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Towards a Regional Approach to Biotechnology and Biosafety for Southern African Countries (RABSAC): South Africa
2006



Developing countries in general and, in particular, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, are at crossroads regarding whether or not to embrace rapidly evolving biological technologies and related products, such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The pace at which SADC countries are engaging in biotechnology is a cautious and precautionary one. While a number of them are striving to establish policy and regulatory frameworks on biosafety and biotechnology, few have the capacity to fully enforce them. This emphasizes the need for a common regulatory approach and policy position in the SADC region, with acceptable standards that could be approved across countries.

The Food, Agriculture and National Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), in collaboration with national SADC nodes and technical partners, and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through its Programme on Biosafety Systems, has endeavoured to document a balanced review of the technical information needed to inform SADC's regional biosafety policy choices responsibly. The initiative is designed to generate the latest information for the SADC countries regarding biosafety regulation and legislation, necessary market systems and infrastructure, and identification and quantification of possible costs and benefits, as well as the economic costs and benefits of attempting to remain 'GM-free'.

The ultimate aim of this project is to ensure improved food security and incomes in the agricultural systems in the SADC countries through adoption of appropriate productivity enhancing technologies. It will help to ensure that the SADC countries have a balanced view of the costs and benefits of biotechnology/GMO adoption, for better decision-making.

The project has been undertaken in three selected SADC countries, i.e., Malawi, Mauritius and South Africa. They have strong national biotechnology institutions but are at different levels of biosafety regulation and legislation development. FANRPAN works with its national nodes in the three focal countries (Bunda College of Malawi, the University of Mauritius and the University of Pretoria) with its technical partners, which include BioEroc (Malawi), the Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute and AfricaBio (South Africa).

This working paper endeavours to describe and summarize the current situation in South Africa pertaining to biotechnology in the agricultural sector, as well as public understanding of biotechnology and biotechnological applications in the country, and stakeholders and roleplayers in its agricultural biotechnology sector. South Africa's biosafety regulatory system and the issues that surround it is also discussed and light is shed on how international and regional trade in agricultural products have been influenced by the adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops in South Africa.

A significant amount of research has already been conducted in South Africa on stakeholder analysis, commercial GM crop adoption and performance, and the development, appropriateness and effectiveness of the biosafety regulatory structures and legislation. This paper aims to summarize some of these findings and applicable literature in order to sketch a picture of the current agricultural biotechnology sector and the structures and stakeholders that surround it. This paper draws strongly on a recent report by Rosemary Wolson that was part of a New York University project on International GMO Regulatory Conflicts, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. Rosemary's paper Country Study: South Africa is augmented with findings and views from a number of other recent publications.

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