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South Africa RABSAC Policy brief
2006
Marnus Gouse


Introduction

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 caused partly by a lag in their own internal biosafety policy and regulatory capacities, and partly by 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. Impressive GM crop adoption rates in South Africa suggest that large- and small-scale 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 lose out on much-needed emergency food aid from organisations like the World Food Programme (WFP). Even, and maybe especially, countries that would like to remain GM free for the time being, due to being precautious or to enable them to produce for possible niche markets, need 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.

The Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) has been facilitating a project called Regional Approach to Biosafety for Southern African Countries (RABSAC). This project is supported by the United States Agency for International Development through the International Food Policy Research Institute's Programme for Biosafety Systems (PBS). The RABSAC project is part of a number of initiatives supported by PBS with the overall objective of documenting a balanced review of the technical information needed to inform regional biosafety policy choices responsibly.

From March 2005 to September 2006, the RABSAC project focused on three countries in SADC, namely Malawi, Mauritius and South Africa, which were chosen because each presented a unique situation and thus case study.

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