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Collaboration in biosafety: why should African countries worry about those that are technologically weak? Julius Mugwagwa The Open University DSA Conference,

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Presentation on theme: "Collaboration in biosafety: why should African countries worry about those that are technologically weak? Julius Mugwagwa The Open University DSA Conference,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Collaboration in biosafety: why should African countries worry about those that are technologically weak? Julius Mugwagwa The Open University DSA Conference, 2-4 Sept 2009

2 Structure of presentation Sub-Saharan Africa, food security challenge and the role of technologies Need for, and emergence of cross-national regulatory systems for biotech – theory and practice Divergent contextual realities Overcoming the contentions – multilayered convergence Conclusions

3 Preamble – unequal footprints Instead of thinking about policy as a routine engagement between certain public officials and a settled retinue of established interests, we are now forced to consider how a single system is constructed from semi-independent institutions and actors linked by resource agreements, joint agreements, joint projects and cross-border engagements … it is really composed of pads of unequal size, each contributing to a characteristic policy footprint (Considine, 2005:127).

4 Sub-Saharan Africa Appreciable progress has been realised in many areas – literacy, health, governance, environment management, industrial manufacturing capacity etc But weighing these through the barometer of the MDGs reveals a lot of work still to be done, especially following reversal of some gains by the economic crisis (UN MDGs report, 2009) Also, through the eyes of the ordinary person, change has only resulted in more of the same

5 Food insecurity – a fluid challenge One of the current and persistent challenges for the African continent Causes are seen to be as much environmental/ecological as they are political, economic, technological and social Responses to this have continually caused anticipation and anxiety alike – both spiralling to/from arenas as diverse as those known to be fuelling the problem

6 Southern Africas shrinking food basket For 12 geographically contiguous countries and 3 island states of the SADC region, the 2002/03 food emergency was a familiar script Only one additional actor – suspected GM maize in the food-aid Tensions created, regulatory uncertainty exposed Sparked a series of reactions at various levels

7 Cross-national biotech governance One issue that emerged strongly from the 2002/03 food crisis was the need for regional harmonisation of biosafety regulations Even before, the regional policy platforms were awash with calls for: cooperation, coordination, integration, coherence, regional frameworks, removal of cross-national barriers among other aspirations Many players have sought to champion this emergence of a regional framework; including SADC, NEPAD, African Union, some civil society organisations, academics and even the private sector A number of reasons were advanced as to why harmonisation would be desirable; e.g., reducing regulatory costs, building economies of scale, the imperative of shared histories and borders, among others All this in the backdrop of different levels of use and capacities for biotech development and governance

8 Overview biotech crop planting and biosafety systems None Trials Commercial Laws, no trials Biotech commercial South Africa -corn, cotton, soybeans Burkina Faso – Bt-cotton Biotech on trial Zimbabwe – cotton, corn Kenya - cotton Egypt – cotton & corn Burkina Faso Kenya Malawi Egypt South Africa Lack of biosafety regulations viewed as the biggest limitation to biotech growth Obtaining accurate information on status is a challenge

9 The study Seeking to understand whether and how the cross-national governance agenda was/not emerging A two-level case study of the SADC region and three supranational organisations (representing some of the key actors behind this agenda) A multi-method approach was used in data gathering... including document reviews, interviews and participant observation

10 Theoretical perspectives and data analysis Study employed a three-factor conceptual framework/model advanced by Busch and Jorgens (2005) Framework recognises policy convergence as resulting from cooperative harmonisation (supranational law and obligation), coercive imposition or diffusion of practices The study was informed by multiple theoretical perspectives, including governance, general systems theory, innovation systems, networks, sociology of expectations …

11 Some early illusions (with hindsight!!) Positive about being able to find out whether, to what extent and how the SNOs were influencing cross-national policy convergence Region – well-defined, simple, invariant, unproblematic, indivisible Sustained and accepted harmonisation agenda Unchartered and apolitical terrain Policy on sheet of blank paper Clear and uncontested boundaries This was the rhetoric in the formal space and in documents

12 Some inconvenient realities unfolding... 14 then 15 countries, 6 other regional economic communities, 3 major international languages, different socio-economic and political challenges and opportunities … Different levels of utilisation of the technology & regulations No room for novices – proven habits and customs at play New policies in margins of previously-negotiated commitments Different sectoral boundaries and policy fields

13 Realities turning to fears and skepticisms … Fluctuating identities and strengths of motivating factors State roll-back ---> regulatory free-market Fallacy of composition – countries are in reality competing, nothing possible for all Prisoners dilemma and information asymmetries Clashes of interests at various levels, including threats to relationships Limited control over processes and outcomes Fatigue from talking biosafety … lone rangers and without the technology Familiar story told … removed from our context Chicken and egg quandary between technology and policy Race to the bottom or to efficiency? The intensities of these realities differed among countries, raising the stakes for the regional agenda

14 Its the grass which suffers... Inescapable that the battle is about creating the right environment for regulating the technology (risk regulation & deriving benefits) Strong feeling that countries have no choice but to have the technology; either way Quote: Its the technology dictating the terms here. [We are told] we need it to be able to ensure the safety of what we eat, and in order to remain viable. The voices for alternatives seem to be crowded out. Its all about this new technology, really (emphasis added) (MM, regional biosafety organisation, May, 2007) One pro-biotech activist The problem is [that] this regulation agenda has been hijacked by non-scientists, and [therefore] you cannot expect it to proceed smoothly (July 2007) Determinism? Inevitability? Techno-utopianism? And what does this do to the reality of food insecurity, geographical contiguity, border-spanning cultures, weak technical and policy capacities?

15 Lose-lose situation? A further reality is, the differences among the countries are the imperatives for developing a transnational governance system – from the rationalist perspective problems creating incentives for their solution (Haas, 2004) How inevitable is a regional framework in this context? At what levels? Or are the countries attempting to heroic feat of making omelette without breaking their eggs?

16 Multilayered convergence proposed A harmonised cross-national biosafety framework for the SADC, where all countries face the same obligations, would be difficult and could spawn divisive tensions. A multi-layered harmonisation or 'convergence' framework being proposed The layers could group countries by their development and use of biotechnologies; could be time-bound, or issue bound. This would not be unproblematic because of some unpredictable realities within the context, hence there may be need to combine layers See role for SNOs in promoting cross-boundary learning

17 Cluster B Cluster C Cluster D Regional Position Cluster A



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