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Biosafety in Action

September 3, 2013


Coffee Beans

For as little as 4 million dollars from a GEF Grant, during a period of 4 years, four countries (Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru) worked together to strengthen the technical and decision-making capacity for biosafety risk assessment and management in their countries. In the process, the importance of working on biosafety was demonstrated, increasing awareness in the region.


Latin America has been adopting GMOs at a faster rate than any other region of the world. This rapid adoption rate is the commercial outcome of the manifest delivery to the region’s agricultural economy of benefits linked to the initial products of biotechnology. Concern is mounting, however, about the accelerating adoption of GMOs in Latin America without sufficient and scientifically-sound biosafety assessment, management, or decision-making instruments. Although, the region is improving its capacity to implement biosafety regulations in compliance with international standards and treaties, establishing biosafety capacity is complex, not only due to the unique and difficult problems facing mega-diverse countries in addressing environmental risk, but also because of the range of technical topics involved, encompassing biological, climatic, socio-economic, health, legal and political aspects.


The World Bank’s rural development strategy highlights enhancing agricultural productivity and competitiveness as key pillars for rural poverty alleviation. The WDR 2008 “Agriculture for Development” states that “An important opportunity to contribute to the pro-poor agricultural development agenda will be missed if the potential risks and benefits of transgenics cannot be objectively evaluated on the basis of the best available scientific evidence and taking into account public risk perceptions” and that “countries and societies ultimately must assess the benefits and risks for themselves and make their own decisions”. In this regard, the Bank is committed to helping developing countries assess, explore, and safely use biotechnology and other new technologies when the appropriate regulatory frameworks are in place. Towards that end, the Bank has been supporting agricultural research capacity in some 30 projects since 1995. This is the first multi-country biosafety project that the Bank has implemented globally.


All participating entities (or 100%) in the four countries are using the biosafety risk assessment & management strategies & methodologies developed by the project (guidelines, studies, geo-spatial databases, maps, etc.) for monitoring gene flow, impact on non-target organisms, visualization through GIS tools and understanding producer and consumer behavior through socio-economic analysis. The project has also contributed to strengthening the cooperation and collaboration on biosafety risk assessment across institutions and participating countries. The inter-institutional and inter-country collaboration was achieved at different levels: 1) technical (technical staff received capacity building through participation in training events and exchange visits); 2) policy – two regional level meetings of biosafety decision-makers were held (in Costa Rica in April, 2011 and in Colombia in June, 2012); 3) project team – mission rotation enabled cross-exchange of knowledge and visits from all team members to the other participating countries and their institutions. Moreover, four regional working groups (by thematic area) have been created, inter-institutional alliances have been established (e.g. in Colombia – between CORPOICA and local Universities), a professional network on biosafety has been established and a Google Earth map used by the project to map the location of all participants (on project website). During project implementation, 27 events have been held with the participation of biosafety competent authorities. More than 150 representatives of the countries’ competent authorities and 500 decision makers now have access to information for risk assessment. Each country has also developed a database of stakeholders and collaborators (in Brazil it counts with 119 institutions and 1,404 surveyed people, in Colombia with 1,080 surveyed people, 367 in Costa Rica, 208 in Peru).


This GEF Full-Size Project (FSP) was regionally coordinated by CIAT (the borrower), a CGIAR Center based in Colombia, and implemented in four countries through National Coordinating Agencies – CORPOICA in Colombia, UCR in Costa Rica, EMBRAPA in Brazil and UNALM in Peru. All implementing bodies provided in-kind contributions to the project. A network of biosafety decision-makers was established from the National Technical Commissions on Biosafety of LAC countries.

Moving Forward

During the closing Conference of the project, a strong demand was expressed for a follow-on project at a larger regional scale in LAC, comprising around 10 countries, including the 4 countries that implemented the current project. The implementing agency (CIAT) has expressed its desire and willingness to pursue and coordinate this larger operation. They have approached the World Bank and GEF for further information on a follow-on larger regional project on mainstreaming biosafety in LAC.


The primary target group under component 1 of the project comprises the four National Coordinating Agencies and other Participating entities – members of the technical/scientific communities in the participating countries. The primary target group under component 2 of the project are “biosafety competent authorities and practitioners” – comprising government officials, technical entities advising government policy, universities, NGOs, producer groups, etc. Given the public good nature of this project, the universe of indirect beneficiaries can be significant, within and outside of the geographic boundaries of the four participating countries.


Different dissemination strategies have been used in the participating countries to reach out to different target audiences, among them: project webpage designed and continuously updated (lacbiosafety.org), close to 10 videos (podcasts) developed and disseminated in Colombia (youtube.com/user/lacbiosafety), Brazil (lacbiosafety.org/paises/brasil/) and Costa Rica (video presented in movie theatres), as well as Facebook pages in some of the countries. Involvement with the media (newpapers, TV, radio) was actively done in project countries.