The International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology
(ICGEB) is an intergovernmental organization in the United Nations
System. In 1997, ICGEB established its Biosafety Group to act as a
scientific reference point for its Member States that have ratified
the Convention on Biological Diversity and, in particular, the
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety concerning the transboundary
movement of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The role of the
ICGEB Biosafety Group is principally to assist countries in their
capacity to identify, regulate, manage and monitor products derived
from modern biotechnology within their jurisdiction. Activities
focus on directly supporting the establishment of national
biosafety regulatory systems and offices, and assisting the
development and execution of essential administrative and technical
procedures. Examples of key capacity-building practices and
feedback from Country partners are described below.
Exchanges in regulatory working experience
The Biosafety Group organises visits for Project countries,
especially African and Caribbean biosafety regulators and
scientific experts, to long-standing, highly experienced regulatory
offices in order to gain on-site experience and learn directly from
peers all aspects of GMO regulation. Such opportunities have
included regulatory placements in the GMO regulatory offices of
Argentina, Australia, Canada and Uganda. Reciprocally, the
Biosafety Group organises for experienced staff from some of these
regulatory offices to be embedded for short periods at the
institutions of their Project country colleagues in order to
provide local assistance in improving regulatory effectiveness.
During these latter visits, the current regulatory system is
analysed, needs are identified and prioritised, and decision-making
tools and processes developed in close partnership with the
National Biosafety Regulatory Authorities.
Biosafety mentored fora
Regulators, National Competent Authorities, scientific advisors and
inspectors in Project countries attend 3-5 day mentored fora, in
order to enhance their capacity to effectively contribute to GMO
decision-making. The well-established interactive format combines
training with the empowerment of local officials so that they are
be able to design and implement key regulatory activities.
Regulatory areas covered include: Drafting legislation and
regulations, Regulatory Administrative Tool and Guidance
Development, Containment and Confinement Management (incl.
inspection and compliance), Risk Assessment approaches regarding
the Environment and Health, Risk Communication, etc. Other fora
have focused on anticipating regulatory needs concerning
applications of specific GM crops likely to be submitted to the
regulatory authorities in the near future, and testing the degree
of regulatory preparedness. In all of these activities, novice GMO
regulators are trained in model approaches and tools in the
regulation of GMOs, and are mentored in tailoring these to national
Online eLearning portfolio
The Biosafety Group also offers a portfolio of online eLearning
modules that is available for use by regulatory authorities and
universities worldwide. The portfolio encompasses curriculum-based
modules on topics related to biosafety of GMOs such as biosafety
and biosecurity, biosafety legal frameworks, risk analysis,
assessments of both environmental risk and food safety, containment
and confinement, and socio economic considerations. In fact,
the blended learning experience incorporates new teaching methods
and approaches for technology-assisted education in the developing
world. The portfolio is hosted on the cloud and delivered online,
globally, continuously, at low cost, and on an as-needed basis to
multiple audiences. eLearning modules are peer-reviewed and
endorsed by eminent biosafety and biotechnology stakeholders.
In conclusion, the ICGEB Biosafety Group implements these differing
activities in an integrated, synergistic manner, resulting in
greater impacts than the total of each individually. Emphasis is
also given to continually updating capacity building efforts and
support such that they remain pertinent and state-of-the-art.
Please find below experiences and insights from project countries:
"The provision of technical assistance by the ICGEB Biosafety Group
to the Regional Biosafety Project […] enabled us to make
significant headway in the achievement of key project outputs […].
This support […] laid the groundwork for countries in the Caribbean
to move one step closer to full implementation of the Cartagena
Protocol on Biosafety." Michelle Johns (UNEP/GEF Biosafety Regional
Project for Implementing National Biosafety Frameworks in the
"In-country visits by biosafety experts […] in the premises of the
National Biosafety Agency (ANB) in Ouagadougou have been very
useful for training newly recruited staff. They also helped a lot
in improving our expertise and confidence in the field of biosafety
regulation by bridging both knowledge and procedural gaps." Oumar
Traoré (Agence Nationale de Biosécurité, Burkina Faso).
Overall, the experience provided by the ICGEB Biosafety Group
helped me go to the next level in biosafety. My knowledge has
expanded. I received bodies of information on new and upcoming
biosafety developments […]." Barry Innocent (Ministry of
Agriculture, Food Production, Fisheries, Cooperatives and Rural
Development, Saint Lucia).
"[…] The Group has achieved competence in African regulators
through organizing and funding a wide spectrum of capacity-building
programs […] [which] have left a landmark of public trust and
reliability on African regulators." Aligwekwe Blessing U. (BCH
Focal Point, National Biosafety Management Agency, Nigeria).
"My regulatory exchange visit to CONABIA, Argentina, under the
support of ICGEB empowered me, with the requisite knowledge in
biosafety regulation, most profoundly, the risk analysis of GMOs.
[…] Recently there was a launch of an online training course in
biosafety with Uganda being one of the beneficiaries […]." Musa
Kwehangana (Uganda National Council for Science and Technology,
"The ICGEB Biosafety Group has contributed quietly but enormously
to capacity building in the field of GMO biosafety […] whilst
maintaining [sic] a strict scientific and non-partisan approach
[…]." Martin Lema (Ministerio de Agroindustria, Argentina).