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Capacity-building for integration of biosafety into national development plans, strategies and programmes

Online conference: 19 January to 6 February 2009

This conference is now closed. All documents and postings are available for reading by following the links below:


In its decision BS-III/3, paragraph 7, the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (COP-MOP) urged Parties and other Governments to integrate biosafety in their broader sustainable development strategies and approaches and programmes such as Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, where available and when scheduled for revision, as well as those related to the goals and objectives agreed upon at major United Nations conferences and summits including those agreed upon at the Millennium Summit that are described as the Millennium Development Goals.

At the third coordination meeting of Governments and organizations involved in implementing and/or funding biosafety capacity-building activities, which was held in February 2007 in Lusaka, Zambia, participants identified integration of biosafety into national development plans and programmes as one of the areas in which many countries require capacity-building support and further guidance. It was agreed that this issue would be addressed at the fifth coordination meeting, which is scheduled to take place in March 2009.

Pursuant to the recommendation of the fourth coordination meeting, this online conference is organised to allow for an initial exchange of views and experiences on integration of biosafety into national development plans and programmes and also enable participants to make suggestions on possible ways and means of strengthening national capacities in this regard. The results of the conference will provide input for a background paper to facilitate the face-to-face discussions at the fifth coordination meeting.


Over the last three decades, there has been a growing recognition of the mutual inter-linkages between economic development, social development and environmental protection. For example, it is noted that sustainable economic development and effective poverty alleviation hinge on ensuring the vitality of the environment and the long-term sustainability of natural resources that underpin human activities. In this regard, several documents resulting from various international processes, including, Agenda 21 - the global programme of action on sustainable development adopted by the Earth Summit in 1992 -, the United Nations Millennium Declaration and the WSSD Plan of implementation have called upon national governments to integrate environmental considerations into their economic and social development plans and programmes.

Biosafety – which encompasses a wide range of policies and measures to prevent or minimise potential adverse effects of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from biotechnology on biodiversity and human health – is one of the key environmental sustainability strategies that governments need to proactively pursue and mainstream into development processes and relevant sectoral and cross-sectoral policies and programmes. This is particularly important in light of the dramatic increase in the development and application of modern biotechnology over the last two decades. As noted in Agenda 21 and other documents, modern biotechnology has a great potential to contribute to national dvelopment and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, for example through enhancing food productivity and nutrition, better health care, bioremediation of degraded environments and facilitation of sustainable use of natural resources. However, it could have adverse effects on biological diversity and human health. For example the spread of traits, such as herbicide resistance from genetically modified plants to plants (including weeds) that are not modified, negative impacts on non-target organisms and potential build-up of resistance in insect populations could have devastating environmental consequences. As well, potential effects of antibiotic-resistant marker genes used in research on LMOs could result in serious human health effects.

In view of the above, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was adopted in 2000 to contribute to ensuring the safe transfer, handling and use of LMOs and enable countries to develop and apply modern biotechnology in an environmentally sound manner so that humankind can to derive maximum benefits from the technology while at the same time minimising its potential risks to the environment and human health. A number of countries have developed national biosafety frameworks incorporating legal, administrative and other measures to implement the provisions of the Protocol at the national level. However, many countries have not yet addressed biosafety objectives in the context of the broader national sustainable development goals. Consequently, biosafety considerations are not covered in many of the existing national development plans or equivalent instruments, such as PRSPs. A quick review of the national biosafety frameworks (NBFs) developed so far shows that many of them do not clearly articulate the linkages between biosafety and other economic sectoral policies, plans and programmes. Many NBFs in their current form may not be able to inspire much political interest or effectively influence the policies and actions of other economic sectors and institutions to ensure sustainable development.

There is clearly a need to build on the progress made in developing the NBFs to systematically integrate biosafety into the broader development policies, plans and programmes through a broad consultative process. Biosafety is a sustainable development challenge that cuts across different sectors and as such requires a systematic, holistic and participatory approach encompassing different ministries, sector departments, civil society organizations and the private sector.

While the need to promote biosafety is now widely recognised, translating this desire into practical actions and aligning it with other sustainable development objectives is still a big challenge. Many developing countries and countries with economies in transition lack the capacity to effectively integrate biosafety into national development policies, plans and budgets. There is clearly a need to assist developing countries and countries with economies in transition in different ways, among other things, to:
  1. Articulate the linkages between biosafety and the broader national development and environmental sustainability issues, objectives and priorities;
  2. Identify and utilise appropriate entry points for integrating biosafety into national development processes, including development of Poverty Reduction Strategies, long-term investment plans, national budget consultations, country assistance strategies, sectoral and cross-sectoral policy frameworks, technical consultations and sector reviews, as well as strategic and project-level environmental impact assessments;
  3. Define roles and responsibilities for mainstreaming biosafety into national development planning processes and implementation programmes as well as other relevant sectoral and cross-sectoral policies, plans and programmes;
  4. Periodically assess progress on integration of biosafety in development activities; and
  5. Share information, experiences and lessons learned.

This conference provides an opportunity to exchange views and share experiences in order to develop strategic measures and guidance to strengthen the capacities of developing countries and countries in transition to integrate biosafety into their national development plans and programmes.