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Vol. 35 No. 1
January-February 2013

IOCD: Chemical Sciences in Development

The International Organization for Chemical sciences in Development (IOCD) has much to be proud of in its first three decades of work. As a nongovernmental organization,1 the overall impact of IOCD has been to raise the profile of the field and its practitioners; initiate, promote, or sustain a number of technical, managerial, policy, and collaborative projects and networks advancing chemical sciences in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs); and contribute to vital resources for teaching, learning, and research.2 Commemorating the 30th anniversary of its foundation, IOCD’s Annual Meeting in Strasbourg, France, in April 2011 included a special session reflecting on its history attended by Marie-Noelle Crabbé, daughter of IOCD’s late founder Pierre Crabbé who was a Belgian chemist and inspired humanitarian.3

A New Strategy for Changing Times

Many changes have taken place in the landscape of science and development since IOCD was founded in 1981. There are many new actors and new sources of funding targeted at specific areas such as tropical diseases. The economies of many LMICs have advanced substantially (e.g., Brazil, China, and India are now among the largest economies in the world and are becoming leaders in areas of advanced technology). The paradigm of development has shifted from “aid as charity” provided by high-income countries (HICs) and focused on individual training and institutional capacity building: It is now centered on enabling LMICs to establish and manage their own systems of science, technology, and innovation. There is also now much greater emphasis on interdisciplinary cooperation and recognition of the value of working at the interfaces between traditional sciences.

In 2011, IOCD contributed to the celebrations of the International Year of Chemistry—see 2011 Milestones below— and marked its 30th anniversary by initiating a new strategy4 focused on three priorities:

Chemistry for Better Health

The nature of health challenges faced in every part of the world is changing as a result of shifting patterns of disease, the globalization of health threats, and changes in the environment and in human behavior. IOCD’s strategy is to support capacity building for medicinal chemistry, including drug analysis, discovery, and development in LMICs; and chemists working on the isolation, structure elucidation, and bioassay of natural products. IOCD’s Plant Chemistry Working Group has a long track record of working in this field, including supporting structure elucidation and regular symposia on plant chemistry. The 2012 IOCD International Conference on Functional Molecules in Nature, held in Nanjing, China, 22–24 September 2012, focused on the chemistry and biology (particularly pharmacy) of natural products including phytochemicals and microbial secondary metabolites.5

2011 Milestones
IOCD at the Crossroads

IOCD’s Biotic Exploration Fund (BEF) was established in 1995 in collaboration with Thomas Eisner (known as the “father of chemical ecology”). The BEF has worked in a number of countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, assisting the development of policies and programms for ethical, sustainable bioprospecting. In Kenya, the BEF collaborated for several years to facilitate the development of a national strategy for bioprospecting. On 3 November 2011, John Kilama, chair of the BEF, participated in Nairobi in the launch of the Kenya Bioprospecting Strategy, which received KES 10 billion (about 70 million Euros) of government funding. The strategy, spearheaded by the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife and Kenya Wildlife Service, will provide structures and systems to manage and regulate bioprospecting activities in Kenya. It will seek to tap the huge market for bioprospecting and generate wealth and knowledge for the country. The launch makes Kenya among the first countries in the world to have a bioprospecting roadmap after establishment of the Nagoya Protocol.6

Chemistry for a Better Environment

Some countries are learning how to engage in sustainable development and avoid the historic pitfalls of development such as pollution, exhaustion of resources, and loss of biodiversity. IOCD’s strategy is to enhance capacities for environmental chemical analysis and sustainable use of biological resources. IOCD’s Environmental Chemical Analysis Working Group was initiated in 1993 in collaboration with IUPAC. Over the years, it has held workshops and training on practical techniques for analyzing pesticide residues and water quality. The emphasis of the Working Group has increasingly been on building capacity to tackle nationally relevant analytical challenges.

The IOCD Working Group has partnered with the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) to strengthen its capacity to test export commodities to international standards. IOCD scientists have provided technical consulting to seven Ugandan Commodity Testing Laboratories engaged in testing commodities for export. UNBS has continued to enhance its capabilities for internationally acceptable analytical methodology (e.g., in 2011 it was certified by the South African National Accreditation System as an accredited calibration laboratory).7

Because of increasing urbanization, the rise in vehicle emissions, and the trend towards greater industrialization, urban air quality in many countries is worsening. This is notably the case in Africa, where currently 38 percent of the continent’s population is living in urban areas; this proportion will rise to 54 percent by 2030. A large number of African countries have begun to adopt air-quality-management legislation, regulations, or policies. Other countries are recognizing the need for improving air quality and moving to control emissions. In collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Tanzania Atomic Energy Commission, IOCD’s Environmental Analytical Chemistry Working Group organized a workshop in Arusha in 2011 focused on the analysis of air particulate matter.8

Capacity Building in Chemical Education

IOCD is enhancing chemical education in LMICs through the following projects:

  • Web-Based Resources: IOCD groups have developed online tutorials in organic chemistry, available in Spanish, as well as training in practical medicinal chemistry, available online and as a CD, to help upgrade the skills of chemists in the field of drug design and development.9
  • Books for Libraries: An IOCD Working Group on Books for International Development collects university textbooks across all disciplines, including the chemical sciences, as well as laboratory equipment and computers. In collaboration with UNESCO, the group makes a number of shipments each year to universities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.10
  • Micro-Scale Science Kits: Together with IUPAC, UNESCO, and the International Foundation for Science Education, IOCD has supported the Global Microscience Project, providing portable micro-scale kits enabling chemical reactions to be conducted with very small quantities of chemicals. The kits and materials are designed to be easily adaptable to different national curricula, and different language versions are in preparation.11

Moving forward, IOCD sees a need to strengthen chemical education by developing a broader, global approach that will enhance access for all to high-quality stores of knowledge and that will reflect the changing opportunities for learning in a digital age. IOCD is currently exploring how to develop a new kind of knowledge repository, free and online, that would have elements related to, but be distinct from, encyclopaedias, textbooks, and lecture notes. The knowledge base would be organized as lucid and clearly illustrated descriptions and explanations, which may be used as sources for work by teachers or students, providing a global standard of knowledge at a specified level—whether for school- or university-level study or for broader understanding by the public and policy makers.

Chemical Sciences in a Changing World

Several key considerations underpin IOCD’s current efforts to ensure its future relevance in a globalized, rapidly changing world:

  • It is no longer relevant to consider the needs of “developing” countries as being separate from those of the rest of the world and to focus only on the “less developed” ones.12 IOCD aims to help solve global problems while giving special emphasis to the problems that are most relevant to LMICs.
  • In tackling major global problems (e.g., in energy, environment, health, food and nutrition, materials, water), it is increasingly evident that multidisciplinary approaches are required and that solutions are often found at the interfaces between sciences. While IOCD had long recognized that chemistry is a central science, there is further scope for IOCD to embrace “contemporary sciences” more broadly, address a broader audience and bring an understanding that chemistry had a special problem-solving role and is part of the solution to problems.
  • The application of science to development problems should place stronger emphasis on the concepts of equity; inclusive, sustainable development; and frugal technologies that, having been developed for use in resource-poor settings, could be of global benefit.13
  • In promoting the greater integration of science with innovation systems at national and global levels, there needs to be greater emphasis on the role of entrepreneurship. This is a key both to solving problems and to attracting young, creative people to work in science and innovation.
  • Ensuring that science plays a key role in development also requires engagement at the science/policy interface, helping to translate science into policy and ensuring that science priorities are also informed by policy needs. One aspect of the science/policy interface that is starting to receive attention is “science diplomacy.”14

Stephen Matlin <[email protected]> is adjunct professor in the Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College, London, UK, and is a member of the governing board of IOCD.

A version of this article is also published in Chimie Nouvelle, Vol. 111, 5–8 (2012) <>.

see also "AAS and IOCD signed a MOU intended to foster more collaboration", this issue p. 16.


  1. GT Seaborg. Science, 1984, 223, 9 []
  2. JM Lehn, ER Blout, RH Maybury. Chem Int, 2002, 24(3), 3-5.
  3. IOCD History; and references therein
  4. IOCD Strategy 2011–2020. Namur: IOCD, 2011.
  5. IOCD International Conference on Functional Molecules in Nature, Nanjing, China 22–24 Sep 2012.
  6. Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Montreal: Convention on Biological Diversity, 2012.
  7. Certificate of Accreditation: Uganda National Bureau of Standards.
  8. Report on the AFRA Workshop on Environmental Analytical Chemistry, Arusha-Tanzania, 23–24 May 2011.
  9. Open and distance learning in chemistry. Namur: IOCD, 2012.
  10. Working Group on Books for International Development. Namur: IOCD, 2012.
  11. Global Microscience Project. Namur: IOCD, 2012.
  12. IOCD avoids the use of terms such as “developing countries” and prefers “low- and middle-income countries” and “high-income countries,” as classified by the World Bank.
  13. The term “frugal technologies” was used recently in: P. Howitt et al. Technologies for Global Health. The Lancet, 2012, 380, 507-35.
  14. New Frontiers in Science Diplomacy. The Royal Society, London, 2010.

2011 Milestones

The 30th anniversary of the International Organization for Chemical Sciences in Development (IOCD) coincided with the 2011 International Year of Chemistry and IOCD made several contributions to the year-long round of activities to mark IYC 2011. At the official launch ceremony of IYC 2011 on 27–28 January 2011 in Paris at the headquarters of UNESCO, Jean-Marie Lehn, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1987 and IOCD president, gave the introductory lecture and framed the importance of the year in his talk entitled “From Matter to Life: Chemistry!” and in his piece for the opening program on “Protecting Our Planet: The Role of Chemistry in Creating a Sustainable Future.” Professor Lehn also participated in a number of other meetings associated with IYC 2011, including several in France, Japan and Poland. Writing on “Chemistry: The Science and Art of Matter” in a special edition of the UNESCO Courier (Jan-Mar 2011, pp 7–9) marking the start of IYC 2011, Professor Lehn highlighted the pivotal role that chemistry has to play in relation to many aspects of human progress, including food and medicines, clothes and housing, energy and raw materials, transport and communications and much else. His comment “Chemistry will undoubtedly remain the central science in the 21st century” was featured, among other places, at the front of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute’s IYC 2011 Media Kit. IOCD Executive Director Alain Krief, the distinguished Belgian chemist of Namur University, participated in the December 2011 Closing Ceremony in Brussels. IOCD Senior Advisory Council member Berhanu Abegaz and Board member Stephen Matlin contributed a major review of “Chemistry for Development” in the book The Chemical Element: Chemistry’s Contribution to Our Global Future (Wiley 2011, ISBN 978-3-527-32880-2;, published to mark IYC 2011.

See and references therein.

IOCD at the Crossroads

On 5 July 2012, IOCD co-organized a one-day international symposium and public seminar in Namur, Belgium, in collaboration with the Namur Research College at Namur University. The theme of the symposium was “Chemical Development: Chemistry, a Crossway Towards Interdisciplinary Science,” featuring lectures by Nobel Laureate Ryoji Noyori (Saitama) on “Facts Are the Enemy of Truth,” Don Hilvert (Zurich) on “Designer Enzymes,” Luisa De Cola (Munster) on “Functional Materials by Self-Assembly. From
Solution to in vivo,” Klaus Mullen (Mainz) on
“Is the Future Black?—The Chemist’s Search for Graphene and Carbon Materials,” and Peter Seeberger (Potsdam) on “Preventing and Curing Infectious Diseases: Carbohydrate Vaccines and Continuous Flow Synthesis.” The lectures highlighted some of the many ways that chemistry, working at the interfaces with many other sciences including biology and physics, is contributing new insights and new materials with important applications of global significance.

The symposium was followed by a public seminar featuring three speakers. Berhanu Abegaz (executive director, African Academy of Sciences, Kenya) introduced a session in which Stephen Matlin (London) spoke about “New Challenges in Chemical Sciences for Development.” He emphasized that the chemical sciences had made major contributions to human health, well-being, and wealth during the last two centuries, but not all populations had benefitted equally from this, resulting in some stark inequalities between richer and poorer nations. In addition to these persisting inequities, in the 21st century the world was faced with a number of new challenges as the population of the planet continued to grow and there were pressures on energy, material resources, and the quality of the environment. He spoke about the changing role of IOCD and especially the contribution it was seeking to make at the critical interface between science and policy.

Introduced by session chair Nicole Moreau, (IUPAC past president, France) Gerhard Bringmann (Würzburg) gave a talk on “The BEBUC Scholarship System: Re-Installation of Excellence in the Congo,” describing his successful efforts to improve school education in the Congo and to assist young scholars to pursue advanced learning.

The Public Seminar concluded with a session introduced by Leopold Demiddeleer (Solvay Company, Belgium) in which Ryoji Noyori lectured on “Science and Technology for Future Generations.” Noyori reflected on the challenges he had faced and lessons learned during his long career working on asymmetric catalysis. He noted that science is inevitably closely intertwined with society and there were now many opportunities for chemistry to contribute to “green” technology and the more efficient, cleaner production of energy. The Japanese organization RIKEN, of which Noyori is currently president, pursues innovative basic science and aims to return the results of research to society. Noyori observed that there have been many benefits of science and technology to society, but there were many new challenges in the modern world that require better prioritization and balancing of culture and technology. Noyori ended his talk with a call for scientists and technologists to help create a civilization that respects cultures and works through international cooperation.

Complete program @


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