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Regulatory Practices and Challenges of the African Crop Biotechnology Sector

Seife Ayele

Principal investigator(s):   Joanna Chataway   David Wield

Funding: ESRC Science in Society Programme

March 1 2005 – February 28 2006


This study examined the regulatory systems of crop biotechnology in Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa. It identified and assessed the nature, and causes of regulatory progress and problems, in particular whether countries had sufficient capabilities and capacities to construct governance national and regional systems.

Aims and objectives

The research questions were:

  • What is the nature, and what is the extent, of regulatory problems?
  • Do these emerge from an inadequacy or inconsistency within policy and guidelines and/or from structural bureaucracy?

Research methods

The core methodology was an in-depth investigation of three national biosafety systems.

Key findings

Highlights of some of the key findings and conclusions were as follows.

There is evidence of significant innovation in regulatory practices and routines, achieved through the concerted efforts of internal learning and a series of capacity-building initiatives.

Institutionalising the structures and rules of GMO governance is contested. In each of the countries studied, a dominant protagonist has emerged but there is sufficient ground for decisions on GMO activities to be disputed. It is clear that different stakeholders perceive risk regulation from quite radically different perspectives and the notion of risk is related to different  factors, for example, loss of biodiversity, control of national natural resources, threat to trade relations and investment in science and technology infrastructure.

Facilitating intra-African trade in GM products is a key challenge. National differences over the scope of regulation and criteria for decision-making over GMOs and the lack of a single model for biosafety systems to converge are making the biosafety system harmonisation process at Africa level more difficult.

These findings echo the difficulties experienced in Europe and other parts of the world of constructing regionally harmonised biosafety regulatory systems. However, African countries face extreme constraints in scientific and technical resource. Thus, whilst there clearly are problems in implementing regional systems, there are also more pressures to succeed in this endeavour.


Seife Ayele presented papers entitled:

Biodiversity and Biosafety Systems Building in Africa, at the African Studies Association 49th Annual Meeting, (Re) Thinking Africa and the World: Internal Reflections, External Responses, San Francisco, CA., November 16-19, 2006.

GMO Regulatory Practices: Experiences from Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa at the ESRC Innogen Centre Annual Conference 2006: Genomics for Development? The Life Sciences and Poverty Reduction, 5-6 September, London.

The Legitimation of GMO Governance in Africa at the workshop Governing Technology for Development: from theory to practice and back again, London, 31 March - 01 April 2006.

Innovation in GM crop regulation in Africa at the Development Studies Association Annual Conference 2005, 'Connecting People and Places: challenges and opportunities for development', Milton Keynes, UK, 7th-9th September.

Further outputs

David Wield referred to the research in his presentation at the EU Presidency Invitee Conference for EU policy-makers 'The Future of Precaution for GM Crops' Vienna, April 16-17, 2006.

An international workshop entitled: Governing Technology for Development: from theory to practice and back again (London, 31 March - 01 April 2006) was organised.

A session on 'Agriculture and Innovation' was also organised at the ESRC Innogen Centre Annual Conference 2006: Genomics for Development? The Life Sciences and Poverty Reduction, 5-6 September, London.

Chataway is currently supervising a PhD student whose work draws on analysis developed in this project.

Chataway and Ayele are also supervising another PhD student looking at Kenyan biotechnology regulations.


Ayele, Seife (2007 forthcoming). Biotechnology and Biodiversity Debates  and Policies in Africa, International Journal of Biotechnology.

Ayele, S. (2007) The Legitimation of GMO Governance in Africa, Science and Public Policy. Vol. 34, No. 4, pp.239-249.

Ayele, S. (2007) IRMA: a science and technology-based intervention to reduce hunger? Case study teaching material, TU870, Capacities for Managing Development, Open University.

Further information

For further information contact Dr Seife Ayele,