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Collaboration to develop a business plan for the Centre of Agriculture and Forestry

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SMARTAgriFor (Collaboration to develop a business plan for the Centre of Agriculture and Forestry)

Reporting period: 2015-06-01 to 2016-05-31

In the past decade, Portugal made significant investments to improve the country’s research performance. Between 2000 and 2008, the R&D intensity more than doubled, achieving 1.5% in 2008. However, from 2009 onwards, the trend is negative and in 2011, Portuguese R&D intensity had fallen back to 1.5% (representing 75% of the EU average). Reasons for this are the difficult national business environment and the contraction of domestic demand, placing enterprises in the position of having to find external markets while facing challenges in terms of efficiency (productivity and competitiveness) and financing.
In the agro-food sector, the R&D effort has shown a negative annual growth of -1.2% between 2003 and 2009. Furthermore, the evolution of the Gross Added Value of Portuguese agricultural products showed a decrease of 1,000 M€ between 2000 and 2011 (Figure 2), which reveals a need of specific interventions in the production and supply chains for increased productivity and efficiency in the use of intermediate factors in particular water and energy.
In the forest sector, despite Portugal being ranked first in Europe in Gross Value Added per forest ha in 2011, interventions in the production and supply chains are also needed to solve constraints such as fighting the climate changes, specific interventions to optimize the production chains including the use of biomass and multiple use of forestry products, the occurrence of fires (2.5 million ha burned between 1990 and 2010), fight devastating emerging pests and diseases, and the need of efficient use of resources and valorisation of forestry ecosystems services.

Creating the critical mass required for supporting innovative growth is addressed by SMARTAgriFor and the CoE in a number of ways including:
• Bringing together existing R&D&I capacities in Portugal;
• Strategically defining the scientific focus;
• Attracting human resources from abroad;
• Stimulating effective interaction between researchers and industrial stakeholders;
• Creating a long-term and sustainable scientific involvement from a high scientifically recognised partner.

Bringing together existing R&D&I capacities in Portugal
A core goal of SMARTAgriFor is to unite Portugal’s top performing research organizations in order to create critical mass and integrate this across disciplinary dimensions. This will support translational approaches and will help, for example, integrate laboratory-based studies of biosystems functions with corresponding ecophysiological field studies, and with the problem-driven perspective of the biotechnological industry. This coordinated approach will promote synergies and stimulate the transfer of knowledge between the four defined value chains. Furthermore, it is worth noting that most of the research activity in Portugal is developed by universities, where research staff is overloaded with classes. Contrary to this, the CoE will count with full time committed researchers.

Strategically defining the scientific focus
The scientific focus for the proposed CoE has been strategically defined for creating highly qualified and experienced critical mass around nuclear competencies and infrastructures. These are critical to address needs and challenges of economic impact that are relevant at the national and international level. It takes into consideration existing capacities and competencies in Portugal and abroad. It also builds on synergies between smart agriculture and forestry.

Attracting human resources from abroad
Critical mass will also be created by attracting top performing human resources, from Portugal and abroad. In order to achieve this, SMARTAgriFor will support the training of staff for their career progression and offer them opportunities to expand their network of contacts. This approach will be supported by WUR, who will be engaged in in joint training and mobility actions and active involvement in relevant international activities that promote R&D&I collaboration, as well as proactive regular communication of its results and opportunities for employment.

Stimulating effective interaction between researchers and industrial stakeholders
The creation of critical mass is also facilitated by the activities of the proposed CoE to interact with industry since they foster a focus on the creation and transfer of useful knowledge. For example, training and mobility of researchers to and from industry helps to build critical mass of scientific capacity whilst facilitating knowledge transfer.

The CoE will focus its activities on specific areas of agriculture and forestry which are associated with four key national value chains (wine, olive oil, fruit and vegetables, and forestry). These four topics are important economically but are also open to innovation and improvement.

Considering this context, the main the main objective of the SMARTAgriFor project was to develop a business plan for the establishment of the SMARTAgriFor CoE. This objective was supported by the following specific objectives, which are related to the project’s work packages.
1. Detail the vision, objectives and strategic lines for the Centre.
2. Establish strategic partnerships, secure initial funding, allocate infrastructure and staff, and ensure the motivation of stakeholders to support the development of the business plan and its future operation for their benefit.
3. Develop a scientific programme for SMARTAgriFor.
4. Describe the legal, organisational and management structure for SMARTAgriFor.
5. Estimate the (human) resources required to implement SMARTAgriFor and define a strategy for the attraction, selection and integration of these resources in the Centre, as well as their continued upgrading.
6. Estimate the physical resources required to implement SMARTAgriFor and define a strategy for their setting-up and continued upgrading.
7. Develop a communication and marketing strategy for SMARTAgriFor.
8. Develop a stakeholder and partnership management strategy for SMARTAgriFor.
9. Develop an intellectual property and knowledge transfer strategy for SMARTAgriFor.
10. Develop an international strategy for SMARTAgriFor.
11. Develop a financial and sustainability model for SMARTAgriFor.
12. Develop an implementation and risk mitigation plan to support the set up and operation of SMARTAgriFor.
13. Develop an evaluation and monitoring plan for implementing the Business Plan, and detail relevant key performance indicators.
14. Develop a high quality and comprehensive Business Plan by the end of the 12-month project.
SMARTAgriFor has produced 33 deliverables. The development of these deliverables supported the development of a Business Plan for the creation of a new Centre of Excellence. This BP reflects all of the work carried out during the project and the results achieved. These results, presented through the completed deliverables, can be summarized through the BP content and its respective content:

Section 1 – SMARTAgriFor Centre of Excellence – provides a brief contextualisation of the project and identifies four long-term objectives for the Centre, which are assessed according to short and medium-term achievements. Section 1 also presents the defined Vision and Mission for the Centre, driving it to become a leading and international Centre in smart agriculture and forestry (D1.1 D1.2 and D1.3). This is followed by the Centre’s strategic orientation, related to ensuring the resilience of selected value chains in agriculture and forestry. Details are then provided on the Centre’s growth potential, closely supported by the envisioned scientific excellence (through a comprehensive research programme) (D3.2) the generation of value, a defined ambition, and strength through strategic partnerships and critical mass, supported by a strong partnership with the scientifically excellent WUR. Section 1 closes with a SWOT analysis, first focused on the agriculture, forestry and R&D&I domains, and then on the Centre itself.

Section 2 – Research and Services – details the Centre’s Research Programme (D3.2) which is aligned with the defined strategic orientation (D1.3) and also describes the list of services offered by the Centre. The section includes a description of the Centre’s scientific and innovation potential and how it will bring value to national and international R&D and innovation. This is followed by a detailed presentation of the Centre’s Research Programme, including justifications of its coherence, its focus on smart resilience of agriculture and forestry, the integration of science and research innovation and the methods used in the development of the programme. Based on these justifications, the overall Research Programme is then presented, focusing on four thematic programmes: SMART plant genomics and phenotyping, SMART cropping systems, SMART bio-based products and processes, SMART socio-economic incentives and solutions. For each thematic programme, a range of research themes and future projects are presented. Lastly, the section includes the listing of services, which includes, for example, provision of seminars and conferences, training and workshops, and contract research and consultancy.

Section 3 – Operational structure – describes the different structures essential to the Centre’s day-to-day operations. This includes a description of the SMARTAgriFor Centre Association, and how it will lead the Centre to its success (D4.2). This is followed by a description of the Centre’s governance model, which includes a Director, Vice Directors, a Scientific Advisory Board, an Industry Advisory Board and a General Assembly (D4.2). The independent decision-making structures are also presented, focusing on research, services, the Centre’s sustainability, human resources and infrastructure/equipment. The involvement of stakeholders is essential to the success and sustainability of the Centre and is thus also presented (D2.1 D2.3 D5.3). Lastly, the section details information related to its Human Resources, including the different structures and profiles, human resources procedures and management, and specific human resource numbers (D4.3).

Section 4 – Physical structure – details the necessary physical structures which are essential to running the Centre. This includes a description of the Centre’s location and the respective impact on the Centre’s operationalisation. It also includes reference to the different infrastructure and equipment that will be at the Centre’s disposal for the implementation of its research activities and provision of services. Lastly, the section presents the aspects related to the management of the Centre’s physical resources, including rationalisation and maintenance issues (D4.4).

Section 5 – Communication and marketing, knowledge management and internationalization – details four essential items to the Centre’s operationalisation, success and sustainability. First, it highlights the Centre’s internal communication strategy, identifying the mechanisms for communication by Centre staff (D5.1). Second, it details the Centre’s marketing strategy, focusing on two key priorities: branding and positioning, and external communication (D5.1). Thirdly, the Centre’s IPR and knowledge and technology transfer strategy is presented, aiming to ensure scientific and commercial valorisation (D5.3). Lastly, the Centre’s internationalisation strategy is presented, focusing on three key priorities: international exposure, attracting research and funding, and partnerships and networking (D5.4).

Section 6 – Finance – focuses on all the financial aspects related to the Centre’s implementation. This includes an analysis of different costs, related to human resources (salaries and others) and infrastructure and equipment. This is followed by a presentation of the revenue sources, resulting from the provision of services (i.e. research contracts, training) and others (e.g. memberships, IP rights). Funding opportunities are also detailed, focusing on three pillars: structural funding, potential research funding, and fundamental strategic research investment. Lastly, the section provides a full analysis of the Centre’s financial plan for up to 10 years (D6.1).

Section 7 – Implementation, evaluation and monitoring – details the different major actions that must be implemented to ensure the Centre’s day-to-day operations. A total of eight actions are presented, each with practical sub-actions. These actions (A) are: A1 – Human Resources Operationalisation, A2 – Physical Resource Management, A3 – Research and Services Operationalisation, A4 – Stakeholder Engagement, A5 – SMARTAgriFor Centre Sustainability, A6 – Financial Management, A7 – Marketing and Internationalisation, A8 – Monitoring and Evaluation. For each of the actions, responsibilities within the Centre’s structures are defined as well as expected dates and outputs from the implementation of the actions (D7.1). In addition to the implementation, this section also identifies the different performance indicators that will be considered, related to ensuring the creation of value, achieving scientific excellence, attracting high-level researchers and achieving financial sustainability (D7.3). Lastly, a general perspective for the implementation plan is presented.

Section 8 – Risk and resolution – describes, for each of the major actions presented in Section 7, the different risks that may occur during the implementation of the Centre. For each risk presented, the context in which it could occur is presented, a trigger that could lead to the occurrence of the risk, the level of probability and responsible (D7.2).

Clear choices have been made regarding SMARTAgriFor’s scientific focus and innovation strategy, which also combine Portugal’s needs with the existing complementary expertise and activities at WUR. Four research themes have been selected for maximum scientific, economic and societal impact, leveraging strategic advantage from the Centre’s location in Portugal and its alliance with Wageningen UR. International benchmarking has identified the optimum approach for SMARTAgriFor, and innovative management practices will ensure its feasible implementation. Its innovative and impact focused RTD management will allow this envisaged Teaming project to maximise synergy between the partners, unite them effectively at international level and work towards innovative solutions for the application of results in an industrial agroforestry context.
The SMARTAgriFor CoE will focus on achieving scientific excellence and generating impact at stakeholder and societal levels, based on the selected strategic lines which are believed to have the greatest potential. The Centre will also emphasize excellent management to ensure that the research and results obtained are exchanged with relevant stakeholders.

SMARTAgriFor will be a unique actor in Portugal by focusing systematically on the development of resilient SMART agricultural and forestry systems and value chain analyses to increase competiveness and the quality of products. Simultaneously, the Centre will focus on questions of technological feasibility, economic efficiency and social acceptability within an environment geared to innovation. This strategy will have local/national implications for the Portuguese economy and of Southern Europe in general.

Building upon scientific excellence, SMARTAgriFor will aim to translate knowledge to enable market actors and other stakeholders to derive value from innovative solutions of economic and societal benefit. Managing the correct balance between excellent research and structural stakeholder engagement and innovation will be a key challenge. The Centre will tackle this challenge both at the technical (by implementing the Centre’s research programme) and organisational levels. Having an integrated approach where excellent science in one part feeds into a more translational activity in another provides a suitable mechanism to combine fundamental research excellence with valorisation potential. Some translational projects are already envisaged but many others shall arise through the generation of novel results in combination with on-going discussions with industrial end-users. This shall again support the growth of the centre through establishing spin-out translational projects for specific crops. A multi-actor approach across all projects and with extensive cross-talk opportunities will drastically improve relationships between Portuguese research centres and industry. The experience of WUR in this regard will be absorbed by the Centre to generate added scientific and economic value, in addition to foster the development of a new research culture in the country. Through the focused approach taken, the Centre will be able to facilitate the links between smart agriculture and forestry research, which will consequently help maximise the exchange of knowledge between the scientific areas and value chains and generate new opportunities for future collaboration.