Dr. Marc Van Montagu the World Food Prize Laureate said this in a message sent to the organizers of the 9th Biotechnology Congress of Iran after receiving the prestigious award "Iran Agriculture Gold Medal" from H.E. Mahmood Hojjati the agricultural Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran during the opening ceremony. Before, this award had been given to only two distinguished scientists contributing to the food security and poverty alleviation: Late Dr. Norman Borlaug the father of green revolution and Dr. Gurdev S Khush for production of high yielding rice varieties. This is the complete message sent by Dr. Van Montague:
It was a great honor to be chosen for opening the First International Biotechnology Congress of Iran.
I want to express my deep gratitude to the authorities and the organizers for asking attention for the innovative technologies generated by research in the life sciences.
At a moment that many scientists realize that the ongoing overpopulation brings great damage to our planet and its living beings. That our industrial and agriculture development cannot keep pace with the social-economic needs of our societies. That hunger and malnutrition and extreme poverty is the fate of many billions, nearly half of the world population. It becomes very important to join forces and to demonstrate that we can bring highly valuable technical contributions.
The quest for knowledge and human ingenuity have been the source of impressive new technologies. It was not always easy for society to adapt and to learn to use them well for the benefit of humanity. With the “Green Revolution”, made possible through the vision and diligence of Norman Borlaug and the plant breeders community, intensive agriculture became possible. In the last decades we realized that the novel agriculture should be much more sustainable. It is now an urgent task for the plant scientists to help develop an intensive sustainable agriculture.
Our colleagues in other life sciences have developed novel tools for molecular biology, genetics and cell biology that are of the highest value for the progress in plant breeding and the understanding of plant physiology, plant growth and development. Together with bio-informatics, soil sciences and better study of the symbiosis between micro-organisms and plants, the micro ecology around the crop plants, live scientist are developing biotechnology, and building an agri-business essential for a successful intensive green industry and less polluting agriculture.
The discovery of plant gene engineering technologies, now more than thirty years, has brought the hope that we will be able to construct the novel crops that classical breeding cannot procure in due time, not withstanding the progress in molecular genetics and mutagenesis. The first results with engineered plants, yielded crops producing insecticidal proteins, crops which could be protected by less environmentally damaging weedkillers and healthier crops producing higher yields through the engineering of hybrid vigor. It were great successes, which unfortunately, through multiple socio-economic misunderstanding where only used for some large scale agriculture productions. So many crops essential for the poor and arid areas did not benefit from this technological progress. Today with the urgency of the problems of our planet we cannot longer wait. We can not delay any longer the use of the best of science and technology.
For this we biotechnologists, we have to learn and to understand why the society is afraid of innovation. How we can communicate about benefit/risk analyses an how we can help create confidence and cooperation between nations. Innovative technology is not sufficient. We live now in participative societies. Nobody wants to be excluded from opinion making. So explaining the methods of knowledge acquisition and the potentials of science is of as great importance as the scientific progress self.
Lets with all priority cooperate to develop local crops with high benefit for the poor areas, solutions for an industry less damaging to the environment, then it might be easier to demonstrate and obtain acceptance of science and biotechnology in particular.