In the next 20 years, Europeans can expect to see plants with health properties to fight diabetes and heart disease; tastier plants with optimised nutritional content; cheaper drugs thanks to
plant-based production of pharmaceuticals; and plants which break down easily into biofuels.
This was the vision of the future set out by Wilhelm Gruissem, President of the European Plant Science Organisation, at the launch of the ‘Plants for the Future’ Technology Platform’s Strategic
Research Agenda. However, to turn this vision into a reality, Europe needs strong and internationally competitive plant research.
The Strategic Research Agenda sets out how Europe’s plant research community could contribute to meeting five key global challenges, namely:
1. healthy, safe and sufficient food and feed;
2. plant-based products – chemicals and energy;
3. sustainable agriculture, forestry and landscape;
4. vibrant and competitive basic research;
5. consumer choice and governance.
‘These five pillars fully support the development of a knowledge-based bio-economy (KBBE) that helps to maintain European economic competitiveness and provides the means to secure future fuel
and food supplies in an environmentally sustainable way,’ the document states. For each challenge, short, medium and long-term priorities (up to 2025) are identified.
The new research agenda is good news in particular for Europe’s farmers. ‘To improve their future competitiveness, European farmers will need more diversified and environmentally friendly
crops, producing more and better quality food and non-food products,’ said Ricardo Serra-Arias of COPA, the Committee of Professional Agricultural Organisations. ‘This real challenge will be
talked through state of the art innovation, especially in plant biotechnologies.’
The Strategic Research Agenda was written following two years of extensive consultations both at EU level and within the Member States. The process involved stakeholders from academia,
industry, agriculture, forestry, governments, consumer groups and environmental organisations, as well as experts in education, communication and legal and financial issues.
The project partners are already working to implement their ambitious agenda. As Kurt Vandenberghe, Deputy Head of EU Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik’s Cabinet pointed out, they have
already succeeded in ensuring that plant sciences are given a high priority under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). A significant proportion of the budget for the knowledge-based
bio-economy (KBBE) priority is set to go to plant-based projects, he noted.
‘It shows that the Plants for the Future Technology Platform has succeeded in making its case quite strongly at the European level,’ he commented, adding that it is a good example of what the
Commission would like to see Technology Platforms doing.
The project partners are also looking at other sources of EU funding, including social funds and the proposed European Institute of Technology (EIT). Furthermore, they are busy encouraging
national governments and funding bodies to incorporate the agenda’s priorities into their own plans. This process is facilitated by the fact that many of these bodies also fed into the
‘During the past few years the support of vigorous plant research was not a high priority on the political agenda in Europe,’ said Professor Gruissem. ‘We are convinced that the strategic
perspective of the European Technology Platform will put plants back on the agenda of Europe’s policy makers by focusing on key issues in plant and agricultural research that Europeans must