FCT

R&D Institutions

Resultado da avaliação 2007 na área de Ciências Agrárias

Unidade de I&D

Centro de Estudos de Recursos Naturais, Ambiente e Sociedade - CERNAS [AGR-Centro-Coimbra-681] visitada em 24/01/2008

Classificação: Good

Comentários do painel de avaliação
Sobre a unidade
Goals, ongoing and planned projects, strategic development in the future.
Observations:
The unit includes 43 integrated PhD researchers from the Escola Superior Agrária de Coimbra (ESAC), the Escola Superior Agrária de Castelo Branco (ESACB) and a number of additional schools and institutions in the central region of Portugal, showing an important regional position.
It includes 5 research groups: Environment, Forest Resources and Sustainable Management, Chemistry of National Resources, Food Science and Technology and Economics and Rural development.
The management of the unit is well developed with a unit coordinator and executive board including the coordinator, the principal investigators of the groups and an administrative support.
In spite of their prominence in the unit’s title, the designations ‘economy’ and ‘rural development’ do not reflect a common and shared view and understanding of the notion ‘rural development’ and consequently the concept of a coherent scientific domain, integrating an – indeed very – broad spectrum of disciplines is missing.
The unit’s self assessment of its position in the national and international arena of publications, outreach and international contacts is based on a set of self-collected data – no general data base is apparently available. Nevertheless the properly conducted analysis and open presentation lead the panel to accept the conclusion that the unit improved its standard considerably over the present period of evaluation to reach the qualification ‘good’.
The most signalling scientific fields of the unit: environmental sciences, food sciences, chemistry, rural development and forestry sciences show great differences in quality.
Environmental sciences are close to excellent with important publications, participation in important international projects – and sought after for partnership in forthcoming calls of FP7 - and working out of a clear scientific concept and ambition.
The chemical and forestry sciences are missing clear focus and could improve their international status based on present quality of results and methodology.
Food sciences and rural development are missing a clear scientific concept and work without well defined technical and industrial objectives. The level of science seems to be rather poor and the national and international profile is weak.

In spite of the great diversity of quality among the groups the panel assesses the over all performance of the group to be ‘good’

Recommendations:
The unit is strongly advised to produce a clear concept of the specifications – composition of disciplines, interdisciplinary approaches, scientific and societal ambitions – of the domain it finds itself working in.
The unit is recommended to use its expertise in bibliometric analysis to take the lead in such exercise for the whole of agricultural sciences in Portugal.
The unit is recommended to improve its – international – status by also upgrading its publishing performance.
The unit is recommended to reconsider and reformulate the scope, set-up, objectives and ambitions it has with respect to food sciences and rural development and economy.

Training of young researchers and students:
Seems satisfactory, cooperation with university could be sought after.

Organization of workshops:
Could be better developed

Interdisciplinary activities:
Well below desirable level

Interactions with other national and international research units and companies:
In general satisfactory, but huge differences between groups

Participation in international research programmes (EU etc.):
Very good in some cases, mostly below potential.

Knowledge and technology transfer:
Satisfactory, adequately involved in regional developments.

Outreach activities:
Mostly regional, incidentally international

Attitude and work environment:
Well organized and managed in spite of dispersed and diffuse locations over several institutes.

Most pertinent comments and recommendations
- The unit is strongly advised to produce a clear concept of the specifications – composition of disciplines, interdisciplinary approaches, scientific and societal ambitions – of the domain it finds itself working in.
- The unit is recommended to improve its – international – status by also upgrading its publishing performance.
- The unit is recommended to reconsider and reformulate the scope, set-up, objectives and ambitions it has with respect to food sciences and rural development and economy.
Sobre os grupos de investigação
Economics and Rural Development [RG-AGR-Centro-Coimbra-681-635]
The group is composed of 8 PHD who do research for 30% of their time. Their activity covers a large range of themes, mainly in response to external solicitation. From the presentation and the answers posed by the panel does not emerge a clear group identity. The level of internal organization is limited (though a rather intense informal interaction occurs).

As CERNAS is not habilitated by law to release PHD titles, training of young researchers is not an organized activity. Training of PhD’s apparently is a private matter between PhD students and the tutor.
No internal workshops or seminars are mentioned, the demand oriented approach stimulates interdisciplinary interaction.
Occasional interactions with other national and international research units, and companies Interaction with the outside is intense, yet it is limited reflection on how to organize these relationships to improve the effectiveness of the change.
No clear leadership emerges; actually the group looks as an assembling of individuals without much interaction.
This research group is active in training and supervision of MSc and Ph.D. students for the considered period (2004-2006). It has obtained good national sources of funding. The publications in peer- reviewed journals are insufficient, but well presented in other issues. Participation of its members in international events is active, but the group needs to be better involved in international projects and networking.
Environment [RG-AGR-Centro-CasteloBranco-681-632]
This group (8+4 PhD) tries to cover 6 research fields related to systems approach of environmental problems (pollution, global change) control and management. Fields are relevant and challenging, though selectivity is needed. Scientific productivity seems to be good (data are limited). International cooperation visible in publications, other networking still to be realized. In view of ambitions, concepts and methods a stronger link with other countries is desirable. Training results so far are very sparse!!?? The group is very enthusiastic, has vision, plans and distinct leadership. In view of ambitions more equipment is needed. Cooperation with other groups elsewhere in Portugal and abroad could help to reach goals.


The achievements of the group – especially in view of its recent establishment – are convincing. Participation in
FP6 is OK.
Scientific standard seems high, as judged from the IF’s of the listed publications.
The group presents itself as strictly research oriented. Relevance for stakeholders and beneficiaries remains therefore rather theoretical Plans for the future are attractive and feasible. More participation in international programmes should be strived at. More interaction with stakeholders and beneficiaries should be strived at. The range of IF of the journals operating in the scientific domain of the group is not clear.
Food Science and Engineering [RG-AGR-Centro-Coimbra-681-634]
This is a large group composed of 38 members, almost half of which are qualified to Ph. D. level. No figures were available to translate this staffing level to full-time equivalents. During the period under evaluation, international publications increased from 7 to 22 per year, and international communications from 14 to 31 per year. The group organized five events (conferences and seminars) and produced two Ph. D. and eight Master qualifications. They also contributed partially to a patent for a new diagnostic test for Fasciola in partnership with the University of Porto and unit 211.
It was rather difficult to judge the main achievements of this group as a whole. They did produce some very good papers, but these appear to have been the work of staff qualifying for a Ph. D. and having access to good laboratory facilities elsewhere (we were not shown any of the on-site facilities). The group said that one axis of interest is the dairy industry as they collaborate closely with the largest milk transformation (mainly yoghourt production) factory in Portugal that is situated less than one hour’s drive from Coimbra. They are also interested in local products and in improving processes (such as brine and protein recovery from codfish salting plants).
Finally, animal health is another preoccupation.
The project for future research definitely lacks a clear strategy. At the moment, it is a collection of smaller themes that have little in common (sensory qualities of cheese – the codfish industry – allergy – bioenergy) and
fit the overall Food Science and Engineering title only poorly. There is an embryonic idea of developing research around local products and local industry (cheese and salted codfish) and this should be pursued further and in collaboration with the scientists at Vila Real (unit 772) who have a similar ambition. In this way, a pole of competence concentrating on regional products could be formed.
I do not believe that the group will have any significant impact in the field of animal health, but by reinforcing their links with unit 211, they may be able to contribute further to combating animal parasitic diseases.
Similarly, the ambition to work in the filed of animal production and dairy farming is laudable, but unrealistic due to the lack of adequate local infrastructures and facilities. Here too, discussions with unit 211 could be fruitful.
The group has no clear scientific or technological objectives. What is presented is mainly organizational and inward looking. The achievements as presented are not very informative and the productivity seems rather low.
The quality of the publications seems OK. What is the range of IF of the journals in the domain of the group?
There seems to be only incidental outreach of the group to the industrial stakeholders (SME’s) the group is supposed to work for. International position is not very clear. Plans for the future are missing a leading concept; seem therefore look rather fragmentary.
The objective ‘strengthening general organisation’ is not very clearly described and not recognizable in the concrete plans.
What is the overall scientific and technological concept or idea behind this group?
Group is loosely organised; no coherent research plan and general concept
Forest Resources Sustainable Management [RG-AGR-Centro-Coimbra-681-637]
The group consists of 15 researchers (PhD) and 10 other researchers (non PhD). The group is focusing on forest resource management and forest health. Based on the information given on publications, training of PhD (3) and MSc (4) students and organizing of meetings, it seems that the group has not yet reached the level of outcomes that could be anticipated based on the number of projects undertaken. Many of these projects will be completed at the end of 2007, which indicates that the number of publications will increase in 2008. Now the group claims 18 manuscript submissions in international peer-reviewed journals; only two articles in press have been listed under "Productivity". The group does not report on collaborations with industry, which would be of key importance regarding the future research interest of e.g. biofuels from forest residues.
Natural Resources Chemistry [RG-AGR-Centro-Coimbra-681-636]
The group is rather small - working in a very relevant area of research. Productivity seems fair.
This is a small group working in a very relevant area of research. Research areas include transformation of gaseous pollutants into nitrogen fertilizers, reducing agrochemical use in agriculture and co-incineration of waste materials. The group has good international collaboration and a good record of publication in ISI journal but these are due largely to one individual. Strong efforts are being made to get support from local and regional
industry through, for example, by development of prototype demonstration plant, but while these have developed interest they have yet to give rise to significant contract research or funding from industry.
Organisation of dissemination events is satisfactory.
Group organisation and leadership was considered good as was the climate for training of young researchers.