STATEMENT OF H.E. ASKHAT ORAZBAY, THE ECO SECRETARY GENERAL
First ECO Experts Group Meeting (EGM)
Establishment of ECO Agricultural Biotechnology Network
(Tehran: 22 April, 2006)
H.E. Mr. Khayyam Nekoui, Director General of ABRII
Honorable Heads of delegation,
Ladies and Gentleman,
It is a great honor for me to address the 1st Expert Group Meeting for Establishment of ECO Agricultural Biotechnology Network. First of all, I would like to welcome you all to this beautiful city of Tehran. I hope this Meeting will be an excellent start-up for ECO cooperation in the area and establishment of the Network.
The world population is more than 6 billion people. It is predicted that it will be doubled in the next 50 years. Ensuring an adequate food supply for world population is going to be a major challenge in the years to come.
This population growth will require incremental increases in food production to meet the increasing demand. This demand will have to be met mainly from the land that is already under severe pressure and degradation caused by drought, salinity, uptake of nutrients and low organic matter etc. Food producers also face the combined challenges of reduced water availability and rapidly increasing pressure of diseases and pests.
Under these circumstances, biotechnology brings about a significant step forward in increasing yield, improving nutrition, and ensuring the sustainability of present fragile agricultural ecosystems. Biotechnology may also offer solutions for preserving genetic diversity which is crucial for the quality of life on the earth due to several factors including enhancing food quality, sustainable agriculture hence food security, environmental factors etc.
Although agriculture is the mainstay of most ECO economies, we face serious problems. These are enumerated as (i) poor input management, (ii) yield and quality losses from pests, (iii) inadequate water supply, (iv) inefficient use of scarce irrigation water, (v) inadequate drainage, leading to the buildup of salinity and alkalinity, (vi) soil deterioration, loss of organic content (vii) environmental stresses, (viii) high costs of production, (ix) low efficiency of nitrogen fertilizers, and last but not least (x) absence of appropriate biotechnological tools.
As you know, the last factor cited “appropriate biotechnological implementations” may offer solutions to some of these problems such as low-productivity, effects of droughts, post harvest losses etc. The importance of the subject today, brought here such a distinguished gathering.
Biotechnology is old as the agricultural revolution, For centuries farmers and plant breeders have labored to improve crop plants. Traditional breeding methods include selecting and sowing the seeds from the strongest, most desirable plants to produce the next generation of crops. By selecting and breeding plants with characteristics such as higher yield, resistance to pests and hardiness, early farmers dramatically changed the genetic make-up of crop plants long before the science of genetics was understood. As a result, most of today's crop plants bear little resemblance to their wild ancestors.
In fact, there are also some controversial issues such as Genetically Modified Organisms/Foods which demands careful consideration and coordination among ECO member countries on case by case basis.
As FAO indicated, in some biotechnological applications, caution must be exercised in order to reduce the risks incurred such as development of more aggressive weeds, loss of biodiversity and possible hazards with transferred toxins etc. In this framework, there is a need for developing guidelines for using biotechnology and area in which member countries may also cooperate. In 2002, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), emphasized that developing countries should rely on agricultural biotechnology along with other agricultural technologies. However, only a few of developing countries are capable of carrying out all the research-and-development activities.
Establishment of ECO Agricultural Biotechnology Network has been proposed by Islamic Republic of Iran during in the 1st ECO Senior Officials’ Meeting on Agriculture held in Tehran in July 2004. This proposal was supported by the Meeting with a view to enhance agricultural biotechnology capacity in the ECO region. The meeting also decided that the project will cover the activities such as networking of national institutes and scientists from member countries, developing and conducting collaborative research projects among member states, linking regional activities and collaborations with international organizations, providing opportunities for students in member countries to conduct their thesis research at advanced laboratories and organizing expert group meetings and workshops.
Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran (ABRII) would coordinate and provide training, consultancy and laboratory facilities for the above mentioned activities.
The 2nd ECO Ministerial Meeting on Agriculture held in Antalya-Turkey in December, 2004 also welcomed and endorsed the offer of Islamic Republic of Iran to establish the Network for Agricultural Biotechnology.
ECO Secretariat also attaches great importance to the project. Upon the agreement of member states in the ECO Council of Permanent Representatives, ECO has already allocated 50,000 USD from its feasibility fund for the project.
I also visited Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran (ABRII) twice and lastly met with H.E. Mr. Khayyam Nekoui, President of ABRII, we agreed to organize this meeting.
In this Experts Group Meeting, project document on Establishment of the ECO Agricultural Biotechnology Network (ECO-ABN) and the Work Plan for the Establishment of Network will be considered.
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. This project aims at improving NARIs' access to new biotechnology tools by facilitating cooperation with one another and with advanced laboratories in and out the region.
These objectives would be realized through Networking of National biotechnology institutes, researchers, scientists, engineers, and administrator, linking regional activities and collaboration to international organizations and laboratories capacity-building in the relevant institutes of the member states and conducting joint studies and research projects; harmonization of bio-safety protocols and testing in the ECO Region can be facilitated through the Network.
Here, I wish to underline that we should ensure greater involvement of relevant international organizations such as FAO in the process. FAO has assisted two agricultural biotechnology network in the world. One is in Latin America at website (www.redbio.org). Other is in Africa at website (www.abneta.org). They have kindly provided us with relevant information which will be presented you today.
I would like to suggest another area of cooperation for your future deliberations, which is developing regional and national bio- safety frameworks.
Bio-safety is the safe development of Biotechnology products and their safe application resulting from the existence of effective mechanisms for the safeguard of human and animal health, safe agricultural production, safe industrial production, safeguard of the natural plant and animal species.
The absence of bio-safety guidelines is a major hindrance in flourishing the agricultural biotechnology in the countries. Therefore, technical assistance in formulation of bio-safety legislation can be an important area of cooperation.
Another area of cooperation could be to encourage to become a member to multilateral organizations in this field.
As we all know, any country that joins the WTO automatically becomes a party to a "package" of multilateral trade agreements, including the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 (GATT), the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary Measures (SPS Agreement), and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement). Therefore, cooperation in this area may help us in several other areas.
With these words, I would like to conclude my statement by wishing you every success in your meeting.
Have a nice stay in Tehran.