The development of biosafety regulation in Africa in the context of the Cartagena protocol: legal and administrative issues Academic Article uri icon


  • The coming into force of the Biosafety Protocol (the Protocol) charts out a new direction in the growth and development of modern biotechnology. It is a timely and vital development given that in a very short time- frame, transgenic croplands have increased rapidly from zero in 1995 to 39.9 million hectares in 1999. Adoption rates to these transgenic crops have increased more than 23 times between 1996 and 1999. 1 Most of these have taken place in the industrial countries of the USA, Canada and Australia, and the developing countries of Argentina, China, Mexico and South Africa. 2 This decade will witness many African coun- tries adopting and commercializing transgenic crops. However, efforts to invest have to be guided by sound mechanisms for assessing risks and benefits. This is crucial to enable African governments to make informed choices and decisions. The Protocol, an internationally binding legal instru- ment concluded by parties to the Convention on Bio- logical Diversity (CBD), was the result of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety, which was set up in 1995. The Protocol aims at comprehensively addressing concerns raised about biotechnology. These concerns include safe handling, use and transfer of living modified organisms (LMOs). 3 All parties to the Protocol are obligated to comply with its terms. However, the obligations set out in the Protocol do not fully align with the national needs and priorities of many African countries. The numerous areas of non-consensus within the Biosafety Working Group support the validity of this assertion. 4 The Protocol contains not only elements of compromise, but also provisions forced upon some parties, particularly Afri- can States. 5 However, most African States intend to implement the Protocol. 6 To provide a suitable frame- work for the implementation of the biosafety meas- ures, parties are required to put in place relevant national legislation. 7 For LMOs intended for direct use as feed, food or processing, only developed countries are obligated to put in place domestic regulatory frameworks, while developing countries, including those with economies in transition, need only make decisions based on risk assessments within a predict- able timeframe. 8 The challenge for African States is to put in place effective legal and administrative struc- tures to implement the Protocol. In this article, the objective is to investigate the basic requirements of the Protocol and to identify and pro- pose specific legal and administrative mechanisms that need to be instituted at the national and interna- tional levels to ensure that parties, especially African countries, comply with their obligations. The article seeks to articulate the principles on which these mech- anisms should be founded. Emphasis will be placed on effective strategies for implementing the Protocol and the roles that civil society can play to monitor and ensure compliance. Lastly, recommendations are pre- sented that may help realize national needs and prior- ities in biotechnology and biosafety in Africa

publication date

  • 2002


  • Africa
  • Biosafety
  • Biosafety Protocol
  • Biosafety Regulation
  • Cartagena Protocol

start page

  • 62

end page

  • 73


  • 11


  • 1