna in Italy and Murcia in Spain, where Agro-food area has a curial role in regional economies and competitiveness.

AGFORISE Project partners followed a work plan composed by the following five work packages:
• WP1: Management
• WP2: Analysis of Agro-food Sectors in Participant Regions
• WP3: Creation of a Common Agro-food Dialogue Platform
• WP4: Enhancing Cross Collaboration among Research and Commercial Communities
• WP5: Dissemination and exploitation activities

Following the work plan, 14 partners of AGFORISE Project had realized the following activities:

Firstly, the activities within the scope of the AGFORISE Project focused on analysis of Agro-food sector in participant regions covering Agro-food R&D&I potential from both research community, industry and market points of view, in order to maximise the benefit from the research opportunities for regional economic development.

Secondly, the Project dwelled upon development of a common dialogue platform between the participant regions for sharing information and experience that result in a Joint Action Plan (JAP), which would contribute to strengthen the regions’ capacity for investing in and conducting research and technological development activities that could enhance significantly to economic development.

Thirdly, the Project concentrated on encouraging the production of knowledge and research excellence by enabling research institutions and firms to collaborate for innovative results. The AGFORISE Project covered activities in favour of improving links between regional authorities, research entities and the local business community, fostering trans-national, cross-border and inter-regional co-operations between regional partners (research entities, business entities, local and regional authorities) for mutual learning of regional actors to increase regional economic competitiveness through research and technological development activities.

During these studies, the dissemination and management activities were continuously carried out for the implementation of the project at the same time with other activities.

Project Results:
AGFORISE Project had achieved significant results for Mersin, Emilia-Romagna and Murcia Regions and also for Europe.

Dialogues between other food clusters in each region strengthened: As a result of the work carried out for further enlargement of the Common Agro-food Dialogue Platform, AGFORISE project participated and contributed to the studies of the Food Cluster Initiative and even supported part of this Initiative’s activities. Whilst the relations were strengthened with other regions within partners’ countries and new collaboration opportunities built both in research and trade sides; new regions were cooperated in other countries. New projects, platforms and mutual collaborations developed. Also a book of AGFORISE Project has been prepared and published where the SWOT/SOR results and Joint Action Plan (JAP) and the project results are described. Moreover, a close relationship has been created with the Agro-food Cluster of the Region of Murcia. Dialogues have also been created with other regions of Spain. Regarding dialogue with other food clusters beyond regional borders, the benchmarking study of the French food cluster “Valorial” has allowed Murcia partners to establish a first contact with the cluster managers. There are no other food clusters in Emilia-Romagna, but thanks to the project contacts have been reinforced with subjects included in Emilia-Romagna food cluster, namely Centuria (also visited by Turkish partners) and SITEIA, the most important agro food laboratory in the region. Other clusters are CRPV (Vegetal Production Research Center) with cooperation agreements.

A dialogue with Mersin RIS Agro-Food Platform established where its president is also one of the partners in the project. Moreover, a dialogue between the AGFORISE project community and MEKIK Agriculture Platform has been established. New more specified food clusters like “fresh fruit and vegetables exporters cluster” is being developed in Mersin region. This cluster and Mersin Agro-food Platform (cluster) worked together on developing an interactive promotional CD for Mersin’s fresh fruit and vegetables promotion and this cluster is also in collaboration with Logistics Cluster in Mersin. Mersin Food and Agriculture platform has been established with attendance of related public establishments, civilian social establishments and private sector for researches, project developments, implementing new models in agriculture-food field and food safety. During this assembly some physical formings were supported such as agro-food technopark, specialized organised agricultural zone where the sectoral firms can exist, firms and researchers can be instructed about R&D funds and activities they can get profit from and they were given capability for vision development and innovative way of thinking. In these assemblies the implementing of projects in common were tried.
After creating a close relationship with the Agro-food Clusters in each region, more visits have been organised not only in 3 regions but also in other countries having research potentials. The consortium partners had the opportunity to meet other Agro-food researchers in Food Cluster Initiative Meeting in Ghent which was held on December 8-10, 2010, Researchers and industrialists from Murcia visited Mersin Agro-Technopark and Agro-Food Platform, 20 technicians and 13 companies from Mersin visited Food Clusters in Murcia and Alicante organised by MTSO, CTC participated in WIRE 2011 in Hungary in June 2011, for improving cooperation and collaborative projects, CTC’s President Jose Garcia Gomez and CTC’s General Secretary Luis Dussac Moreno, visited the Region of Mersin (Turkey) the 12th of November of 2010, Ms. Duygu Yurdakul from the University of Ankara was invited for an internship at the Food Safety Department of the National Technological Centre for the Food and Canning Industry CTC during the period from 18th of August until the 27th of September 2010. Grupo TASO was contacted at the end of July 2010 by Brian Webber, Chief Technical Advisor for the UNDP's industrial restructuring project for the Turkish province of Şanliurfa, Turkey.

Moreover, visits and connections with other food clusters were made: Bioagrofood Cluster of Greece, Fruits &Vegetable Cluster in South-Eastern France, Watertech Cluster in Western Greece, Valorial Food Cluster in france, Centura Rit in Italy, Peil in France, Food Valley in Wageningen, Galilee Region Food Cluster, Almeira Greenhouse and Huelva Berry Cluster.

Common Agro-food Platform Established: AGFORISE project’s central focus was on the creation of a Common Agro-food Platform between the participant regions considering the regional strategic objectives identified through Strategic Orientation Rounds in the three regions. An important result consists in a permanent network among the three actors of the knowledge economy: institutions, research bodies and enterprises. This common dialogue platform between the participant regions contributes to sustainable development, prosperity, economic growth and global competitiveness of the regions. AGFORISE has promoted fruitful visits and exchange of researchers that for sure in a near future will be materialised in collaborative projects and other international activities.

Regional and Joint Action Plans Developed: The AGFORISE Joint Action Plan (JAP) expresses the strategy of the partner regions in developing a common dialogue platform for sharing information and experience in order to stimulate collaborative actions by facilitating and promoting sustainable joint strategies. The operative objectives and the tasks have been elaborated and finalized on the basis of discussions that involved the partnership as a whole, taking the opportunities offered by the periodic meetings and by partner’s interactions on a shared document. The final result of the Joint Action Plan, composed by three Local Action Plans (one in each region) and an International Action Plan, is an elaborate that contains six common strategic objectives for R&D policy in favour of the agro-food sector in the three regions. Important results have also emerged from the activities devoted to the JAP preparation and from the JAP itself. Strategies have been outlined about sharing EU opportunities (reinforcement of relationships between companies and academia as suitable key for economic growth), business mission (cultural gaps need to be overcome in the science-industry-cooperation), smart use of events, fairs, conferences as tools of global communication, opportunity for direct contact with the public, with enterprises and researchers), communication, focus groups, opening of laboratories (facilitation of mutual knowledge between researchers and businesses in order to improve the possibility of collaboration and cooperation around specific fields of expertise) , training, and importance of technology-transfer organization and applied research infrastructures for innovation policies. Emerging needs of research and skill inventories, brand valorisation, functional food studies, processes in sustainable food production, bio-energies, plant stresses are also important results to be considered in further proposals and research addresses.

Awareness Created in Regional Stakeholders: AGFORISE Project had succeeded in creating a better awareness, within the regional systems, (Regional government, agencies and research centre, entrepreneurial associations), about risks and opportunities for the agricultural and food sectors. Moreover, a better knowledge of the potentialities for cooperation among research centres and enterprises in the partner regions of the project was developed. Policy makers of the Regional Governments, relevant for the agro-food sector, became aware of potentialities and opportunities for more cooperation among partner regions of the project.

6 Agro-food companies in Murcia participated in the SWOT-SOR analysis and other 6 of them involved in dissemination activities with A direct link with AGFORISE webpage ( was inserted in CTC website ( which is used by more than 500 Agro-food companies. Industrial operators are increasingly getting aware of internationalization opportunities, especially regarding business opportunities with Mersin companies and technology transfer opportunities with operators from the Emilia-Romagna region.

Improved relationships with industrial components in the region have been reached in Emilia-Romagna. 1700 people participated in 35 events in the R2B Research to Business Industry Innovation Forum organised by ASTER and all AGFORISE partners participated to create business and research relationships. Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Mersin and Mersin RIS Agro-Food Platform actively informed the companies as the project’s first outcomes. The industrialists started asking for meetings with the new researchers and wondering their research topics.

More than 500 researchers mobilized: In the first period of the project, 75 researchers mobilized. 13 researchers mobilised in Spain and more that 1000 Agro-food companies and institutions all over Spain participated in several activities of the project. 27 researchers mobilised in Emilia-Romagna. 35 researchers mobilised in Turkey and 500 participants in the conferences and project activities.

Besides the increased awareness of the stakeholders in the participant regions the collaborations were done under the new project ideas initiated by the 3 infodays organized in 3 Regions; Mersin, Murcia and Emilia-Romagna; with the participation of about 200 people, about 40 joint project applications, by the participation of 160 companies and universities in the Brokerage Event in Murcia gathered in the meetings, introducing almost 300 technological profiles with about 600 bilateral meetings where 75 meetings for Mersin, 45 meetings for Emilia Romagna and 125 for Murcia and as a result, more than 30 proposals discussed for the funding opportunity and 2 new FP7 projects were prepared with partners and were submitted to the European Commission. 140 people from Turkey, Italy and Spain participated in the final conference in Mersin on January 16, 2012.

New projects developed in cooperation and applications made: In the second half of the project a call for proposals was launched and a Brokerage Event was held in Murcia considering the European call launched in July 2010 and info days were organised as an opportunity to develop collaborative activities among researchers and companies of the regions. By AGFORISE project call and Brokerage Event, first collaborations were triggered among the regions. Over 30 project RD drafts prepared. 2 new FP7 projects applied with partners and project partners also participated in other FP7 projects separately.

Trade and investment opportunities created and exploited: Efforts have been focused on the building of common knowledge in 3 regions. Complementarities and common challenges were defined, which allowed the elaboration of the Joint Action Plan, the framework for future collaborations. The planned Brokerage Event had been a crucial step to trigger them. Regions made study visits to each other. The 3 SME partners of 3 regions in the project are interested in possible collaboration with different suppliers or cooperatives of fruits and vegetables where technical visits have already been done. Delegates from Spain and Turkey participating in the Bologna meeting, organized in connection with Research to Business (R2B) fair, had one-to-one meetings with researchers and newly based companies (spin offs). TAGEM (Ministry of Agriculture General Directorates of Research) visited Murcia Region. Continuous raising awareness and active participations on innovative Agro-food technologies started in entrepreneurs in that sector.

Potential Impact:
Murcia Region: Researchers in Murcia region had a chance to collaborate with other excellent research centers and companies from all over Europe, to be a member of the Food Cluster Initiative, etc. where close relationships with regions like Mersin, producing almost the same game of agricultural products, and Emilia-Romagna with a world prestige in Agro-food products. Murcia region companies took the advantage of the opportunity to announce themselves to different institutions of the region of Mersin and Turkey. The project had a deep impact in the Agro-food research policies in Murcia. Part of the work done has been incorporated to the Regional Agro-food Plan. The conclusions of the SWOT and SOR analysis were taken into consideration during the definition of Agro-food research priorities and policies. As for the Murcia region and its food industry, the AGFORISE project offered a highly favourable framework for the development of cooperation with the regions. In addition, as the project is tackling cluster development issues, it may be a decisive impulse for further developments in the support and management of Murcia’s food cluster. Regarding the individual case of TASO, the AGFORISE project makes up a pending case of inter-cluster cooperation, a field of investigation of the consultancy firm, while it has also opened reflections about individual cluster development, through the concrete experiences and challenges of the 3 regions. AGFORISE project adds up to an increasing international experience of the Spanish partners, improving each organisation’s visibility and network.

The visits made from important organisations from Mersin Region to Murcia increased the cooperation between 2 regions. The president of the Food Industry Association of the South East of Spain also visited Mersin. With these high level contacts some fruits will be harvested very soon. The main project results are the relationships and knowledge that companies, research centres and government organisations from the Region of Murcia (Spain) have got with similar institutions from the regions of Mersin (Turkey) and Emilia Romagna (Italy). Without this project it should have been almost impossible to reach this fluency and communications among these three regions. AGFORISE has promoted fruitful visits and exchange of researchers that for sure in a near future will be materialised in collaborative projects and other international activities.

According to the high participation in the Brokerage Event, the seven topics selected in the Call for Proposals are of interest for the three participant regions. More than 30 proposals found in AGFORISE BE a place to show their objectives, activities, partners, etc. Some projects like –LOSS+SECURITY and NATURWASTE are well defined with an already made pre consortium. So it is proved that AGFORISE caught the attention of many companies and research centres. This mutual interest if it is backed with official support will give results to exploitation in a near future.

Emilia-Romagna Region: Italian partners in the project maintained close relationships with the European Food Cluster also after the FINE project. New collaboration made with Murcia and Mersin, lessons learnt by the international benchmarking had an important impact in the Emilia-Romagna region companies, awareness created about positive and critical elements effects the partners’ role in the regional policy thanks to SOR and SWOT analysis. The comparison of innovation policy within the partnership had an important impact for the region. Possibility created to improve cross collaboration among the local authorities and among the companies of the 3 regions. A good impact coming from AGFORISE is the development of a new idea of collaboration to cooperate outside specific research tasks. New opportunities of dialogue between the daily activities and the external solicitations have been caught mainly by increasing contacts and relationships. This same impact has been received also by several individuals and SMEs in the region, who have made their way to understand the opportunities to enhance two-ways dialogue with other regional partners.

Main potential impact consists in the possibility of collaborative actions in order to define innovation processes in food sector, to create a dialogue between the participant Agro-food clusters and to create a cross-collaboration between the participant regions. The Local Action Plans and the International Action Plan are powerful tools ready to be implemented in the three regions, that take into consideration both the local needs and economic situation and consortium best practices for each specific components. Then they can be considered as a set of available solutions for local growth based on innovation and technology transfer. Impacts have been envisaged in many parts of the AGFORISE activities. Many of the indications coming form JAP have in fact important relevance to address studies and research towards objectives that are relevant in science and, at the same time, highly important for their possible feedbacks in the empowerment of regional production processes.

Wide impacts can be found when addressing to requirements and aspects contained into Horizon 2020. Sustainable growth - for a resource efficient, greener and more competitive economy- is in fact one of the main priorities. Challenges on sustainable agriculture and resource efficiency are clearly stated within the “Better Society” address (Efficient use of resources for the protection of our planet). Stricter and more technological-driven addresses in research, that foresee triple-helix partnerships, are strongly linked to the objectives to move from the laboratories to the production and commerce as in “Competitive Industry” Horizon 2020 target: supporting innovation and in “Excellent Science” Horizon 2020 target: development of future and merging technologies. Another potential impact is especially with the Turkish Agro-food companies and researchers where trade connections with horticultural and fruit growers and traders are still in evaluation, where interestingly Turkish products are picked in advance in front of Italian fruits and legumes.

In order to have a successful exploitation, AGFORISE project findings and outputs have been included in the “Emilia-Romagna for Europe” initiative, organised by regional authority for public communication and promotion of European funds (FESR and FSE) and “Europe Direct” services. JAP is the basis for programming new initiatives aimed to cooperate with the regional partners of the project. Therefore, a particular attention has been addressed to inform and involve the whole regional system of research and innovation of the sector (both private and public). ASTER involved different type of institutions, through regional and national channels and connections (with experts, association and others), like Emilia-Romagna Region Communication Office, APRE (the National Agency for European Research), several regional exhibition centres, entrepreneurial associations and regional universities. All the opportunities offered by AGFORISE have been circulated within the High Technology Network, the Regional Network established in Emilia Romagna by the regional law for Innovation, and shared with all the nodes and components of the network. Digital content produced during AGFORISE period – such as presentations and reports – have been transferred to the relevant stakeholders of Emilia Romagna region to follow up the results of the project.

Results from 36 months of activities are largely suitable for exploitation. First attempts in doing this have been done during the brokerage event, where the better research proposal have been selected and solicited to find adequate partnership. As exploited results, projects have been prepared:
• The Role of Mediterranean Diet in nutrition and well-being-, Fork to farm Topic 4: Fork to farm: Food (including seafood), health and well being: Area 2.2.1 Consumers: Development and application of new tools to implement food-related policies in Europe,
• Water stressed crop strategies Fork to farm Topic 7 Fork to farm:: Integrated approach to studying effects of combined biotic and abiotic stress in crop plants
• Innovative design and manufacturing: paradigm for high efficiency, high flexibility, cost competitive food packaging machinery. Fork to farm Topic 1: Food processing: Automation in food packaging systems.
• Developing innovative post-harvest strategy for less losses and more safety fruits Fork to farmTopic 6: Reducing post-harvest losses for increased food security
• Mediterranean roof city gardens, Fork to farm. Topic 5: Socio-Economic research and support to policies: Short chain delivery of food for urban-peri-urban areas.
• Integration of “omics” approach for improvement of resistance to combined biotic and abiotic stress in Triticeae crops. Fork to farm. Contribution Topic 7: Integrated approach to studying effects of combined biotic and abiotic stress in crop plants Fork to farm.

Further exploitation have been done in partnerships for LdV project on training. Exploitation will regard all the aspect emerged during the projects, mainly keeping into account the results emerged during JAP and benchmark activities, according to the project outcomes.

Mersin Region: As the 2nd EU-FP Project in the region, AGFORISE had an effective impact on the stakeholders on how to work with the EC, collaboration with European organisations, understanding of innovation and research concepts and how to design regional policy. Moreover, good relationships developed with European Agro-food Cluster Representatives including Food Cluster Initiative. Commercial and research based collaborations started with the 3 regions in political, technical and commercial levels with the exchange visits. The SWOT/SOR analysis results showed the Agro-food sector its potential and how to improve its weaknesses. New clustering examples and models gave a clue on the clustering model which is convenient for Mersin region. The spin off collaboration between researchers and companies started. Food Cluster and Murcia and Emilia-Romagna region collaborations had a very valuable impact on the commencing of the establishment of the Agro-food Technopark in which innovative agriculture systems. Among the expanding activities of Agricultural food dialogue platform assembly till the end of January 2012; sharing information and experience for EU clustering has been realized. Also clustering in Mersin has been accelerated and the first fresh fruit and vegetable exporters cluster has been established. Within AGFORISE researcher firms pairing activities; the project in common from Italy, Spain and Turkey increased knowledge on FP7 projects. The marketing pairing activities increased the dynamics of making collaborations between researchers and traders.

The recognition of Mersin and its researchers and companies increased in Europe. Now there is more commercial interest to Mersin institutions and their products. The number of collaborative research projects has remarkably increased. This will shorten the time to market of R&D results. By the increased awareness of the project and its results, the expectations of the Agro-food sector also changed in the direction of making collaborations on innovative projects with different organisations and countries. As a result of the project, the collaborations started with ALATA and some known universities and some producer unions representing producers. The number of project submissions to FP7 in Mersion region has increased as a result of AGFORISE Project including REGPOT project submission for ALATA. Peparation of the Joint Action Plan will have an important impact not only in the region but also nation wise where new Agro-food policies were proposed to the ministry and with the localised AGFORISE results book, the awareness of the public organisations and policy makers is increasing.

The most important impact is that the stakeholders in Agro-food industry in Mersin region learned to collaborate with European researchers and traders and develop projects together. The contribution of Mersin region will continue and will have a valuable impact in European Agro-food industry economically. For Economical development in agro-food sector which is the main purpose of the project and increasing the competitiveness the R&D and innovation strategy has been completed for Mersin, Emilia Romagna and Murcia and the cooperation between firms were supported. The administrative work was done for the cooperation between researchers and companies. The availability of researchers and business partners dedication social meeting was provided through the Agri-food platform. Thus one of the outputs of the project which is developing R&D activities using investigative potential collaborations between companies and research institutions into the economy has been completed. Thus the purpose that served to be clustered for establishing international cooperation networks in Europe and the development of Agro-Food sector has been accomplished.

TARGID Ltd. Co. has been leading the Agro-Food platform in Mersin, trying to implement relation and exchange of ideas and works between producers and academicians, R&D personnel. During the period of the AGFORISE project TARGID has established a “Fresh Fruit Exporters Cluster”. TARGID has been conveying our experiences to the members of the cluster on “How to be competitive” in the worldwide markets. TARGID has just established the 2nd clusters with the growers of ornamental plants and flowers, visiting with them 4 international exhibitions. Another study is still continuing to establish the 3rd cluster with olive growers and olive oil producers, also trying to teach them how to be competitive in the world harsh olive oil market, where Turkey is an important producer but not an important exporter.

Partners also applied a new Regions of Knowledge project, which is based on evaluation of pomace which is discarded without any income. TARGID intends to evaluate this pomace by extracting valuable component, and thus reducing the amount of wastes and the negative impact to the environment. AGFORISE project had been successful in paving the way for developing new projects in Mersin due to the restructured R&D and project development plans of crucial research institutions such as the project partner ALATA.