SoilRec4+Health - Soil recover for a healthy food and quality of life (NORTE-01-0145-FEDER-000083)

The soil quality in the northern region of Portugal has been gradually decreasing, exacerbated by the effect of the climate changes, particularly the extremes on temperature and droughts, which trigger an intricate number of negative effects, which request an integrated approach to problem-solving. Soil is the fundamental limiting resource to ensure high yields and high-quality plant food products.

To face these challenges and the increased threat to the socio-economic development of agriculture in the northern region of Portugal, it was designed an overarching project, which aims to find, affordable and pragmatic solutions, to recover/improve the soil quality, adopting accessible management practices for the practitioners, mostly by using organic residues and plant-growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) and ascertain their best combination practices, integrated with new technological supporting systems, to ensure higher yields and improve the overall quality of the food products and create added-value with the development of novel foods, from recovered traditional crops (cowpea), partly abandoned, although well adapted to the northern region of Portugal.

To achieve these goals, it was gathered a high expertise group of multidisciplinary senior researchers, supported by a young team of contracted researchers and scholars, very experienced on the topics addressed by the project. With this team it was designed a 3 RLs project: the first RL, dedicated to evaluate new soil management practices on soil quality, will be conducted in successive pot experiments, to ensure  a tight and easier environmental control of the envisaged practices and plant growth and development, the eventual risks, and the inherent successful results, within the defined project timeline; the second RL is focused on the development of a new technological tool to support an accurate soil management under climate change; the third RL, covering the next step in the agriculture value chain (post-harvest quality and food development) and the respective effects from soil improvement practices from RL1, will evaluate the quality of the food products and the production of novel high added-value and affordable protein food product (cowpea puree). Moving further to the beneficial effect of the society and consumers, and in TRLs, it will be ascertained the effect of this novel product on studies with an elderly population, which matches the requirement of these type of products and the endeavour of the food industry. Along with cowpea, it will be used lettuce as a model – a sensitive leafy fast-growing crop – and barley as a green manure crop that has the potential to reduce soil salinity.

The project encompasses several domains of the public policies and societal challenges in the various steps of the agriculture value chain, with pragmatic solutions. Indeed, the envisaged foregrounds from this project, ranking high in TRLs, and gathered from a close interaction of activities between the 3 RLs, will be used in a cornerstone objective, the wide dissemination across different type of stakeholders within the agri-food value chain, to ensure and foster sustainable growth, more and better jobs, better quality of life, as well as industrial competitiveness, overall strengthening the scientific and technological capacities of the northern region of Portugal.