Report of 2nd EGM
1. The 2nd Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on ECO Agricultural Bio-technology Network was held on October 24, 2023, virtually hosted by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Meeting was attended by the national focal points and experts in the field of Agriculture and Biotechnology from the Republic of Azerbaijan, Islamic Republic of Iran (host), Republic of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Republic of Tajikistan and Republic of Türkiye. The representatives of ECO Secretariat also participated in the Meeting. List of participants is attached as Annex-I.
Agenda Item No. 1
Inauguration of the Meeting
2. The meeting was jointly inaugurated by Dr. Mojtaba Khayam Nekouei, Deputy Minister and Director General of Agricultural Research, Education and Extension Organization of Iran (AREEO), Prof. Mohsen Mardi, Director General of Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran (ABRII) and Mr. Gurkan Polat, Director of Agriculture and Industry Directorate of ECO Secretariat.
3. In his inaugural remarks, Dr. Mojtaba Khayam Nekouei warmly welcomed the participants. Acknowledging the significant role of modern Agricultural Biotechnology to enhance food production in the ECO Region, he highlighted some sectoral problems, including low input efficiency, a-biotic and biotic stresses, huge agricultural wastes and environmental issues of the region. He said the conventional strategies are not enough to overcome these problems therefore application of modern biotechnologies in agriculture are necessary to enhance food production and to ensure food security in the region. Considering the scientific and economic opportunities available in the ECO Member Countries, he suggested that the agricultural biotechnology network should focus on the use of expert human resources, transfer of experiences and technical knowledge, information sharing, biosafety validation, risk management and essential safety regulations in the member countries for the safe trade of these commodities. A copy of his statement is attached as Annex-II.
4. Prof. Mohsen Mardi updated the meeting on the important role of the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran (ABRII) in the development of modern technologies in Iran. He lauded the establishment of Agricultural Biotechnology Network and expressed willingness to share knowledge and experiences with the researchers and scholars of the ECO Member States. A copy of his statement is attached as Annex-III.
5. Mr. Gurkan Polat, while inaugurating the meeting, highlighted the pivotal role of modern agricultural biotechnology in achieving economic growth and development. He also mentioned some of the key regional food security challenges such as climate shocks, loss of biodiversity, marine and coastal ecosystems and global water crisis. He said, considering the abovementioned challenges, the use of biotechnology in agriculture is inevitable. He hoped that the enhanced collaboration among ECO Member States will drive us to our shared objective for sustainable development and ensuring food security in the region. A copy of his statement is attached as Annex-IV.
Agenda Item No. 2
Election of the Chairman
6. As per ECO Rules of Procedure, Dr. Babak Nakhoda, Faculty Member of Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran (ABRII), from the host country was unanimously elected as chairman of the Meeting.
Agenda Item No. 3
Adoption of the Agenda
7. The Meeting unanimously adopted its Agenda, which is attached as Annex-V.
Agenda Item No. 4
Report on history and activities of ECO Agricultural Bio-technology Network (ECO-ABN)
8. The ECO-ABN Coordinator, Dr. Amene Naseri presented a detailed report on the history and research status of Agricultural Biotechnology in Iran. Briefing on the importance and composition of ECO Agricultural Biotechnology Network, she highlighted the main activities, progress and future plans of the ECO-ABN. Also, she underlined the objectives of ECO-ABN as networking of national bio-technology institutes, researchers, scientists, engineers and administrators, linking regional activities and collaborating with international organizations, laboratories and relevant institutes of the member states, capacity building and conducting joint studies and research projects. Harmonization of bio-safety protocols and testing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the ECO region was also among the issues that can be facilitated thorough the Network. A copy of her Presentation is attached as Annex-VI.
Agenda Item No. 5
Statements/Country reports by the Member States
9. The Chair invited the delegates to deliver their statements/country report on Agricultural Biotechnology. The heads of delegations/representatives of the participating member states delivered statements over the activities, ongoing policies and developments related to Agricultural Biotechnology issues.
10. Ms. Narmin Karimli, Head of the Technological Transfer and Innovation Department of the Agrarian Innovation Center, Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Azerbaijan expressed her gratitude to the Islamic Republic of Iran for hosting this important meeting and reaffirmed their commitment for mutual cooperation among the ECO Member States toward sustainable food security in the region. A copy of the country report of Azerbaijan is attached as Annex-VII.
11. The representative of Kyrgyz Republic, Mr. Uran Chekirbaev, Deputy Director of the Organic Agriculture Department, Ministry of Agriculture of the Kyrgyz Republic underlined the substantial role of agriculture biotechnology in Kyrgyz Republic. He also mentioned various food security threats to the people of the region, considering that the use of modern techniques in agriculture, forestry, biodiversity sectors and organic farming can help to overcome such challenges.
12. Likewise, the country reports of the Republic of Tajikistan and Republic of Türkiye, which have been received by the Secretariat are attached respectively, as Annex-VIII and Annex-IX.
Agenda Item No. 6
Investigating possible opportunities for furthering collaboration in future
13. Under this agenda, the participants emphasized on harmonization of biosafety regulations, capacity building, transfer of technology and information sharing in the region. The Experts Group Meeting agreed to extend further collaboration on the aforementioned objectives of ECO-ABN, as well as application of modern agricultural biotechnology to address the relevant problems and challenges in order to achieve food security and sustainable goals in the region.
Agenda Item No. 7
Introduction project proposal: "ECO Bio-Safety Capacity Building"/ Discussions on project proposal
14. Dr. Gholamreza Salehi Jouzani, Faculty Member of Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran (ABRII), while extending sincere gratitude to ECO Secretariat and participants of the meeting, briefed about the main objective of the project proposal titled "ECO Bio-Safety Capacity Building (ECO-BCB): Evaluation of the status of biosafety regulations in the ECO Member Countries, gaps and advantages". He highlighted different specialty of biotechnology such as genetic engineering, genetic editing, genome-wide selection, synthetic biology and other modern technologies to enhance food production efficiently and precisely. He updated the meeting about significant achievements of ABRII in genetic engineering, genome editing and drafting of national biosafety laws and regulations. He mentioned that all the ECO countries are member of Cartagena protocol on biosafety, however some ECO countries have not adopted their own national biosafety laws so it is necessary to build capacity for implementation and harmonization of biosafety regulations in the ECO countries. Describing the aims and objective of the project, he said this project comprises of two phases. Phase-I is "Reviewing biosafety regulations and capacity building in the ECO countries by 2024-2025" whereas on the basis of the results of Phase-I, the expert meetings and training courses will be organized in Phase-II. He also shared project information, timeline, financial implications and expected outcome of the project. He said, ABRII will also provide suggestions for member countries to design or amend the biosafety laws and regulations toward harmonization of biosafety regulations in the ECO countries. A copy of his presentation is placed at Annex-X.
15. ECO Director for Agriculture and Industry, Mr. Polat, while appreciating the efforts of Dr. Salehi, requested the details of project budget particularly financial sources and seeking the possibility of harmonization of this project with the ECO Regional Program for Food Security (ECO-RPFS).
16. Dr. Salehi assured that the requested details of project budget would be shared soon, adding that the diverse funding with regard to the implementation of this important project will be explored. Regarding harmonization of the project with ECO regional food security program, he expressed readiness to harmonize the project with Regional Program for Food Security (ECO-RPFS)..
17. Mr. Javanshir Talai, Head of the Study of Scientific Innovation Department of the Agrarian Innovation Center, Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Azerbaijan, appreciated the project proposal. Relevantly, he mentioned that agricultural production in Azerbaijan is hampered due to the climate change and drought related issues. He stressed the need to adopt new technologies in agriculture production to achieve sustainable food security. He suggested that while implementing this project, food security provision may be considered. He also thanked the University of Anatolia, Republic of Türkiye for helping to establish biological laboratory in Azerbaijan.
18. Mr. Mahir Hajiyev, Director of Animal Husbandry Scientific Institute, Ministry of Agriculture of Republic of Azerbaijan talked about the importance of animal husbandry in provision of safe food to people. He highlighted the use of genetic technology in animal breeding. He also mentioned ongoing activities, research and major problems in the animal husbandry science in Azerbaijan.
19. After thorough deliberations/discussions, the 2nd EGM primarily welcomed the project titled "ECO Bio-Safety Capacity Building (ECO-BCB): Evaluation of the status of biosafety regulations in the ECO Member Countries, gaps and advantages" and requested Dr. Gholamreza Salehi to provide details relating to project budget and financial sources. A copy of the project proposal is attached at Annex-XI.
Agenda Item No. 8
Any other business
20. The meeting did not discuss any other issue under this item.
Agenda Item No. 9
Adoption of the report
21. Considering the virtual mode of the meeting, it was decided that the report of the Meeting would be adopted through process of circulation after being drafted by the Secretariat. The Member States will be requested to provide their views/comments on the draft report within 14 days from the date of circulation of the draft report by ECO Secretariat.
Agenda Item No. 10
Closing the Meeting
22. The Meeting concluded with a vote of thanks to the Chair for conducting the meeting proceedings in an efficient and professional manner and his outstanding chairmanship of the meeting. The participants also expressed their heartiest gratitude to the host authorities for successful organization of this important meeting.
23. The delegates also appreciated the efforts of the ECO Secretariat for their coordination and preparing relevant documents as well as other valuable contributions to facilitate successful proceedings of the Meeting.