R&D Institutions

Resultado da avaliação 2007 na área de Ciências Agrárias

Unidade de I&D

Instituto de Ciências Agrárias Mediterrânicas - ICAM [AGR-Alentejo-Evora-115] visitada em 14/02/2008

Classificação: Very Good

Comentários do painel de avaliação
Sobre a unidade
Unit 115 is a medium-size unit. It has 80 staff PhD members and 14 PhD students. The unit has grown of 20 PhD staff members since 2003. In the same period, the PhD student’s number has increased of 10 units. In the last period 37 PhD dissertations have occurred. Its total budget is about 2.1m euro of which 670.000 euro contracts. Scientific output is very good and has more than doubled in the last period. Presentation of both unit and groups was very detailed and well articulated.

Goals, ongoing and planned projects, strategic development in the future
ICAM’s mission is focused on agriculture in Mediterranean regions, with a strong emphasis on interdisciplinarity. Following the recommendations of the preceding evaluation, ICAM has undergone a restructuring in the preceding years with a reduction of research groups from seven into four (Water, Soil and Climate; Mediterranean Ecosystems and Landscape; Plant Science and Technology; Animal Science and Technology) and in the meantime has aggregated two new groups which complement and integrate very well the existing ones.
ICAM puts also a strong attention to knowledge transfer, linking research to training and demonstrations. As a Unit, ICAM is supporting the activity of its research groups both by carrying out strategic planning, providing infrastructures, monitoring training of research staff, encouraging links with other research units, encouraging PhD students to publish into international journals.
Starting from a clear analysis of the importance of the regional context in which it operates, the unit shows a clear vision and a clear direction where to go. On this regard, whereas other units complain for a lack of orientation from national agricultural ministry, ICAM candidates itself to lead the transition of traditional agricultural science to the new challenges posed by the new European agricultural policy context.
The unit is the most coherent and complete seen during the evaluation exercise. It shows excellent organization, capacity of learning from past experience, capacity to attract new competencies in a common project. In the panel’s view, the unit has the potential to be the national centre of excellence for sustainable agriculture. Some gaps have been detected with regard to organic agriculture and multifunctionality. Moreover, the Unit would benefit from a stronger injection of socio-economic and policy competences.

Training of young researchers and students
The unit hosts about 10 PhD students per year, many of which come from outside Evora and some from foreign countries. PhD students find in Evora a friendly and stimulating environment to work. PhD students are encouraged to pass a part of their time abroad to complete their preparation. However, a higher degree of structuration of PhD activity would be beneficial.

Organization of workshops
The unit has reported a large number of workshops, some of which international.

Interdisciplinary activities
The unit shows a strong commitment to interdisciplinarity, and the internal organization of the group confirms this goal. Interaction between groups occurs mainly through projects. New groups (belonging respectively to climatology and landscape management) are not a mere addition to the unit, but their entrance has coincided with restructuring of the whole unit. Both climate and landscape can give a substantial contribution to meeting the challenge of research on sustainable agriculture. Socio-economic competences are still below a level of sufficiency and this is a point the unit should definitively address, but with the entrance of the group of landscape there is awareness of the importance of this aspect and already socio-economists support other sub-groups.

Interactions with other national and international! research units and companies
The unit is well positioned into international networks. It is part of an Erasmus Mundus master course and has several Erasmus links. The group is also strongly embedded in territorial networks.

Participation in international research programmes (EU etc)
The Unit has one of its points of excellence in the ‘Marie Curie’ chair, held by a German researcher. This result has given the whole unit a strong impulse to improve, not only in the specific field of research but for the unit as a whole. The unit participates to several European projects (European project amount for about 40% of the total budget).

Knowledge and technology transfer!
This aspect is one of the most outstanding of the unit. The unit shows the presence of a policy for intellectual property protection. It has already registered 15 patents at national level.
A new supporting office within ICAM was formed, “Unidade de Divulgação e Inovação Tecnológica” (UDIT) the Office for Technology Transfer and Innovation.
The unit has an intense activity of interaction with the territory. As extension services are very weak in the region, the unit has become a point of contact for farmers, cooperatives, SME’s.
A two-way communication occurs with them, as accepting to be involved in consultancy is a way to acquire new knowledge and news ideas for new research.

Outreach activities
As said before, the Unit has strong links with the territory. In particular it is involved in communication with schools and with society at large.

Adequacy of unit organization and leadership
The unit is very well organized and gives a real added value to the Unit. It has effective support functions for the group, and uses FCT funds to encourage productivity, to enhance the equipment and to support innovative projects.
It uses a part FCT funds as ‘seed money’ that encourage researchers to present innovative projects.

Attitudes and work environment
The staff and PhD students look very motivated and committed to common goals

Evaluation of Groups
The unit has restructured recently. At present, it is articulated into four groups born from the integration of two new groups and the consequent redistribution of the staff.

Most pertinent comments and recommendations:
The panel has detected a strong improvement from the last evaluation exercise, and thinks that the unit has all potentiality to go even beyond this result. The Panel would recommend the following actions:
• Broadening the scope of its research to other environments (first of all to Faro) to get a truly national position;
• Opening a field of research on organic farming;
• Giving more visibility to research on multifunctionality;
• Strengthening socio-economic and agricultural and rural policy competences.
• Improve the Structure of PhD activity.
Sobre os grupos de investigação
Agro-silvo-pastoral Systems [RG-X-AGR-Alentejo-Evora-115-873]
This is a small group of three PhD researchers with very impressive CVs. It’s proposed research agenda is well focused on a limited number of aspects of Food Safety and Food Quality. Given the facilities and funding necessary I would be confident that it will deliver good quality research.
Animal Science and Technology [RG-AGR-Alentejo-Evora-115-986]
This is a new group that has plans for a good rather applied research programme of particular interest to Portugal and the Mediterranean region that will explore the inter-relationship between the animal, its environment and man to optimise animal production and animal welfare.
The future research objectives appear to have been carefully though through and should lead to good international impact if published in good journals.
Food Safety and Technology [RG-X-AGR-Alentejo-Evora-115-875]
Good applied research on food quality and safety underpinned by some more basic research to better understand the underlying mechanisms of action such as the biochemistry of digestion of major storage proteins of legumes and the main action mechanisms on cholesterol. Standard of Journal in which articles are published is quite good as is level of international collaboration. Very good quality work, well integrated with the local situation yet achieving the required international impact
Mediterranean Ecosystems and Landscape [RG-AGR-Alentejo-Evora-115-984]
This is a medium size group with a very relevant research theme. International cooperation seems OK?
How does the group intend to deal with its very interdisciplinary topic? Generally, the objectives are up-to-date but rather wide in scope, scale and disciplinary contributions. Hard to judge whether this leads to feasible goals

and quality publications. Internationalization seems to be well underway. Interesting that the landscape level is present (not elsewhere in Portugal).
Mediterranean Horticulture [RG-X-AGR-Alentejo-Evora-115-876]
According to the organizational changes of the institutes this group will be dissolved and researchers will be integrated into 3 other groups. The group has shown good productive and innovative capacity. 8 of all the 12 patents of the unit are based on the achievements of this group. It has made positive steps towards internationalization of its activities in publications, consultancy, students training, supervision and exchange of materials and information.
Plant Science and Technology [RG-AGR-Alentejo-Evora-115-985]
This is a rather large group - formed by merging of former, smaller groups. The scope of the group’s research is rather wide - but they have listed good publications in international journals of high standard.
How has the merging affected the strategy of the group? Has it been reformulated?
Which are the future plans - do they intend to focus or keep the rather broad scope?
Is there national cooperation, e.g. on biotechnological issues?
Many signs of excellence in this group’s work.
Science and Engineering Technology in Agricultural Systems [RG-X-AGR-Alentejo-Evora-115-872]
This is a rather large group covering a wide area of research. The topics chosen seem relevant - the productivity medium to deem from the IP-numbers shown.
Balance between biology and engineering is OK. Good cooperation with national engineering science environments. Internal organization and cooperation with the other groups is OK.
Water, Soil and Climate [RG-AGR-Alentejo-Evora-115-880]
This group has just started (2007-2010) as a new research entity. The issue of water availability and quality is not only of major national and regional importance, but a global research challenged, and thus well justified also as the main reason for reorganizing the expertise available to fully tackle the issue.
There are yet very few performance indicators available. External funding has been applied and some minor projects have already been secured. However, the majority of external funding applied is still pending.