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EPSO Conference 2013 Highlights - Day 3

Our third day in Greece included two morning sessions and an evening session split by excursions around Porto Heli.

Session 1

Urban Horticulture – a topic of high importance not only in developing countries? A question Eckhard George raised in his talk. Mixing political and scientific arguments, presenting research results and citing from the current version of Horizon2020, he explained to the audience why the answer can only be Yes!

Not for the first time during this conference the urgent challenges of the 21st century were named - like malnutrition, yield gap, global climate change. Challenges that have to be faced by plant sciences in consideration of the situation of growing cities. Today over two thirds of Europeans are living in urban areas and this proportion will increase further. Horticulture is an important part of Agricultural production and plays a crucial (socio)economic role by creating employment for less formally educated staff.

The term Urban Horticulture describes the use of plants in an urban environment. There are several examples for the growing use of urban areas for plant production all over Europe, concerning all horticultural products. The logical consequence must be now an increase of plant research on all fields of urban gardening. Plants need to be adapted to urban conditions which differ a lot from rural situations. The reuse of organic waste and use of urban polluted substrates will be an important topic – ensuring the innocuousness for consumers of the grown plant. Many points of action and a lot more for plant sciences, are increasingly recognized by public discussion and funding.

Session 2

The second session was dedicated to discussing the mitigating effects of plants on climate change. Reinhart Ceulemans spoke about research into a potentially carbon dioxide neutral method for producing bio-energy called Short Rotation Coppice (SRC). His group used the fast-growing woody poplar plant, from which the above ground material was periodically harvested, and used for bio-energy. The plants use carbon dioxide as they grow into woody biomass, which is released again when the plant is used for fuel, resulting in a zero net emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The method may provide a favourable alternative to fossil fuels.

Other talks in session 2 spoke of the impact of forests on climate change. We often talk of how climate changes effects plants, however the opposite feedback is of course true too, and there are complex relationships that we still do not fully understand. Therefore climate change mitigation may not be as simple as simply planting forests, which can have positive and negative effects. It may be that the surface albedo and longwave radiation emission outweighs the cooling effect of carbon dioxide use. It was proposed that plants with whiter surface leaves and greener bases may be used to help solve this problem. The role of microbes in the soil and in the atmosphere remains to be understood and next-generation sequencing techniques will help us understand the composition of these communities.

Session 3

In the final session Jean-Christophe Glaszman spoke about partnerships between Europe and developing nations, and in particular a collaboration between the FAO and EPSO, a link that stems from the 5th EPSO conference in Lapland. Three pilot initiatives are focused on the following themes; underutilized fruits and vegetables, the cassava value chain, and maize and associated legume crops.

Providing an example of how science has helped transform a nation's agriculture, Mauricio Antonio Lopes from the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation told us how Brazil has moved from being food unsecure forty years ago, to not only reach security, but become the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world. 

Using soybean as an example he explained how genetic resources have been key in adapting the plant to grow in the country’s tropical regions.  Sustainability is a focus too, biological nitrogen fixation with Bradyrhizobium strains have saved an estimated 5 billions dollars in nitrogen fertilizer and minimum tillage practices are being more widely used. 

Brazil is developing multifunctional agriculture through “sustainable intensification”.  For example, after a first soybean crop, a second corn crop is planted with a grass planted below the corn seed, delaying germination and allowing cattle to graze immediately afterwards.  The grass, Brachiaria brizantha, imported from Africa, is the largest monocrop in the world, therefore Brazil is developing a breeding programme for this plant.  Ongoing research is aimed at integrating trees into this system.



The Name of the Island of Spetses originates from the Venetian “Isla di Spezzie” meaning fragrance – bearing Island. The Venetians appreciated the constant flavor of flowers and herbs.

Participants of the excursion could choose between hiking, visiting a museum or just walking around. Possibilities one and three did not differ a lot since hiking here meant an 1-hour-tour across the village at around noon – a time when Greeks probably prefer to stay inside the houses instead of walking in the heat. Nevertheless the “Hikers” enjoyed the walk across a nice place with beautiful flowering bushes, colourful houses and the clear blue sea. Subsequently there was sufficient time left to jump into the perfect water to cool down and relax. A chance used by many.

The Museums-group seemed to be pleased as well, since several of  them sat on the boat back “home” to the conference, reading brochures illustrating the life of the heroine Laskarina Bouboulina (1771-1825), to whom the museum was dedicated.

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EPSO is an independent academic organisation currently representing 61 institutional members bringing together more than 204 research institutes, departments and universities from 29 countries in Europe and beyond.