The research focuses on the management of water resources, sustainable agriculture and the food chain in the Mediterranean area.
With five projects receiving funds (one in 2018 and four in 2019), three of which as coordinators and two as partners, the University of Pisa is one of the institutions which has received the most funding from the first two editions of the PRIMA Programme, the Partnership for Research and Innovation to improve water availability and sustainable agriculture in the Mediterranean Area promoted by the European Union with the participation of 19 countries. The Department of Agricultural, Food and Agro-Environmental Sciences and the Department of Veterinary Sciences will receive a total contribution of 1.5 million euros.
The PRIMA programme aims to develop knowledge and devise innovative solutions in R&I approaches to improve water availability and sustainable agriculture production in the Mediterranean area. Eleven EU member states are among the participants (Cyprus, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain,) along with Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, the Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey. The programme is co-financed through a combination of funds from participating states and from the Horizon 2020 programme.
In 2018, 36 projects were financed, 29 of which included one or more Italian research units and 11 of these were coordinated by Italian institutions with funds totalling 10 million euros. In 2019, 44 projects were financed, 34 of which included one or more Italian research units and of these 14 were coordinated by Italian institutions with funds totalling 12 million euros.
The results achieved are most certainly the outcome of an increasing commitment to European projects shown by the teaching staff at the University of Pisa, as can be seen from the boom in funding during the three-year period from 2017-2019.
The support offered by the Office for Research and Technology Transfer, set up in 2018 to assist in the preparation of project proposals, was also fundamental.
This excellent result obtained by the University of Pisa is also due to the profound dedication shown in following the programme closely from its conception by participating in preparatory meetings and sharing useful information with the teaching staff well in advance. “It is with this same spirit of participation and proactive networking that we aim to be ever more present as a university at different European forums and work groups which are fundamental to research,” explains Professor Lisandro Benedetti-Cecchi, vice-rector for European and international research. “It is not by chance that the motivational measures now include Net4UNIPI which endeavours to intensify networking activities in an aim to broaden the capacity of developing European projects and collaboration.”
SIMTAP - Self-sufficient integrated multi-trophic aquaponic systems for improving food production sustainability and brackish water use and recycling
Funding: approx. €953,000 (UNIPI: approx. €280,000)
Role of UNIPI: coordinator with Professor Alberto Pardossi from the Department of Agricultural, Food and Agro-Environmental Sciences and Associate Professor Carlo Bibbiani from the Department of Veterinary Sciences
Participating countries: Italy, France, Germany, Turkey and Malta
The project, which began on 1 June 2019, aims to create a multi-trophic aquaponic system for food production for marine fish and plants. The fish feed will include microalgae, detritivores and filter feeder species which will partially or totally replace the natural feedstocks such as flour, fish oil and vegetable proteins. The SIMTAP systems will be tested in different Mediterranean contexts (Italy, Turkey, Malta and France), on a small scale and adapted to the specific socio-economic and climatic conditions of the area. The project aims to reduce the use of fish food, water, fertilizer and energy and the production of waste and therefore the environmental impact of this particular agro-industrial sector. Further information here.
FIGGEN - Valorising the diversity of the fig tree, an ancient fruit crop for sustainable Mediterranean agriculture
Funding: approx. €1,000,000 (UNIPI: approx. €378,000)
Role of UNIPI: coordinator with Associate Professor Tommaso Giordani from the Department of Agricultural, Food and Agro-Environmental Sciences
Participating countries: Italy, Spain, Tunisia and Turkey.
The project aims to enhance the natural variability of the fig, an ancient fruit which offers a great potential for expansion thanks to its nutritional, energy, and nutraceutical qualities, and the growing interest in the secondary metabolites produced in the fruit, leaves and latex combined with the ability to adapt to dry, calcareous and saline environments, making this species extremely interesting for sustainable production in the Mediterranean region, also in relation to climate change. Through the involvement of farmers, producers and distributors with multidisciplinary experiences, new cultivars of figs better adapted to drought conditions will be introduced into agricultural systems thus contributing to the production of sustainable fig trees in the future. Further information here.
FEDKITO - Fresh food sustainable packaging in the circular economy
Funding: approx. €840,000 (UNIPI: approx. €390,000)
Role of UNIPI: coordinator with Associate Professor Barbara Conti from the Department of Agricultural, Food and Agro-Environmental Sciences
Participating countries: Italy, France, Greece, Morocco and Tunisia
FEDKITO proposes the use of chitosan, a natural polymer, aromatized with essential oils to protect fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products from insect and fungi attacks and from the oxidation of unsaturated fatty acids thus extending the shelf life of perishable Mediterranean food products during post-harvest and storage. The chitosan will be extracted from the black soldier fly reared on by-products and waste. The innovative active packaging materials will extend the conservation times of fresh foods in an environmentally sustainable manner as they are completely biodegradable and produced according to the principals of the circular economy. Further information here.
HaloFarMs – Development and optimization of halophyte-based farming systems in salt-affected Mediterranean soils
Funding: approx.€848,000 (UNIPI: approx. €200,000)
Role of UNIPI: partner with Professor Annamaria Ranieri from the Department of Agricultural, Food and Agro-Environmental Sciences
Participating countries: Tunisia, Italy, Egypt, Spain, France, Portugal
HaloFarMs will develop and optimize new sustainable farming systems for the Mediterranean region based on the smart use of halophyte plants to give value to degraded and unexploited salt-affected lands. The project will optimize the desalination of soils by halophytes prior to crop cultivation, intercropping halophytes on salt-affected soils, with important commercial cultivated crops, and in vitro cultivation of halophytes. The halophytes produced will be biochemically characterized by their nutritional profile and functional properties. These high added-value products can be used in the cosmetic, food and veterinary industries. The adoption of the project findings by farmers will decrease soil salinization, increase yields without depleting fresh water resources and diversify the sources of income.
iGUESS-MED - Innovative greenhouse support system in the Mediterranean region: efficient fertigation and pest management through IoT based climate control
Funding: approx. €1,500,000 (UNIPI: €233,000)
Role of UNIPI: partner with Associate Professor Luca Incrocci from the Department of Agricultural, Food and Agro-Environmental Sciences
Participating countries: Spain, Italy, Tunisia, Turkey
The project aims to create, together with the stakeholders, innovative low cost software available for use on any smartphone which will assist farmers in the management of greenhouse climate, irrigation, fertigation and disease and pest control through a network of sensors placed in greenhouses and crop systems and the use of mathematical models and algorithms. Work will be carried out on tomato crops using both traditional methods of tomatoes grown in soil and in low-technology greenhouses typical of the Mediterranean area. New crop production protocols will be developed and validated by means of an economic analysis based on the cost-benefit approach. The resulting app will allow the new knowledge to be transferred rapidly to the world of production, thus reducing the use of water, fertilizers and chemicals, improving greenhouse productivity and the quality of the final product and providing social and environmental benefits in the area with a higher rate of crop healthiness. Further information here.
This article was first published on 12 June by University of Pisa.