Governing Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa Building Public Confidence and Capacity for Policy-making

"Persistent poor agricultural production and rising food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa have brought into sharp focus the role of modern agricultural biotechnology in human development. Growing food insecurity in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe and several other countries of the region has stimulated political and public attention on genetic engineering in general and on the potential benefits and risks of genetically modified crops.Sub-Saharan Africa is now the largest recipient of food aid. Approximately 1.3 million people in Eritrea, 5.2 million in Ethiopia, 1.5 million in Kenya and 2 million in Sudan require emergency food aid in 2003. Related to the concerns of increasing food insecurity are the deepening poverty, increasing cases of tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS epidemics. There is also increased environmental degradation in the region. Sub-Saharan Africa is now the poorest region of the world at a time when other parts of the world are experiencing growing levels of food security, high rates of economic growth and better health standards. This book has been written to throw light on all these issues. It has involved a detailed empirical investigation of biotechnology and biosafety policy in three African countries. These are Kenya, South Africa and Uganda. Chapter 2 sets the analytical context by reviewing the nature of science policy research, especially as it applies to potential developmental impacts of biotechnology. Attention is paid to international experience, particularly with reference to the OECD countries, since many of these have been struggling to come to terms with issues of biotechnology development and related biosafety policy. In addition, the chapter pays close attention to the analysis of risk and how it may be managed. What has become abundantly clear over the past decade or so is the flawed nature of traditional approaches to biosafety management; by this we mean attempts to treat biosafety risks as reducible to probabilistic values. Not only is this invalid from a purely scientific standpoint, but it also fails to deal with attitudes of civil society more generally. It is largely for these reasons that the “precautionary principle” has begun to be taken seriously as an aid to biosafety management, even though there is still no consensus about its applicability."