The world population has already passed 7 billion, and it is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. Food production for this increasing population is a big challenge for all governments. Hence, countries must implement modern technologies to cope with the growing demand for food and agricultural products. Recent global developments in modern agricultural biotechnology, including genomics, tissue culture, proteomics, metabolomics, systems biology, genetic engineering, synthetic biology, bioinformatics, and nano-biotechnology, introduced the most promising technological strategy for increasing the quantity and quality of global food, feed, and fiber productivity. The improved integrated crop products resulting from this synergy would be able to address critical regional issues, including population growth and enhanced food, feed, and fiber distribution. This technology could solve a wide range of the region's agricultural sector problems, such as the consequences of climate change, biotic and abiotic stresses, low quality, environmental and human health problems in the application of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. The whole world today believes that the science of modern biotechnology is one of the seven key industries that will determine the fate of 9 billion people living on the earth in the year 2050. For instance, due to the consistent and substantial economic, environmental, and welfare benefits of biotech crops, in 2014, more than 18 million farmers in 28 countries around the world planted more than 180 million hectares of genetically modified crops.
The agriculture sector in the region faced different significant problems, including low input efficiency (irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides, etc.), abiotic stresses (drought, salinity, cold, and freezing), biotic stresses (pests, diseases, weeds), huge agricultural wastes causing significant negative impacts on total agricultural commodity production and the environment of the region. Unfortunately, conventional strategies are not enough to overcome these kinds of problems. Hence, applying a modern biotechnological approach is necessary to enhance food production for growing demand and ensure food security in the region. Fortunately, agricultural biotechnology is currently being developed in the ECO member states, but the speed of this progress is not satisfactory at present.
Despite the absolute benefits of modern biotechnology products, the main concern is the possible environmental and human health risks related to GM crops. As a result of these comments and toward safe use of GM technology advantages, different international biosafety regulations and protocols were prepared, approved, and implemented during the last decade. The most important rules and guidelines in GMOs' biosafety are "Cartagena Biosafety Protocol" and Codex Alimentarius, which focus on GMOs' biosafety and food safety aspects.
The ECO countries' strategic policy emphasizes the development of modern agricultural biotechnology and the development of systematic biosafety management in the region. Furthermore, it insists on protecting the environment from any possible risks due to any processes or factors which result in potential pollution that disturb the balance of the environment.
It should be noted that the majority of ECO member states are considered the center of origin and diversity of many crops and other plants. These crops and plants involve wheat, barley, alfalfa, walnut, pomegranate, apricot, almond, pistachio, peach, and many aromatic, medicinal, and ornamental plants. Furthermore, the ECO region enjoys a high level of diversity in fish, animals, and microorganisms, vital for food security and sustainable development.
So, based on the subjects mentioned above, the region is firmly obligated to focus on:
1) Development of modern biotechnology and building capacity in terms of human resources, facilities, regulations, and experience and information sharing in this field to overcome the significant problems in agriculture of the region and to meet the sustainable development.
2) Member states should collaborate to establish platforms and capacities for biosafety validation and risk management analysis of modern biotechnology products. Also, they have to cooperate to harmonize biosafety regulations in the member countries for the safe trade of these kinds of commodities.
3) As almost all member countries are the center of origin and diversity of many genetic resources, we need to establish a regional network for gene banks and identify and register agricultural genetic resources.
Considering these facts, ECO ministers wisely established the ECO Agricultural Biotechnology Network (ECO-ABN) in 2005. The primary purpose of this project was to provide the National Agricultural Research Institutes (NARIs) in the ECO countries with an efficient tool for collaborative research in biotechnology. According to the decision made in the 1st ECO Senior Officials Meeting on Agriculture, the ultimate goal of the ECO-ABN was to assist the national agricultural researchers in applying biotechnology to meet their own national needs. This project aimed to improve NARIs' access to new biotechnological tools by facilitating cooperation among the institutes and advanced laboratories inside the ECO region and beyond.