TRANSDAIRY project boosts technology transfer in the Mediterranean dairy sector


As part of the TRANSDAIRY project which focuses on the use of Key Enabling Technologies (KET)1 to improve the value chain of the dairy sector in the Mediterranean, ENI CBC MED programme took the time to discuss with Dr. Fatma Trabelsi to find out more about the transfer of technologies in Tunisia and more concretely on the experience of the implementation of this project. Dr. Fatma Trabelsi is a hydrogeologist and geomatician. She is a teacher, researcher at the Higher School of Engineers of Medjez El Bab (ESIM), part of the University of Jendouba and the Institution of Agricultural Research and Higher Education (IRESA), coordinator and communication director of the TRANSDAIRY project in Tunisia. She is also one of the National Contact Points for the European research program Horizon Europe.

Main obstacles for student researchers and the transfer of research results in Tunisia

Ms. Trabelsi main motivation for engaging in such a project, knowing that the dairy sector is not her area of ​​expertise, is to help researchers create businesses and improve technology transfer. According to her, researchers in Tunisia are full of talent but lack of financial and legislative means to be able to develop this potential. Tunisian researchers are very well ranked in terms of scientific publications but this ranking drop when we refer to number of patents or the commercialization of research results.

Tunisian researchers are very well ranked in terms of scientific publications but this ranking drops when we talk about the number of registered patents or the commercialization of research results.

The researcher is not in the best environment that allow him/her to apply research results via the creation of a spin-off (a company created from knowledge and technologies resulting from research, often from a university).

Indeed, when the TRANSDAIRY project was written in 2018, the notion of spin-off was still in its beginning in this country and even if a few projects and experiences supported by international donors made it possible to develop the status of student-entrepreneur, it is still new. In this regard, you can consult the document on the implementation of the “Student-entrepreneur” status which dates from November 8, 2019.

Ms Trabelsi would like to present a study on the experience of spin-offs within the framework of TRANSDAIRY project to two ministries: the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and the Ministry of Agriculture, water resources and fishing.

For example, currently we do not know whether the income from spin-offs benefits the research team or the institution to which it belongs (the university). In short, there is an urgent need to adapt the Tunisian legislation to better regulate the status of the researcher-entrepreneur and facilitate technology transfer.

TRANSDAIRY or how Key Enabling Technologies can benefit the dairy sector in the Mediterranean region?

The starting point for the implementation of this project is the identification of the needs of farmers to improve the value chain of the dairy sector and analyse the potential of researchers in the 4 participating countries: Greece, Italy, Lebanon and Tunisia.

To do this, TRANSDAIRY partners began by creating focus groups made up of all stakeholders in the field, namely farmers, dairy sector manufacturers, technology experts, engineers, researchers, professionals from the general directorates of the Ministry of Agriculture, Hydraulic Resources and Fisheries in the case of Tunisia.

Through these consultations, it emerged that the main challenge of the sector in Tunisia relates to the quality of milk followed by stock management and transport. This challenge is also present in Greece. Whereas in Lebanon and Italy, the challenge relates more to improving the cheese making process.

When one thinks of quality of milk, he/she thinks of the breed of cattle and nature of pastures. A researcher proposed to promote a product present in Tunisian forests to improve the quality of livestock feed, but the major problem lies in how to maintain the quality of the milk at a good temperature, a good pH level and not to damage the raw material while it is being transported from the producer to the dairy plant as well as the management of surplus and deficit periods.

This is where researchers come in, proposing, thanks to nanotechnologies, for example, systems that guarantee better traceability of livestock, biosensors to measure the acidity level and the quality of water or rennets that improve the fermentation.

TRANSDAIRY: a real boost for researchers and technology transfer?

Once the needs were identified, the partners set the same criteria in all participating countries to choose the candidates who will benefit from the trainings.

Two types of training were carried out. Training for trainers aimed at researcher support structures. In Tunisia, these are the University Technology Transfer Offices (BuTT in French). BuTT staff were able to follow training on intellectual patents, the creation of business plans and marketing plans to support young researcher-entrepreneurs to create a spin-off or a business. The second type of training was for researchers providing innovative solutions in Bio-nanotechnologies and ICT applied to the Dairy Value Chain (DVC). The selected candidates followed training on entrepreneurship, marketing, etc.

Brokerage events were carried out in Tunisia and Lebanon to strengthen visibility, networking and boost the capacity and commercial performance of spin-off project leaders in Bio-Nanotechnologies and ICT applied to the DVC in the four Mediterranean countries (Italy, Lebanon, Greece and Tunisia). These events were very good opportunities for all innovators from these countries to meet and exchange with each other and with DVC experts, private sector investors and national and international donors through round tables of networking and B2B meetings.

During brokerage events organized in Tunisia and Lebanon, competitions were organized to award vouchers in three different categories:

Co-publication: groups of researchers benefited from vouchers worth 2,000 euros to cover scientific publication costs.

Co-patenting: vouchers worth 8,000 euros cover international co-patenting costs.

Demonstration: these vouchers cover the costs of demonstrating prototypes worth 4,000 euros.

Finally, grants were awarded for the creation of spin-offs at the national level, worth 10,000 euros each.

These competitions were replicated in each of the 4 participating countries so in total it represents a good financial support.

Funds are good, international exchanges are even better

Tunisian researchers face financial constraints and a project such as TRANSDAIRY makes it possible to cover certain costs, but the real added value of such a project lies in its cross-border dimension. While Tunisian researchers know their national context very well, they often lack knowledge on an international scale. For example, their solution may be very interesting, but the local market is too small to be able to sell it. This type of project also help to better understand international marketing standards, to benefit from training provided by international experts, to find complementarities through exchanges during brokerage events, to meet other researchers or entrepreneurs and to be able to benchmark. In short, to open up the researcher´s world.

While the Tunisian researcher knows his national context very well, he often lacks knowledge on an international scale. For example, its solution may be very interesting but the local market is too small to be able to market it.

Legislative framework and feasibility: key elements before embarking on a cooperation project in the Mediterranean

Thanks to Ms Trabelsi's experience in carrying out several cross-border cooperation projects, she shares part of her experience. First, she underlines that each country has its own context at the legislative level. As part of the TRANSDAIRY project, the coordinator is an Italian university which probably through that they could create cross-border spin-offs. The reality is quite different and until today, this type of creation is not yet possible. That´s why it is so important that all partners are aware of what is feasible depending on the context of each country. She also recommends to reduce some administrative tasks to the coordinator.

Despite all this, the game is worth it. In a country which is increasingly suffering from a brain drain, seeing that 12 people from different research laboratories in Tunisia who participated in the activities of TRANSDAIRY were able to directly benefit from this support is a source of satisfaction.

For more information, please consult the project videos available in the “Library” section of TRANSDAIRY web page  



[1] Key enabling technologies (KETs) correspond to six major technological sectors: micro- and nanotechnologies, industrial biotechnology, advanced materials, photonics and advanced manufacturing technologies. Source: euronews