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 the governments. Hence, countries have to implement modern technologies to cope with the increasing demand for the food and agricultural products. Recent global developments in the field of modern agricultural biotechnology including genomics, tissue culture, proteomics, metabolomics, systems biology, genetic engineering, synthetic biology, bioinformatics and nano-biotechnology, introduced it as the most promising technological strategy for increasing quantity and quality of global food, feed and fiber productivity. The improved integrated crop products, resulting from this synergy would be able to address regional critical issues, including population growth and improved food, feed and fiber distribution. This technology could solve a wide range of the problems present in the agricultural sector of the region, such as the consequences of climate change, biotic and abiotic stresses, low quality, environmental and human health problems in 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, which will determine the fate of 9 billion people who will be living on the earth in year 2050. For instance, as a result of the consistent and substantial economic, environmental and welfare benefits offered by 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.
Agriculture sector in the region faced to different major problems, including low input efficiency (irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides, …), abiotic stresses (drought, salinity, cold, 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, application of modern biotechnological strategies is necessary to enhance food production for growing demand and to ensure food security in the region. Fortunately, agricultural biotechnology is currently being developed in the ECO member states as well, but the speed of this progress is not satisfactory at the present time.
In spite of absolute benefits of modern biotechnology products, the main concern is the possible environmental and human health risks related to the GM crops. As result of these comments and toward safe use of GM technology advantages, during the last decade different international biosafety regulations and protocols were prepared, approved and implemented. The most important regulations and guidelines in the field of GMOs’ biosafety are “Cartagena Biosafety Protocol” and Codex Alimentarius, which focuses on biosafety and food safety aspects of GMOs, respectively.
The strategic policy of the ECO countries, while emphasizing in development of modern agricultural biotechnology and development of systematic biosafety management in the region, should insist upon protecting the environment from any possible risks due to any process, factor and measure which result in possible polluting and disturbing the balance of the environment.
Take it into consideration that the majority of ECO member states are considered as the center of origin and center of diversity of many agricultural crops and other plants such as wheat, barley, alfalfa, walnut, pomegranate, apricot, almond, pistachio, peach, as well as many aromatic, medicinal and ornamental plants. Furthermore, the ECO region enjoys a high level of diversity in fish, animals and microorganisms which are of vital importance for food security and sustainable development.
So, based on the above mentioned subjects the region is strongly obligated to focus on:
1) development of modern biotechnology and building capacity in terms of human recourse, facilities, regulations and experience and information sharing in this field to overcome the major problems in agriculture of the region and to meet the sustainable development.
2) Member states should be collaborating in order to establish platforms and capacities for conducting biosafety validation and risk management analysis of modern biotechnology products and harmonize biosafety regulations in the member countries for safe trade of these kinds of commodities.
3) As almost all of the member countries are center of origin and center of diversity of many genetic resources, we need to establish a regional network for gene banks and identification and registration of agricultural genetic resources in the region.
Considering these facts, ECO ministers wisely established the ECO Agricultural Biotechnology Network (ECO-ABN) in 2005. The main 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 the field of 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 to apply biotechnology in order to meet their own national needs. This project aimed at improving NARIs' access to new biotechnological tools by facilitating cooperation among the institutes and through the existing advanced laboratories located inside the ECO region and beyond.