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Bioscience Issues

Samuel E. Timpo


Analysis of biotechnology regulatory systems in Africa and implications for food security and improved rural livelihoods


Project Team1

Samuel E. Timpo – Principal Investigator (NEPAD Agency ABNE)

 Godwin N. Y. Lemgo (NEPAD Agency ABNE)

Dr. Hashini G. Dissanayake (Michigan State University)

Dr. Joseph Guenthner (Idaho State University)


Although many African countries have developed some features of their biosafety systems for regulating agricultural biotechnology, to date only four countries, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt, and lately Sudan, have approved the commercial cultivation of genetically engineered crops. This is in spite of most African countries having either acceded to or ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety which seeks to guide parties establish functional regulatory systems that would enable a platform for the exchange of scientific and technical information and ultimately biosafety decision-making. Currently, many African countries have biotechnology policies, regulations and strategies but then a look across the continent reveals limited capacity within national systems in regulatory decision-making despite efforts by a number of global, regional and sub-regional biosafety initiatives over the years.

Observations by the NEPAD Agency African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE) indicated that significant variations exist in decision-making among countries with apparently similar national regulatory systems. However, empirical evidence to explain these variations and to identify constraints that have impacted on the decision making processes is lacking. This study is therefore an explanatory research aimed at understanding the issues that impair the functionality of biosafety systems as well as best practices that can adapted by other countries in Africa. The research seeks to explore factors influencing the differential ability of 6 sub-Saharan African countries to implement functional regulatory systems by assessing the current state of regulatory capacity, and by examining features that define agricultural biotechnology policy and biosafety regulatory regimes in the selected countries and their role in the decision making processes concerning Genetically Modified (GM) crops. The study also evaluates the study countries’ scientific capacity for risk assessment and risk management processes and procedures and examines the nature and extent of inclusion of socio-economic considerations, international trade, and intellectual property rights (IPRs) in biosafety decision-making and the institutional arrangements for decision-making.

Qualitative surveys and desk review of official documents are being used to obtain both primary and secondary data. A comparative case study methodology is being used to analyse differences among the six African countries selected from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Ghana), East Africa (Kenya and Uganda) and Southern Africa (Mozambique and South Africa) through the review of literature, multi-stakeholder surveys and focus group discussions. The target research population incudes regulators, scientists, industry practitioners, farmer-based organizations, consumer associations, non-governmental organizations, policy makers and decision makers. The cross-sectional data will be used to further comprehend and interpret the case studies and analysis of the different country scenarios. To achieve the desired mix, purposive sampling is being employed to interview fifty (50) respondents within each national system.

Being an African-owned and African-led biosafety service provider and an initiative of NEPAD Agency lends ABNE the critical foundation for success and trust by stakeholders in member states. This will facilitate data collection and interaction with key persons in strategic positions and would afford stakeholders the opportunity to openly express their views and share experiences from their perspectives. While maintaining confidentiality of responses, this participatory approach would ensure ownership of both the process and outcome. The focus group approach adopted also serves as a platform for consensus-building and consultations involving relevant stakeholders within the national system. The research will adopt an issues-based approach to distil policy issues. Currently, data collection is in progress in all six study countries. Project implementation strategy revolves around work plan synergy with other ABNE programmatic activities to leverage time and financial resources. Thus the research is being undertaken in tandem with ABNE’s ongoing gender study, monitoring, learning & evaluation, and capacity building programmes.

Expected outputs include publications in peer-reviewed journals, policy briefs, CDs/DVDs, a study report, and training resource materials. Anticipated outcomes include better comprehension of biosafety issues and enhanced policy dialogue resulting in more workable regulations and decision-making processes; better understanding of the regulatory landscape in Africa for more impactful and more focused regulatory interventions by the African Union, Regional Economic Communities, and biosafety capacity building initiatives; greater cooperation for knowledge and experience sharing that empowers member states to make informed and timely decision-making. It is envisioned that this study will be an invaluable resource and a catalyst to increasing the number of functional regulatory systems across Africa thus ensuring equitable access to good technology and sharing of benefits while protecting farmers, consumers and the environment; a contribution to the NEPAD Agency’s thematic programme on agriculture and food security.


1The project team brings extensive experience in socio-economic issues in biosafety; socioeconomic impacts of innovations and technologies on smallholder agriculture; food safety of both conventional and genetically modified foods/feed; biotechnology and biosafety capacity building; science, policy and institution building; and extensive research and field work on food security and livelihood enhancement in many developing countries, including several sub-Saharan African countries and Asia.