Report of the 1st EGM of ECO-ABN

Report of the 1st EGM of ECO-ABN


24 April, 2006 


No.1 Golbou Alley, Kamranieh, P.O.B. 14155-6176 Tehran, Iran

Tel.(9821) 22831733-4; 22292066 Fax: (9821) 22831732; 22290744;

E-mail: Website:




First ECO Experts Group Meeting (EGM)

on the establishment of

ECO Agricultural Biotechnology Network

(Tehran: 22-24 April, 2006) 




Report of the Meeting


Annex-I               List of participants

Annex-II             Inaugural Statement by Director General, ABRII

Annex-III           Statement by ECO Secretary General

Annex-IV            Agenda of the Meeting

Annex-V              Country Reports/Presentations

Annex-VI            Statement on behalf of FAO

Annex-VII          Project Document

Annex-VIII         First Draft Skeleton of website

Annex-IX            Work Plan

Annex-X              Presentation on Biosafety Framework of Turkey and

Topics of Biosafety Guidelines of Pakistan



First ECO Experts Group Meeting (EGM)

on the Establishment of ECO Biotechnology Network



1.         The 1st ECO Experts Group Meeting (EGM) on the Establishment of ECO Biotechnology Network was held at the ECO Secretariat, Tehran on 22-24 April 2006. The Meeting was hosted by the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran (ABRII).  The meeting was attended by the National Focal Points and experts in the field of biotechnology from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Republic of Azerbaijan, Islamic Republic of Iran, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Republic of Tajikistan and Republic of Turkey. Along with ECO Secretariat the meeting was also attended by the representative of ICARDA. A copy of list of participants is enclosed at Annex-I.

Agenda Item 1

Inauguration of the Meeting

2.         Dr. Khayyam Nekoui, Director General of the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran (ABRII) inaugurated the meeting. He welcomed the delegates and highlighted the importance of biotechnology. He emphasized the need for food security keeping in view the growing world population and said that biotechnology offers great potential to help in this regard. He informed the meeting about the background for establishment of ABRII in 1999. The establishment of ABRII aimed at developing national grand project for agricultural biotechnology development, improving quantity and quality of agricultural production and helping to provide national food safety and security.

3.         The Director General of ABRII announced that they are willing to provide access to its facilities for researchers and students from the institutes and universities of the member states for doing research in biotechnology. A copy of his statement is placed at Annex-II.

4.         H.E. Mr. Askhat Orazbay, Secretary General of ECO also delivered his statement. He mentioned problems in the field of agriculture like yield and quality losses from pests, inadequate water supply, drought, salinity, soil deterioration, low efficiency of nitrogen fertilizers and absence of appropriate biotechnological tools etc. Biotechnology may provide a significant step forward in increasing yields, improving nutrition and ensuring the sustainability of present fragile agricultural ecosystems.

5.         The ECO Secretary General said that the Organization attaches great importance to the proposed project: ECO Agricultural Biotechnology Network and it has already allocated US$ 50,000 from its feasibility fund for the project. He underlined the importance of greater involvement of relevant international organizations in the process. He suggested development of regional and national bio-safety frameworks as a possible area of cooperation. He also suggested bilateral consultations and technical assistance in formulation of bio-safety legislation. A copy of his statement is attached at Annex-III.


Agenda Item 2

Election of the Chairman

6.         Dr. Ghasem Hosseini SalekdehHead of Physiology and Proteomics Department, ABRII was elected to chair the meeting.


Agenda Item 3

Adoption of Agenda

7.         The Meeting adopted its agenda with amendments which is placed at Annex-IV.


Agenda Item 4

Appointment of the Drafting Committee

8.         The meeting formulated an open-ended Drafting Committee comprising the delegates from each participating country as well as officials of the ECO Secretariat for preparation the Draft Report of the Meeting.


Agenda Item 5

Country Reports/Presentations on Biotechnology: challenges, potentials/ opportunities 

9.         The experts from the member countries delivered their Country Reports/Presentations on Biotechnology mentioning the policies, challenges and potentials/opportunities in the countries. The Reports/Presentations are placed at Annex-V.

10.       Mr. Faridullah from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, in his presentation informed the meeting that the biotechnology is not developed in Afghanistan and there is only one Tissue Culture Laboratory for Potatoes in Kabul established by the financial assistance of USDA and technical support of International Potato Centre and ICARDA. He requested ECO Secretariat and the member states to support the laboratory in providing its services. The meeting considered the possible technical assistance in this regard to Afghanistan.

11.       The meeting recommended that the member states can provide seeds and seedlings to Afghanistan depending on the quarantine rules of the countries and also extend training courses in the field of tissue culture. The meeting also requested the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to provide specific projects for enhancing its existing laboratory on potato tissue culture as well as new projects for tissue culture in high value crops – fruits, nuts in a way to help substitution of poppy cultivation with these crops. These projects will then be submitted for donors’ attention. Afghanistan is also requested to provide its future plans for tissue culture in order to include their requirements in the feasibility report which will be prepared under ECO-ABN.

12.       I.R. of Iran, I.R. of Pakistan and the Republic of Turkey can support tissue culture activities for potatoes as there is a great potential of potatoes in Afghanistan. Coordination Unit will provide the ECO Secretariat with a draft project proposal on potato tissue culture, training and capacity building for the member countries within three months. After the approval by the Steering Committee, the project proposal will be sent to donor organizations.

13.       The focal points would endeavor to provide some basic facilities for running the tissue culture laboratory of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will provide the details about their needs.

14.       The representative of Republic of Turkey announced that they can set up basic laboratories in some ECO countries including Afghanistan and extend technical assistance to Afghanistan in fruit tissue culture. 

15.       Dr. Ghasem Hosseini Salekdeh from ABRII presented Country Report of the Islamic Republic of Iran. While explaining the history of biotechnology in Iran, he briefly introduced the activities of Razi Institute, Pasteur Institute, University of Tehran and National Institute for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology of country. He also made introduction to ABRII highlighting its research activities in relevant areas. ABRII, as the main national agri-biotechnology research institute, focus on advanced plant molecular biology and biotechnology, strengthening and expansion of research in genetic engineering and biotech, promotion of national and international collaboration, and solving the main agricultural problems such as biotic and abiotic stresses and increasing crop production. These departments are active on several projects including tissue culture of potato, transformation of cotton, rice and wheat, food biotechnology, production of fertilizers and bio-pesticides, GTL analysis of biotic and abiotic stresses, physiological and proteomic analysis of biotic stresses. He also mentioned several success stories including production of virus free potato (50% of national need) and production of bio-fertilizer and bio-pesticides.

16.       He also highlighted the objectives and activities of different department of ABRII. The Institute has six departments e.g. (i) Tissue Culture and Transformation Department, (ii) Genomics Department, (iii) Plant Physiology, Biochemistry and Proteomics, (iv) Cellular and Molecular Biology Department, (v) Micro-organisms and Biosafety Department, and (vi) Technical Services and Research Support Department.  

17.       Dr. Hamid Rashid from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, in his country presentation, mentioned the problems related to crop productivity in Pakistan such as diseases, pest, salinity, drought etc. He said that biotechnology is a priority area for solving the problems facing agriculture in Pakistan. He highlighted the ongoing activities/research in the areas of plant tissue culture, genetic engineering, molecular marker assisted breeding, animal biotechnology and gene-transfer technology for the improvement of rice. Various organizations are involved in this activity in addition to major institutes like National Agricultural Research Centre, Islamabad, National Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering, Faisalabad and Centre for Excellence in Molecular Biology in the Punjab University, Lahore.

18.       He said that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan attaches paramount importance to technology development and considers it as an engine to boost economic prosperity in biotechnology. He also mentioned production of virus free seed potato through tissue culture as a success story of the country. Pakistani delegate offered readiness to provide technical support to other member states for research purposes.

19.       Mr. Shukrulloh Rakhimnazarov from the Republic of Tajikistan informed the meeting about the status of biotechnology in the country. Potato seed-production dramatically decreased during last years. The main reason is weak material basis. However, at present the Institute of Plant Physiology and Genetics is carrying out activities for increasing quantity of sorts of potato called “elite potato” and “super elite”. The production of initial formative tissue of “elite” potato is possible only in the firms which grows this type of potato. In addition, skilled professionals and technical facilities are needed to carry out these tasks. Tajikistan hopes to solve the problem in cooperation with other countries.

20.      Dr. Vehbi Eser from the Republic of Turkey, in his presentation, highlighted strategic objectives in agricultural biotechnology and industrial biotechnology. The objectives focus on priority areas in plant biotechnology, animal biotechnology and industrial biotechnology. He also informed the meeting about the current status of agricultural biotechnology research and ongoing projects in the country. Turkey has carried on research work on plant regeneration, in vitro micro-propagation of valuable plant material, transformation of crop plants, genetic mapping, gene expression, use of molecular marker techniques for polymorphism between different genotypes and molecular characterization of plants.

21.       Dr. Eser provided information about the recent projects in Turkey: (i) determination of genes and development of the plants resistant to heavy metals, (ii) determination and isolation of the genes responsible for drought-resistance and absisic acid production in wheat using mRNA differential display techniques, (iii) genetic mapping of potato, (iv) development of markers and cotton plants resistant to verticillum and heavy metals, and (v) characterization of genetic resources of economically important plants. He also informed the delegates about the latest status of biosafety studies and legislation in Turkey and said that his country intends to use modern biotechnology within the frame of precautionary principles.

22.       While delivering the country reports the delegates emphasized on biosafety legislation, training and research program, research in the areas of potato, rice, banana, cotton and genetic engineering.

23.       Secretariat also requested the member countries to enhance their bilateral cooperation in agricultural biotechnology especially for capacity building, transfer of technology based upon their area of expertise and accumulation of experiences.


Agenda Item 6

Presentation by FAO on International Agricultural Biotechnology Networks

24.       Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) which could not attend the session due to preoccupations conveyed to a statement to the Session on International Agricultural Biotechnology Networks summarizing their present activities and expressing their willingness to contribute to ECO ABN.  Mr. Farivar Parviz Farzam, Research Officer, ECO Secretariat on behalf of FAO read out this statement. He mentioned that FAO-sponsored network “REDBIO” is successfully working in Latin American region and FAO has recently launched ABNETA – the ag-biotech network for Africa.

25.       FAO is committed to continue assisting member countries on harnessing biotechnology applications in crops, livestock etc. and meet the Millennium/Development Goals. FAO provides assistance to the countries at the policy, institutional and technical level to enable to respond to the concerns about the potential risks to both food safety and the environment posed by genetically modified organisms. FAO is ready to contribute to the Network. A copy of statement is placed at Annex-VI.

Agenda Item 7

Establishment of the ECO Agricultural Biotechnology Network (ECO-ABN)

i.         Presentation of the Project Proposals by ABRII and ECO Secretariat

ii.        Consideration of Draft Project Proposal


iii.      Establishment of Steering Committee

26.       Under this agenda item Dr. Hosseini Salekdeh made a presentation on the project document for ECO Agricultural Biotechnology Network.  He said that main objective of the ECO ABN is to provide the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARIs) in ECO countries with an efficient tool for collaborative research in biotechnology. 

27.       These objectives would be realized through Networking of National biotechnology institutes, researchers, scientists, engineers, and administrators, linking regional activities and collaboration to international organizations and laboratories, capacity building and enhancement in the relevant institutes of the member states and conducting joint studies and research projects; harmonization of biosafety protocols and testing in the ECO Region will also be facilitated through the Network.

28.      The Meeting considered the project document for the establishment of the Network and approved it.  While discussing the document the EGM decided that the duration of the project will be for three years and network will be fully functional within two years. A copy of the Project Document is attached at Annex-VII.

29.       The meeting also considered the skeleton of website prepared by the ABRII and made some proposals in this regard. A copy of the first draft of the skeleton is attached at Annex-VIII. The revised version of the website will be available in due course for any further comments.

30.      The Meeting also considered establishment of a Steering Committee to monitor the implementation of the project and to submit progress reports to the ECO high level decision making forums/meetings along with its technical recommendations and policy consultations. The meeting decided on the composition of the Steering Committee. The committee will be comprised of ECO Secretary General (as president), Director General of ABRII (as Secretary General – alternative president), a representative from ECO Secretariat, three national focal points and representatives of other international organizations/donors. The meeting elected the National Focal Points of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Dr. Hosseini Salekdeh), Islamic Republic of Pakistan (Dr. Hamid Rashid) and Republic of Turkey (Dr. Vehbi Eser) as members of the Steering Committee for a term of 3 years (2006-2008).


Agenda Item 8

Proposals/recommendations for ECO Cooperation in the field of biotechnology and identification of Joint Projects

31.       Under this agenda item, the meeting discussed the following topics as areas where draft projects will be prepared by the Coordination Unit of ECO-ABN in coordination with the National Focal Points and ECO Secretariat:


  1. Production of virus free potato mini-tubers and their propagation (Details are given in relevant sections of the report)
  2. Preparation of Plan of Action for development/harmonization of biosafety regulations in the ECO region. (The National Focal Point of the Republic of Turkey will prepare the draft plan of action in consultation with the Coordination Unit and the ECO Secretariat).
  3. Intellectual Property Rights in biotechnology (The National Focal Point of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan will provide other focal points with information and work plan for IP within 3 months.)  
  4. Capacity building e.g. establishment of basic labs and training of staff in the member states. (Details are given in relevant sections of the report)


Agenda Item 9

Consideration of the Work Plan for the Establishment of Network

32.       The experts finalized the Work Plan for the Establishment of the ECO-ABN with some amendments. A copy of Work Plan is placed at Annex-IX.


Special Session on Biosafety Frameworks

33.       A special session on Bio-safety frameworks has also been held during in 3rd day of the Meeting. Dr. Vehbi Eser presented National Biosafety Framework of the Republic of Turkey developed between 2003-2005. He stated that they established a Coordination Committee including governmental organizations, universities and NGOs. The work is coordinated by General Directorate of Agricultural Research of Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. During the work, they have taken into consideration Cartagena Biosafety Protocol and EU Regulations. Under National Biosafety Framework there were three main items such as (i) legislation, (ii) organizational structure, and (iii) implementation.

The Turkish authorities used the following basic principles during the National Biosafety Framework development work:

  • Precautionary principles
  • Case by case evaluation
  • Substantial equivalence

Turkish authorities also drafted a National Biosafety Law.

34.     Dr. Hamid Rashid also informed the meeting about the details of National Biosafety Guidelines developed in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 2005. He said that the guidelines were prepared in consultations with the stakeholders and keeping in view the guidelines of UNIDO, FAO, WHO, UNEP etc. The objective of the guideline is to prevent unintentional negligence leading to misuse and irresponsibility by laboratory workers/researchers etc.

35.     The documents presented to the session would be circulated separately. However, power point presentation by Dr. Eser and the topics of the biotechnology guidelines of the I.R. of Pakistan are attached at Annex-X.


Agenda Item 10

Date and Venue of the Next Meeting

36.     The 2nd Experts Group Meeting (EGM) on establishment of ECO Agricultural Biotechnology Network will be held in February, 2007 in Tehran.


Agenda Item 11

Any Other Business

37.     Under this agenda item, no matter was discussed.


Agenda Item 12

Consideration and adoption of the Report of the Meeting

38.     The Meeting adopted the Report of the Meeting unanimously.


Agenda Item 13

Vote of Thanks

39.       The participating delegates expressed their thanks and appreciation to the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran and ECO Secretariat for excellent arrangement and preparations for the Meeting.