Globally, modern biotechnology is being rapidly adopted in the key sectors of health, agriculture and industry. However, its application and development in agriculture, in particular, poses a challenge to African countries as regards how to derive benefits from the technology while minimizing costs and potential risks to humans and the environment. An Africa-wide needs assessment conducted by NEPAD Agency ABNE revealed the need for evidence-based information on biotechnology to enable member states make informed decisions on how to benefit from the technology while protecting farmers, consumers and the environment. The gap analysis done for the socio-economic aspects of biosafety was quite revealing:
- regulators lack information on the social and economic impacts of modern biotechnology;
- there is no clear categorization of what socio-economic considerations in biosafety entails. Indeed the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety does not define socio-economic considerations;
- the process of incorporating socio-economic considerations in actual decision-making remains unclear to regulators. Questions emanating from this lack of clarity are – When are socio-economic considerations required? Who does it? How should it be done?
The inclusion of socio-economics considerations into the biosafety decision-making process stems from Article 26 of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety which states that:
- The Parties, in reaching a decision on import under this Protocol or under its domestic measures implementing the Protocol, may take into account, consistent with their international obligations, socio-economic considerations arising from the impact of living modified organisms on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, especially with regard to the value of biological diversity to indigenous and local communities.
- The Parties are encouraged to cooperate on research and information exchange on any socio-economic impacts of living modified organisms, especially on indigenous and local communities.
The peculiarity of the technology will entail guidance for most African nations in computing the cost of application and the functions of mandated regulatory institutions. The delineation of issues in this section is founded on the recognition of uniqueness of each regulatory system and country-specific needs and concerns.
The socio-economics section of the webpage provides information and technical support to regulators to enable them rationalize the costs and benefits of modern biotechnology. It also provides guidance in the adoption of best practices as well as to evidence-based decision-making. The ultimate goal is to provide information and analysis that will assist member states design and implement policies and mechanisms that appropriately incorporate socio-economic considerations into decision-making.