The 1979 United Nations Conference on Science and Technology completed its work with several recommendations. UNIDO (the United Nations Industrial Development Organization), like other UN organizations, wished to implement relevant recommendations. Since I was in charge of development and promotion of technology for the benefit of development, I was asked by the Executive Director to implement the recommendations. But in the process, I should also review new avenues of technological development. In going through the documentation of the conference, I found some very valuable material. Although these were hidden in the appendix, my colleagues and 1 found that they would be the suitable technologies to promote and develop for the benefit of the developing countries and related to the areas of genetic engineering and biotechnology, microelectronics, new materials, among others.
Our group felt that the developing countries would have an advantage in developing new technologies rather than following old ones. The new technologies would give a competitive edge over other countries. The development and promotion of technologies contained elements of greater requirement for scientific personnel rather than for capital resources. Since developing countries had already developed pockets of highly capable scientific manpower, they could usefully start and progress rapidly. Also, some of these technologies combined elements of research and their practical translation in the process. Therefore, UNIDO first undertook a survey of several technologies and later chose three areas, namely genetic engineering and biotechnology, microelectronics, and new materials.
Of these, genetic engineering and biotechnology provided more opportunities in terms of solving present-day requirements of food, seeds, fuel and fertilizers. The approach adopted by UNIDO was to identify the innovators and scientific leaders in those areas and invite them to Vienna for a review of the progress, and to ascertain the possibilities for the use of new technologies by the developing countries and also to emphasize the methods and money required. The meeting would also assign a role for UNIDO. Thus, UNIDO was successful in identifying a dozen scientists and technologists who were at the forefront of genetic engineering and biotechnology, and invited them to a meeting in early 1978. They were mostly from the United States and Europe. A few experts from the developing countries were also present.
We in the Secretariat of UNIDO were firstly amazed by their free expression of views. There was no sign of holding anything back as they were genuinely interested in the continuation of breakthroughs and their spread for the benefit of mankind. They felt that the developing countries could easily take up the work and make progress.
As a matter of fact, a few scientists attending the UNIDO meeting, although United States citizens, were of Indian origin. The meeting commended UNIDO for initiating action in the area of genetic engineering. They also recommended that UNIDO should pilot the spread of technological development. Towards that end, they felt that UNIDO should establish the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. In this endeavour, they would be prepared to provide all assistance needed for the purpose.
Another important recommendation was that UNIDO should send a small group of eminent persons to a few selected countries to review the current development and possibilities for further development. The team should consist of two experts presently attending the meeting, as well as a UNIDO staff member to prepare the overall report, which would be evaluated by the same group of experts and prepare a plan of action. The country missions were sent to Mexico, India, the Philippines, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Canada, Egypt, Nigeria, Brazil and the erstwhile Yugoslavia. …