HomePlantsPrivate and Public Sectors Team up to Solve Agricultural Challenges

Private and Public Sectors Team up to Solve Agricultural Challenges

Date: 06.02.2020 Author: Sara Landqvist Category: Plants

Today’s agriculture has some fundamental challenges ahead. Climate change is already upon us, we’re amidst a global decline in biodiversity and have to produce enough food for a growing population. As Nordic experts on plant breeding met in Malmö this week, they tried to identify research areas in the field of use of genetic resources, pre-breeding and plant breeding. The aim with the workshop is that the Nordic Public-Private Partnership on Pre-breeding (PPP) will receive some input for future calls within pre-breeding.

One might argue that the solutions for our future agriculture is not found in a windowless meeting room decorated with an orange carpet. But fact is, in order to solve some of the fundamental challenges we face in the future, the collaboration between Nordic breeders and researchers is crucial. And sometimes, a workshop on top of an orange carpet can lead to great collaboration in the agricultural field later on. Birgitte Lund, chair of the PPP steering committee, opened the workshop and presented the main aims for arranging it.

“We want to inspire the Nordic PPP network to develop into the next level. Not least since we have some great challenges ahead. By bringing together breeders, researchers and stakeholders we can continue to strengthen the current network and at the same time prepare for future PPP-pre-breeding projects.”

Plant breeding essential for agriculture

Plant breeding is fundamental for developing the agriculture and enabling crops to resist new pests, diseases and changes in the weather that will inevitably come with climate change. But climate change is not the only challenge the agriculture is facing.

“We have some big challenges ahead. How do we feed nine billion people while also handling the increasing demand of water and energy in a sustainable and equitable way? How will we tackle climate change? And can we solve all these challenges at the same time as we preserve our ecosystems and address the decline in biodiversity”, keynote speaker Dr. Richard Visser, professor at the Wageningen University in the Netherlands, rhetorically asked at the workshop.

The small Nordic market require cooperation

It is evident that agriculture in the Nordic countries has some unique prerequisites to manage. Our long summer nights, cold temperatures and short growing season means that we have to grow plants that are adapted to these features. But now they also have to be adapted to new challenges, like climate change, changed land use and environmental factors. Plant breeding is needed.

Roland von Bothmer, Professor Emeritus“But the plant breeding in our region is made out of small, fragmented markets. In order to maintain the competitiveness for the Nordic plant breeding, which is essential for our agriculture, we need to continue to develop the bridges between the private actors and the public sector”, Professor Emeritus and one of the co-founders to the PPP, Roland von Bothmer, said.

50/50 project funding

The formal bridges between public and private partners have existed since 2011. As we write 2020, the project is involving the best researchers and breeders in the region. The basic idea is that stakeholders within different areas of plant breeding meet and try to solve challenges of their own choice. 50% of the project funds are provided by the participating private companies and 50% are coming from the Nordic states, through the Nordic Council of Ministers.

Four different Nordic PPP-projects

NordGen is hosting the secretariat for the four different PPP-projects that exists today. In short, they’re called PPP Fruit and Berries, PPP Barley, PPP Ryegrass and 6P, which is focusing on plant phenotyping. Now, the collaboration is working well in the projects and all participants agree on that seldom has the phrase “together is stronger” been more accurate. But in the beginning, it was more difficult.

“What you have to remember is that the PPP-project is about having competitors on the same market collaborate. It’s not easy. What you need to do is to establish trust and also understand that the private companies work in a different way than public institutions and that they have different agendas. Only when this trust is established, you can start the actual work”, said Therese Bengtsson at the Swedish Agricultural University and active in the project PPP Barley.

Great results

All the PPP-projects can present great results. PPP Barley has found resistance against mildew and PP Fruit and Berries has found resistance against the disease fruit tree canker in the Swedish apple cultivar Aroma, just to name a few. But apart from these kinds of concrete results, networking and knowledge exchange are also important components in the project.

Reflections on the future

At their next meeting at the Faroe Islands in the end of June, the Nordic agricultural ministers will decide if they want to be part of funding another three-year period. The workshop arranged this week is to give input regarding which areas the stakeholders in the Nordic region can collaborate. Genebanks like NordGen has great potential to provide genetic material and data into this collaboration.

“We do have a unique opportunity to secure the Nordic agriculture for the future, to increase its competitiveness. Climate change means a great deal of challenges, but a warmer climate can also benefit our farmers. In order to harvest those benefits, we have to strengthen the cooperation between public and private entities”, Lise Lykke Steffensen, Executive Director at NordGen, said at the workshop.

Group discussions

Actually, the second day of the workshop focused on the future of the PPP-projects. The experts gathered in groups to discuss future ambitions and lift ideas for new PPP-projects. What they decided on is yet to be revealed, but perhaps the results one day can be viewed at a field close to you. Because sometimes it is a good idea to use those windowless meeting rooms with yellow-beige carpets in order to cultivate great ideas and fruitful collaborations.

Read the full workshop program here.

NordGen holds the secretariat for the Nordic Public-Private Partnership in Pre-Breeding, and facilitated a two-day workshop in Malmö, in collaboration with the Steering Committee of the Partnership on the 4th – 5th of February 2020. More than 100 people attended the workshop which had the title “Nordic Plant Genetic Resources Enhancement in a Changing Climate”.