Ladies and gentlemen, Dear project partners, Dear colleagues and friends,

Today is an important day and I am delighted to take the floor on behalf of the Community Plant Variety Office. Today is an important day because - on top of our mutual interest for plant breeding - we all have something new in common. Yes, we can say it officially now: we are all “invited”! Not only were we all “invited” to join this kick-off event in the city of Angers. We are also all “invited” because each one of us is directly involved in the INVITE project!

INVITE stands for Innovations in Plant Variety Testing in Europe, and – as you all know it - innovation is key for the sustainability of our sector and the future of Europe.INVITE is an ambitious research project funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 programme. With a budget of 8 million euro for the next 5 years, it gathers a consortium of 27 partners among which the CPVO is a proud member.

With its focus on 10 crops, INVITE aims to make variety testing more efficient. INVITE will also contribute to make relevant information on variety performance available, taking account of trials under diversified production conditions as well as on biotic and abiotic stresses. 

Why is INVITE important?

I see several reasons justifying the experimentation and rollout of innovative and sustainable approaches to plant variety testing through the INVITE project. I would like to highlight four of them.

  • The first one is efficiency and gains

The size of reference collections for the assessment of DUS testing is always increasing. In consequence, examination offices need to find new strategies to control the size and cost of the trials

INVITE will explore how to make DUS and performance testing more efficient. It will increase the synergies between testing activities based on phenotyping, genotyping, modelling, new imaging techniques and database management. 

Those who attended the workshop earlier today could see by themselves how innovative imaging techniques, such as the use of low cost sensors and vector technologies, can make DUS testing more effective. 

By using new models and tools, the quality of data and the interpretation of results may be improved to avoid redundancy of analyses and to make more value of existing processes. 

  • The second one is harmonization and quality assurance

The need for variety testing to adapt to new characteristics makes public investment in research projects like INVITE absolutely essential.

Think for instance of:
(1) traits relevant to sustainability and resilience; 
(2) new requirements – for instance, resistance to pests and abiotic stresses; 
(3) and, new agricultural practices – for instance, heterogeneity thresholds for alternative materials.

All these scenarios require the optimization and harmonization of procedures so that it can lead to quicker and more robust decisions on DUS and VCU

Both the regulator and plant breeders agree that Plant Variety testing is important to certify that the varieties entering the market are well-performing and meet all necessary quality standards.

For farmers and plant producers, it is the guarantee to use varieties that are of a maximum quality. Varieties that are diverse, harvestable and resistant to pests and diseases.
Efficient variety testing is really in the interest of everyone, and not the least of our fellow citizens. They expect a high level of trust in all goods placed on the market. And this is even more true when it comes to food products.

  • The third one is our commitment to address global challenges and invest in our future generations.

Agriculture and food-related sectors are currently facing key global challenges: climate change, the ever-growing human population, food safety and scarcity of natural resources. 

Let us look quickly at the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, in particular the “zero hunger in the world” objective. 

According to the latest UN figures, the proportion of undernourished people worldwide increased from 10.6% in 2015 to 11% in 2016. This translates to 815 million people worldwide in 2016, and I presume that the figure has grown since then. 

Sustainable agricultural production and efficient plant variety testing can help addressing some of these most burning issues, and I am happy that the European Commission has included plant variety testing in its Horizon 2020 programme. 

It is also worth pointing out that Finland, who is holding the Presidency of the EU Council since the 1st of July, shares the same assessment. In their list of priorities for their EU Presidency, Finland has highlighted that: “A reformed and modernised Common Agricultural Policy must respond to the challenges of food safety, food security, climate change and environmental protection”. 

  • The fourth one is about enhancing collaboration between all stakeholders, public and private, from all corners of Europe

INVITE is an “invitation” to work together. It must be seen as a joint venture between 27 partners from across Europe and from across different sectors ranging from research institutes, breeders associations and DUS examination offices. 

In addition, a Stakeholder Platform and a Stakeholder Advisory Board (SAB), with representatives from the industry, has been launched for advising the project partners on issues where the input from industry stakeholders is necessary and for promoting the project’s outcomes. 

This broad partnership will ensure constructive feedback from all parties involved, closer collaboration and more transparency

What is the role of the CPVO in such a venture?

However, a project with 27 partners also provides some challenges. 

The CPVO is part of the INVITE Executive Committee, which is the decision implementing body of the project. We will use this role to ensure that all partners work as a team in a seamless manner and towards the same the direction. We will also contribute to the eight technical Work Packages identified in the project.

As the CPVO technical protocols apply to DUS tests, both for variety protection and for marketing authorization, we believe we will be able to provide valuable inputs to the project. 
And especially, the CPVO will bring its almost 25-year long experience and deep knowledge from managing the EU-wide DUS testing network into INVITE.

To give you a precise idea: the CPVO processed more than 60,000 applications for Plant Variety Rights since 1995 and received 3,554 applications in 2018. You can find data and figures about the CPVO’s activities in our latest annual report, which is available on our website. Finally, the CPVO remains committed to report regularly on the progress of the INVITE project to its large network of stakeholders in the European Union and beyond.

Having said that, it is nonetheless the first time that the CPVO is involved in such a large-scale R&D project, and I sincerely hope that – together - we will be able to foster more innovation and efficiency in plant variety testing. 

I really look forward to working with you all.

Before closing my speech, I would like to express my gratitude again to the European Commission who decided to make plant variety testing more efficient through Horizon2020 and to invest in the INVITE project.

I would not be standing here today if the bid we put together had not been successful. The success of the bid can be attributed to all of you. 

So I would also like to thank all partners involved in the project consortium – breeders, researchers, examination offices - with a special kudos to INRA, and in particular to François Laurens, for his coordination and leadership role in the INVITE project and for organizing today’s event. 

It is a pleasure for me representing the CPVO to address you at this occasion, but the day-to-day work at the Office is managed by Cécile Collonnier and Anne Weitz and I would like to thank them in particular.  

We now have a plan, and we have financial support. What remains is hard work to implement the project and to come up with good results. This kick-off meeting is an excellent opportunity to get to know each other better in the workshops as well as in social gatherings.

So, good luck to us all and a lot of success in achieving our common goals in this ambitious project.  

Thank you for the attention.
 

Speech delivered at the kick-off meeting of the INVITE H2020 Project on 8 July 2019 in Angers, France. [check against delivery]