Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

Addressing the Impact of Biosafety Systems: Towards a Regional Approach to Biotechnology and Biosafety for Southern African Countries (RABSAC)
Three country synthesis report
December 2006
Marnus Gouse


Many developing countries, and particularly African countries, are at crossroads on making a decision regarding biotechnology and more specifically agricultural biotechnology and related products like genetically modified (GM) crops. The pace at which SADC countries are engaging in modern agricultural biotechnology is a cautious and precautionary one. This is partly caused by a lag in their own biosafety internal policy and regulatory capacities as well as a fear of losing international export markets if GM crops are adopted or accepted. Conversely, the opportunity cost of not adopting GM crops might be high for the SADC countries. Very impressive GM crop adoption rates in South Africa (in the 2005/06 season more than 90% of the total cotton area was under GM cotton and about 29% of the total maize area) suggest that African farmers can benefit from GM crops. The potential income gains associated with the first wave of technologies are significant and countries with a moratorium on GM crop imports also stand to loose out on much needed emergency food aid from organisations like the World Food Programme. Even and maybe especially countries who would like to remain GM free, for the time being, due to precaution or to enable them to produce for possible niche markets, needs to develop a biosafety policy. Failure by the SADC countries to engage in the development of a biosafety policy and regulatory framework is likely to increase biotechnology and trade divide in the region.

From March 2004 the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource, Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) has been facilitating a project called "Regional Approach to Biotechnology and Biosafety for Southern African Countries" (RABSAC). This project is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the International Food Policy Research Institute's Programme for Biosafety Systems (PBS). The RABSAC project followed a methodology similar to that of the "Regional Approach to Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy in Eastern and Southern Africa" (RABESA) project that was conducted for selected eastern African countries. The overall objective of these studies was and is to document a balanced review of the technical information needed to inform regional biosafety policy choices responsibly.

From early March 2004 RABSAC's focus fell on three SADC countries, namely Malawi, South Africa and Mauritius. These countries were chosen because each presented a unique situation and thus case study:

South Africa has been producing GM crops since the 1997 production season and is the only country in Africa where GM crops are commercially produced. SA currently produces insect resistant cotton and maize and herbicide tolerant cotton, maize and soya-beans. Information on the South African experience with GM crops, especially the experience of small-holders, is of great interest to the rest of Africa, especially the SSA countries.

With Mauritius being an island, biosafety is of great concern, especially with Mauritius importing almost all its agricultural products. Mauritius is almost a mono-crop country with soil and climatic conditions suiting nearly only sugar-cane. Mauritius imports soya-beans and maize from GM producing countries. Mauritius is currently in a process of developing a biosafety policy and regulatory system and has significant capacity in biotechnology R&D.

Malawi is in an advanced stage of developing a biosafety policy and regulatory framework (one of very few in SADC). Transgenic crops like insect resistant cotton and maize is of great interest and Malawi is also part of a USAID funded project on transgenic cassava. ICRISAT has also identified Malawi as one of the countries that can benefit immensely from GM groundnuts that is currently still in a process of development. The Malawi policy regarding food aid is also of interest.

In Phase I of the research project, that stretched from May to September 2005, "current situation" and stakeholder analysis where undertaken in the three focal countries, highlighting where the countries currently are with relation to a biosafety policy and regulatory framework, what the major challenges are and what the knowledge level, perceptions and positions of stakeholders are regarding GMOs.

Phase II, that roughly stretched from November 2005 to May 2006, focused on the focal countries' national policies regarding food aid and commercial imports of GM commodities as well as the potential and real farm-level impacts of allowing GM crop production.

This report aims to summarise and compare the findings of the study in the three countries. This report is a work in progress and will be updated with additional findings and insights that will follow out of the continuance of the RABSAC project for the period October 2006 to September 2007. This report draws on and frequently directly quotes out of the documents that were produced as research outputs during the run of the RABSAC project up to September 2006.

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