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Setting up of an agricultural and food research network in the Western Balkan Countries

Final Report Summary - BAFN (Setting up of an agricultural and food research network in the Western Balkan Countries)

In the EU, very little is known about current developments in the Western Balkan. For example, very few citizens from the EU know that the Macedonia FYR officially applied for EU membership in March 2004. In order to enlarge the ERA to the region, there is an urgent need to increase the knowledge of EU researchers on the Western Balkan Countries. The project attempts to answer this need by providing and disseminating general information as well as specific data on the agricultural research landscape and actors from the WBC to the research community from the EU.

Since the beginning of the project in May 2006 the thirteen organisations involved in the BAFN projects have implemented a number of activities in order to improve cooperation between agri-food scientists from the EU and from the Western Balkan Countries. A directory with 335 research groups and 480 companies from the agricultural and food sector has been set up. More than 180 research groups participated to a survey on the situation of agricultural and food research in the Western Balkan countries. Four meetings with experts from Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia and FYROM have been organised to identify future priorities for agri-food research in the region. Several consultations of stakeholders have also been organised.

A major objective of BAFN project was to identify research topics suitable for cooperation between scientists from the EU and from the Western Balkan Countries (WBC). Another objective was to propose support mechanisms that could help the agri-food research community from the WBC. The final results have been discussed with representatives from the European Commission in Paris in March 2008.

The study reveals that the future of the agri-food research community in the Western Balkan countries is jeopardised mainly because of the very low budget available for research. The research capacity is scattered into a large number of organisations (80 research organisations including 16 universities) but overall, the research community is small: it is estimated that there are 3 500 researchers involved in the sector. A key message for those in charged of programming research cooperation is that 'a small effort will have a big impact': the EU through the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) but also EU Member States through bilateral programmes more support to the agri-food research community from the WBC.

The final position paper indicates several mechanisms that could help agri-food research in the WBC: incentive for the purchase of research equipment and consumables, stimulation of researcher mobility and training, easier access to resources (scientific journals, electronic databases etc). Concerning the areas recommended for cooperation, there is a consensus for biodiversity with projects related to the conservation of genetic resources and indigenous species. Research on chemical contaminants, food allergens and toxins in food, animal husbandry and zoonoses as well as nutrition and dietetics have also been identified as interesting topics.