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Reporting period: 2017-04-01 to 2018-12-31

Considering Malta’s worsening water scarcity and the crucial role agriculture can have in ameliorating this situation, FOWARIM (Fostering Water-Agriculture Research and Innovation in Malta) is being proposed to enhance and embolden the research capacity of the Malta College of Arts, Science & Technology (MCAST)’s Water Research and Training Centre. A 3-year €960,125 project, FOWARIM is 100% funded by the Horizon 2020 Twinning Program.
The major objectives of this project are the strengthening of collaboration between partners, training of personnel to develop excellent research, develop new lines of research, publish peer-reviewed papers, extend the partnership of research Institutions in the sector in question and the providing of solution to stakeholders that stand to benefit from this project.
This will be done mainly for four major themes- crucial for the existence of the Maltese agriculture and which are (a) Decreasing Water Demand, (b) Making Use of Alternative Sources of Water (c) Renewable Desalinization, On-Farm Desalinization and Utilization of Saline Water and (d) Decreasing Negative Environmental Externalities Caused by Nutrient-Rich Farm Waters.
This will be achieved through the undertaking of five work packages which strive to build the capacity for research, share knowledge through networking and to build a research strategy for water use in the agricultural sector.
The interconnectedness between partners and the training and networking programs suggested will strengthen MCAST’s research and S&T capacity in water use in agriculture, enhance the dynamism between the different partners, contribute to an increase in peer-reviewed publications and compliment in more ways than one Malta’s Smart Specialization Strategy.
The partners in this project are the Malta College for Arts, Science & Technology (MCAST), the Directorate of Agriculture, the Centre International de Hautes Etudes Mediterraneennes (CIHEAM), Europe for Business LTD (EFB), Cranfield University (CU), ID Consulting (IDC) and the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya (UPC).
A Kick-off meeting was held to launch the FOWARIM project and all partners met in Malta between the 25th and 26th February 2016 whilst the first Project Steering Group meeting was held at the IAMB campus (Bari, Italy) on 27th February 2017. With the intention of ensuring a high quality of the project results, deliverables, and key events, one of the partner (EfB) is monitoring and supervising the quality assurance of deliverables.
A stocktaking report was compiled that included all the policies, strategies, and governance related to research in agricultural water. The study gave an overview of the situation in Malta that will serve as a reference for the project.
With regards to training, the program for the 'Scientific & Management courses' was agreed and the first two courses were organized. These were “Reducing groundwater pollution: Good management practices of nutrients and wastes” that took place at the University of Alicante (Alicante, Spain) from 9th to 13th January 2017 and “Adapting water use in agriculture to a changing climate” delivered by Cranfield University (UK) from 20th to 24th March 2017. Each course involves 2 technical training days, a field visit followed by an intense 2 day program on research proposal writing and transferable skills in research paper writing and developing personal publication strategies.
A methodology, design, and concept of the 1st Summer School that will be held between the 4th and 7th September 2017 in Malta at MCAST’s premises were developed whilst the e-learning's methodology, structure, and contents, programme and calendar were presented to contributing partners for feedback. Once feedback was received EfB created a structure of e-learning platform and uploaded about 80 % of the content material that is available inside of private folders on the Moodle platform.
A meeting with 22 Maltese stakeholders was organised on the 14th April 2016 at MCAST (Malta) to discuss and identify the challenges and potential solutions of water resources management with a focus on the agricultural sector whilst MCAST and the NARC are keeping continuous contact with local research entities such as the University of Malta, the Energy and Water Unit within the Maltese Government and others to strengthen the local network and cooperation between the different research entities.
To further strengthen the relationship between the project and one of its most crucial stakeholder group- the farmers- an on-farm demo day is planned for the 16th June and will provide an opportunity to focus on R&D innovations in crop monitoring and management, soil moisture sensing, irrigation system management and water resources (quantity and quality) of relevance to the Maltese farming and agricultural sector. This event is targeting Maltese farmers and will focus on tomatoes- one of the most popular crops in Malta.
The project saw the first research efforts related to the objectives of FOWARIM. Cranfield staff supervised 2 MSc students who undertook their MSc field research in Malta during 2016 in areas related to FOWARIM themes. These received active support from MCAST and FOWARIM staff.
A research committee was also set up to discuss new knowledge attained by MCAST and DoA participants through training, stakeholder workshop results, other input from the various FOWARIM tasks and the needs of the sector to develop research lines in collaboration with FOWARIM’s other partners.
The Terms of Reference of the Scientific External Advisory Board were drafted and published. Two irrigation experts applied for the positions. The Board members are in continuous contact with the research committee with the former guiding the latter in the research lines being developed and discussed.
A project portal together with social networking profiles and a project brochure were created.
Moreover, a dissemination strategy was prepared that set out guidelines and standards for partners’ communication in order to ensure adequate dissemination of the project.
The project was very well received by all stakeholders. Government officials including representatives from the Ministry itself and the politicians responsible for water and agriculture have shown an active interest in the project, asking for regular updates and opening their doors for any assistance the Consortium might require. There has also been some very positive feedback by farmers themselves who acknowledged the need of the project and who are hoping this would translate in real solutions on the ground that they can start utilizing.
Students and researchers at MCAST are starting to choose water-related research project titles more often and are being encouraged by the thrust the project is generating towards finding solutions for this real problem in Malta. The interest for training courses has increased and the applicability of this knowledge towards the local context is being appreciated and acknowledged.