The main objective of capacity building/strengthening activities for those countries who have decided to implement socio-economic considerations in any of the modalities described in Falck Zepeda and Zambrano (2011), should be to develop FUNCTIONAL capacity for the assessment, analysis and evaluation of LMOs based on requirements set forward by policies/laws/regulations and national capacities.
The need will arise for different actors developing different levels of competency and understanding about the process, methods, decision making standards and the decision documents themselves.
Some critical examples include:
If a country requires a (narrow) economic approach to assessments the need of course will be on economists and maybe sociologists who will need to be competent on state-of-the-art methods and issues related to the economic assessments of LMOs. These professionals will likely need to understand some of the particularities of LMOs, especially the institutional context and issues related to adoption/diffusion/impact, while getting a working understanding of the issues and limitations encountered in the literature as reviewed by Smale et al. 2009.
If the country requires the assessment of broader social and economic issues, then a multi-disciplinary team will need to be assembled that includes potentially sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists,biophysical scientists, and yes economists. Obviously the experience with such multi-disciplinary teams is quite spotty and will introduce issues of its own. For an example of an assessment using the sustainable livelihoods framework using DFIDs approach see Adato and Meinzen-Dick (2002). The need for method triangulation and for a robust capacity to do such research are noteworthy.
2) Regulators/decision makers
Although in some cases the biosafety regulators may be the decision makers, these are usually two distinct sets of actors. Regardless both groups will need to undergo capacity building activities that will build their understanding on how to judge the quality of submissions by the assessors, to get a general understanding on the issues and limitations with regard to methods and with results presented in the assessments.
This capacity obviously does not have to have the depth that an assessor will need, this is more of a general overview to enable a decision making process. This group is not really interested in the nuts and bolts of a specific methods, only needs to know what the results and conclusions mean in a specific study and what are the issues and limitations of such results…which are directly connected to the methods used in the assessment.
3) General public and other stakeholders:
The general public will likely need gaining an understanding of the assessment and scientific peer review process, the decision making approach, and the overall regulatory process including the risk assessment and the socio-economic assessment if required. This group is even less likely compared to regulators/decision makers in their need for understanding specifics about the methods and issues related to the assessments itself. Therefore, capacity strengthening and/or communication/education efforts should be tailored to such needs.
Efforts targeting this group raises important issues such as transparency and quality standards for conducting research. It is important that all the materials (research protocol, data, literature review, methods, computer routines/programs) used in the assessments be accessible to anybody who may want to replicated and/or examine more in depth what was done in such assessment.
Here the need will arise of course for striking a balance between protecting confidentiality, confidential business information and the right to know by all parties. Having some limitations in terms of protecting individual information (such as that collected in farmer survey) or having a time window for the researcher or assessor to allow formal peer review and eventual publication before making all information available can be considered.
In the end, what one should strive is indeed scientific and research excellence and quality in order to guarantee as much as possible that the evaluation is as good as it gets, while ensuring the public’s confidence in the process,which in turn has to protective,transparent, scientifically robust while ensuring democratic engagement in a cost efficient manner.
Consulting the experience of those countries who have a functional and demonstrated capacity for the regulation of LMOs will be critical. I am thinking of those countries who have reviewed multiple application and who have approved, rejected and who have requested more information from the applicants. Although there may be some gains by learning from countries who have mostly academic or theoretical capacity (i.e. “experience of inclusion in our laws”) , I believe these gains are limited and thus we need to have exchanges with those countries who have a proven a track record of such regulatory experiences.
With regard to the inclusion of socio-economics into biosafety decision making, literature reviews and articles presented in previous threads (Falck Zepeda 2009, Falck Zepeda, Wesseler and Smyth 2010) and in those contributions posted on other threads of this online discussion, actual experience with the inclusion of socio-economics into biosafety decision making is quite limited. There are certainly many countries who have included socio-economic in their policies, laws and regulations, but very few have actually considered socio-economics. As the old saying goes “the proof is in the pudding”.
Adato, M. and R. Meinzen-Dick. 2002. Assessing the impact of agricultural research on poverty using the sustainable livelihoods framework. Discussion Paper 128, Food Consumption and Nutrition Division of the International Food Policy Research Institute. http://www.ifpri.org/sites/default/files/publications/fcnbr128.pdf
Smale, Melinda; Zambrano, Patricia; Gruère, Guillaume; Falck-Zepeda, José; Matuschke, Ira; Horna, Daniela; Nagarajan, Latha; Yerramareddy, Indira; Jones, Hannah. 2009. Measuring the economic impacts of transgenic crops in developing agriculture during the first decade: Approaches, findings, and future directions. (Food policy review 10) Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) 107 pages.
Falck Zepeda, J. B. Socio-Economic Considerations, Article 26.1 of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety: What are the Issues and What is at Stake?” 2009. AgBioForum. 12(1):90-107.
Falck Zepeda, J., J. Wesseler, S. Smyth. “The Current Status of the Debate on Socio-Economic Assessments and Biosafety Highlighting Different Positions and Policies in Canada and the US, the EU and Developing Countries”. Paper presented at the World Environmental and Resource Economics Congress in Montreal, Canada, July 2, 2010. Paper can be downloaded from http://www.webmeets.com/WCERE/2010/Prog/ (look under second day Parallel session 1).