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On November 13th 2013, more than 150 people came together in Ghent, Belgium, to attend the Forum “30 years of Plant Biotechnology, A Forum on Global Agriculture and Forestry”, organized by IPBO. Em. Prof. Marc Van Montagu and colleagues invited 11 leading speakers, who shared their viewpoints on priorities and action points needed to harness innovations in green biotechnology for developing economically viable and environmentally sustainable forestry and farming systems in emerging and developing countries.


Richard Roberts. Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1993, New England Biolabs, USA

Tree biotechnology – Clarifying the debate
Stanley Hirsh, Chief Executive officer, Futuragene, Israel/Brazil

Iowa State University and Agrobacterium non-coding RNAs.
Kan Wang, Director of the Center of Plant Transformation, Iowa State University, USA

Seven minutes of headlines on where we have missed the boat with transgenics
Jonathan Gressel, EM Prof Weizman Institute of Science, Israel

Cuban plant biotechnology – Realities and current priorities
Carlos Borroto, Vice Director, Cuban Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Cuba

30 years of plant biotechnology
Luis Herrera-Estrella, Chief of the National Laboratory of Genomics and Biodiversity, Mexico

Building African Capacities in Science- Technology and Innovation
Ismail Serageldin, Director Library of Alexandria, Bibliotheca Alexandria (BA), Egypt

Building functional biosafety systems in Africa
Diran Makinde, Director AU-NEPAD African Biosafety Network of Expertise, Burkina Faso

Delivering technology to farmers in Uganda
Nicolai Rodeyns, CEO Naseco Needs, Uganda

GMOs in the Russian Federation
Konstantin Skryabin, Head of Biotechnology, Lomononosov Moscow State University, Russia

Global cassava partnership for the 21st century
Claude Fauquet, Global Cassava Partnership, USA


For all speakers on the Forum, it is very clear that there is an urgent need for innovation and large scale agriculture in order to be able to feed the ever growing population on this earth. The real challenge is to obtain a sustainable agriculture, with high yields, lower land need and low costs, and with respect for biodiversity. All speakers believe that plant biotechnology is needed and in the end will result in continued development with efficient resource usage. Indeed, in Cuba, the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers decreased 11 times thanks to genetically modified plants over the last 20 years, while the yield increased. Furthermore, a vaccine against hepatitis B, produced in and purified from tobacco plants is now on the market in Cuba. However, the developing world and emerging economies need more new genes, in order to increase the yield of their crops on the fields even more and to reduce the negative impact of herbicide resistant weeds on food production. In Mexico, transgenic plants were developed that use phosphite as sole phosphate source, while the yield of these plants was as high as non-transformed plants. However, at the same time, the phosphite can be used as efficient herbicide to control weed growth.
The main problems for the acceptance of GMOs by society are the many regulatory rules and miss leading communication. Also in Africa, the many regulatory rules barriers the development and delivery of biotech crops. Therefore, the African Biosafety network of expertise was developed with the main missions to develop policies and regulations to promote safe development, diffusion and adaptation of agricultural GMOs and to enhance communication. There must be a closer link between scientists, developers, farmers, processors and consumers in all aspects of Agriculture. A good example that this can work is Naseco Seeds, a seed company in Uganda, who delivers effective technology to the farmers by providing them innovative solutions beyond seed. They provide the farmers also a choice and bring research to the farmers. This results in Uganda in higher yields, feeding the nation and creating stable incomes.
A discussion between the speakers and between the speakers and the public (pro and contra GMO) was moderated by Joël De Ceulaer.


Finally, the International Industrial Biotechnology Network (IIBN) was presented by René Van Berckel (Chief Cleaner and Sustainable Production Unit, UNIDO, Vienna) on the Forum. IIBN, established in 2010 by IPBO, with the support of the Government of the Flanders Region of Belgium, and UNIDO, is a unique international platform dedicated to create a greener and more sustainable agro-industrial sector in low and middle income countries through innovations in biotechnology. Since its start, IIBN is being developed along two tracks: (i) by engaging in advocacy to raise awareness and improve understanding of the potential sustainability benefits of biotechnology; and (ii) by fostering R&D activities that translate biotechnology applications into social, economic and environmental benefits for emerging and developing regions.

To amplify IIBN’s activities, expand its knowledge base, and reinforce international cooperation and impact, five Founding Members signed an IIBN Charter on the Forum, to cooperate to improve science and technology collaboration and transfer in biotechnology between knowledge institutions, business, governments and other stakeholders in developing, transition and industrialized nations. These five founding members are: Science and Technology Centre, Ukraine; Embrapa, Brazil; the Guangxi Academy of Sciences, China; the African Biosafety network of Expertise, Burkina Faso; and IPBO.

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IIBN Founding Statement

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IIBN founding members : Upper row, from left to right: Monica Sormann (EWI, Government of Flanders), Michel Zayet (Science and Technology Centre, Ukraine), Junhua Wu (Guangxi Academy of Sciences, China), Dulce De Oliveira (IPBO), Sylvie De Buck (IPBO), Ivan Ingelbrecht (IPBO). Lower row, from left to right: Sylvia Burssens (IPBO), Kathleen D’hondt (former member of EWI), Marc Van Montagu (IPBO), Maria Fatima Grossi de Sa (Embrapa, Brazil), Diran Makinde (the African Biosafety network of Expertise, Burkina Faso) and René Van Berckel (United Nations Industrial Development Organization).