The Institute for Agricultural and Veterinary Research (INIAV) is a research and innovation institution based in Oeiras. Nuno Canada, President of INIAV, explains how the work developed by his institute can help agricultural producers face the challenges of the future and make their products more competitive.
The National Institute for Agricultural and Veterinary Research (INIAV) has national reach, and was created in 2013. Geared towards enhancing the competitiveness and sustainability of the various agricultural and livestock sectors in the country, INIAV aims to support producers so that Portuguese products become increasingly competitive, more sustainable and there is increased added value in domestic production.
In an interview with Oeiras Valley, Nuno Canada, President of INIAV, explains the key areas of operation and the main distinguishing features of the institute that he runs, and also emphasises the advantages of INIAV being based in Oeiras.
What are the main distinguishing features of INIAV compared to other research bodies?
We have some distinctive features. One of them is our position within the national scientific and technological system. INIAV stands at the interface between the scientific system and companies. INIAV works closely with the companies and agents in the region and, when it perceives existing problems and opportunities, it uses its competencies and complements them with those existing at Universities, Polytechnic Institutes and Research Centres.
The second distinctive feature has to do with the fact that INIAV is the only research institution in the agri-foodstuffs sector that has national reach. We work with around 500 partners across the country, taking a holistic approach, such as producer organisations, companies, regional agents, as well as knowledge centres.
The third factor that sets us apart is that only INIAV has a nationwide network of experimental and pilot stations. We have the ability to seek a solution anywhere in the world, test it here and adapt it to our specific circumstances. This network of experimental stations is prepared for the development of new technologies and technology-based solutions. In the coming years, under the auspices of the Agenda for Innovation in Agriculture 2020, this Network will be strengthened and expanded, giving rise to the Innovation Network, which will comprise 24 Innovation Centres across the country.
In the laboratory area, I should also mention the fact that we have the most advanced laboratories in Europe. In the area of animal health and plant health, we are the only reference laboratory in Portugal, which means that we must have very specialised teams and cutting-edge equipment.
And finally, there is another distinctive feature of INIAV, which is related to the fact that we are an institute with a very holistic approach to knowledge. The organisation boasts all areas of knowledge that are of interest to the field of agriculture and foodstuffs. While other partners are specialised in only one area, we are able to cover all areas.
How is INIAV organised?
INIAV has two main areas: the support area for agricultural, agri-foodstuff and forestry companies, and also the laboratory area, centred on two large campuses (one here in Oeiras, and the other in Vila do Conde).
The area of agricultural and agri-foodstuff research is spread over various experimental stations located throughout the territory. This is because Portugal has very different conditions across its territory and our goal is to ensure that the solutions developed serve all types of farmers. As such, they have to be tested under different conditions.
INIAV also plays an important role in lifelong training for farmers and technicians, but also in advanced training in partnership with polytechnic institutes and universities.
There is also another dimension at INIAV that concerns the conservation and enhancement of our endogenous resources. We are concerned with advancing our domestic production and Portuguese products. In this context, in Braga, we have the Portuguese Plant Germplasm Bank, which is our Noah’s Ark, where all agricultural products intended for Portuguese foodstuffs are preserved. At the Santarém experimental station, we have the Portuguese Animal Germoplasm Bank, focused on Portuguese breeds of animals.
We also coordinate national improvement programmes, i.e. new varieties of plants of Portuguese origin. For example, we put the first Portuguese carolino rice varieties on the market. We also have new varieties of wheat and chickpeas. There is, therefore, a series of flagship products that comprise the Mediterranean diet that we are improving and developing so that they are better adapted to climate change, more resistant to disease and better prepared for the future of the country.
In recent decades, the agricultural sector has become less significant in the economic plan. Could the fact that INIAV is supporting domestic producers to improve their production be a way to help boost the Portuguese agricultural sector and increase the competitiveness of domestic products?
Beyond all question. In fact, the agricultural sector experienced a period of reduced competitiveness. However, over the last decade, due to the incorporation of technology and knowledge, the sector has become increasingly competitive. Over the last five years, it was the sector of the economy that grew the most in terms of exports, having grown at twice the national average. If we analyse the wine industry, one of the country’s flagship sectors, we can see that the quality of Portuguese wine has improved considerably over the last 15 years. The conditions of production have not changed much, what has improved is the knowledge that is incorporated into the wine, both in terms of viticulture and in oenology. It is a good example of the importance of incorporating knowledge into the sustainability and competitiveness of a sector. However, we have a series of challenges ahead: from the outset, climate change. Portugal will be one of the EU countries that will be most affected by climate change. On the other hand, there is a great need to increase food production, because the world population is increasing substantially and the populations of emerging countries are consuming more. And in this field, the FAO estimates that by 2050 it will be necessary to produce an additional 70% of the foodstuffs that we are producing today. All of these challenges require greater knowledge and technology to be incorporated into the agricultural sector. Therefore, we are faced with two major challenges.
And how can innovation and research help the country to tackle these challenges? And what role can INIAV play in this process?
Recently, the Ministry of Agriculture launched the Innovation Agenda for Agriculture 2020-2030, which offers a series of solutions to problems based on the incorporation of knowledge and technology and which, from the outset, includes the digitisation of agriculture, so-called smart agriculture, and precision farming, which allows us to do more with less and helps us make better use of resources. Another important aspect of this strategy is the so-called decarbonisation of agriculture, through which we increasingly incorporate clean energy into the sector. The pivotal role of agriculture has been intensified with the current pandemic. People realised to a greater degree the importance of each country being able to produce the foodstuffs that its own population needs. This awareness, which can be found across Europe, has accelerated the process of agricultural innovation. And INIAV is precisely accelerating this trend. INIAV stands at the interface between companies and the scientific system. We understand the needs and opportunities of agricultural companies, the agri-foodstuffs sector and the forestry industry and develop solutions for those same needs, within the national scientific system.
Are we consuming more domestic products now than before the pandemic?
Yes, naturally. People have begun to place a high value on domestic products. The mentality existed that, being in the European Union, one had access to all products. And suddenly people realised the need to have domestic production after all. In the case of foodstuffs, this was very obvious, people placed a high value on domestic produce. And it is very important to buy locally because the ecological footprint of a product that is purchased in season, at a local market, is completely different from the footprint of products that travel around the world to reach Portugal.
What are the main advantages for INIAV of being here in Oeiras?
The main advantage is the ecosystem. This ecosystem has the greatest critical mass in the area of agriculture and foodstuffs. There is no other campus in the country that has so much critical mass, as many doctorates, technicians and PhD students as this campus at Quinta do Marquês, in Oeiras. Because there is INIAV, which is more oriented towards innovation and applied research. There is the IBET, which is a body with similar characteristics, a very strong connection to companies, and it is also here on campus.Then we have the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, an important entity more in the area of basic research and advanced training of human resources.
Therefore, within this campus there is an ecosystem that is truly unique in a domestic context, not only because of its critical mass, but also because of the complementarity of the partners. Then we have related areas, such as the Gulbenkian Institute of Science, which reinforces this ecosystem. We also have a dimension related to the sea, which is very important and, in this field, the IPMA is a very significant partner in this matter. And then we have its proximity to Taguspark and the Instituto Superior Técnico. Oeiras City Council has played a key role in establishing this important ecosystem.
Another advantage of being in Oeiras is related to the social component, of raising the general population’s awareness of science. And Oeiras is one of the places in the country where the population is, on average, more highly qualified and more sensitive to issues related to science. We, for example, have already done here two initiatives of a project that we called “Scientists in the Moonlight”, with the support of Oeiras City Council, through which we put on a small outdoor science show.
Another important component to highlight is that this ecosystem can be very useful for attracting new companies to the region, as it trains highly qualified ‘post-doc’ students who can create their own companies and start-ups.
INIAV under a magnifying glass
- It is the State laboratory in the area of expertise in Agriculture, Foodstuffs, Forestry and Rural Development.
- It was created in 2013 and is based in Oeiras.
- It has a network of experimental stations throughout the country.
- It has a permanent staff of 650 people.
- Of these, 150 have doctorates.
- It has five national reference laboratories: Animal Health; Food Safety; Fertiliser Compliance; Plant Health and Genetically Modified Organisms.
- It has an international reference laboratory: Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia.
- It boasts 500 partners.