ICRISAT and the policy environment on biosafety in Africa

Icrisat has been using conventional breeding methods as well as modern biotechnology to solve problems constraining production of its mandate crops. Modern technology has been applied to groundnuts to incorporate resistance to the Indian peanut clump virus, an Asian disease and to the groundnut rosette disease, predominantly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Research on this is at an advanced stage and the transgenic plants are ready for field evaluations.

Icrisat's guidelines regarding genetically modified crops require working in countries that have developed biosafety legislation or guidelines. Plant varieties genetically engineered by Icrisat are developed in collaboration with national agricultural research partners and formal permission from governments of host countries is sought before transferring the GM crops. It is therefore evident that the policy environment regarding genetically modified crops in partner countries impacts greatly on the ability of Icrisat to transform its technologies developed by genetic transformation into tangible goods benefiting end users.

Besides establishing national policies, rules and regulations on biosafety, countries are also collaborating in regional fora to develop and harmonize policies relating to agricultural research. Some examples are ASARECA and SADC which recently launched the SADC Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and Biosafety to develop and harmonize legislation on biotechnology and biosafety. These regional initiatives are likely to impact on the national policy and regulatory environments of individual countries.

This study proposes to explore in depth the biosafety policy environment in Kenya, Malawi and South Africa. The three countries are at different levels in terms of biosafety policy development and it is expected that they will provide an indication of the status of biosafety policy at the different levels. The study will identify and analyze the prevailing policy and regulatory regimes in the named countries by examining inter alia, policy documents, legal instruments and institutions from which they arise. What is the national policy on biotechnology? Are there any policy gaps? What is the legal framework? What is the status of biosafety regulation? Regional initiatives namely ASARECA and SADC will be examined in as far as they impact on the national biosafety policies of their member states. How does the approval of testing and deployment of a transgenic crop in one country affect testing and deployment of the same transgenic crop in another country in the same regional forum? What is the effect of regional collaboration on national biotechnology and biosafety policies?

The study also proposes to assess capacity elements in the three countries and the ability of the national systems to assimilate knowledge and integrate it into the system. What are the institutional arrangements for implementation of the policy and regulations? Are there trained personnel? Are there containment facilities or plans to acquire such? What are the risk assessment and management systems?

By their very nature, transgenic crops involve creation of new inventions which may be subject to intellectual property protection. It is therefore important to understand the intellectual property component of developed technologies in order to be aware of the IPR implications. This study will examine intellectual property aspects relating to transgenic rosette resistant groundnut. IP on Bt in pigeon pea and soyabean trypsin inhibitor which are currently under development will also be examined to determine issues such as origin and ownership of technologies.

ICRISAT together with sister centers that belong to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research has a strict policy of not deploying transgenic crops without the express approval of national governments, and then only if there is an established regulatory framework that is seen to be effective. ICRISAR is seeking assistance and input in collecting the necessary information on the subject in South Africa and in the region. Please send any policy documents, legal instruments, reports and reviews related to biosafety, lists of contact people and organizations or any other information Lois Muraguri at l.muraguri@cgiar.org


June 2003