In this article we will discuss about the meaning and needs of capacity building.
Meaning of Capacity Building:
The United Nations and international development agencies coined the term ‘capacity building’ in the early 1990s after an appraisal of the development-assistance programmes in developing countries. Within that context, the term has come to mean different things to different people.
In 1997, a World Bank progress report on Africa defined capacity building as:
“…an investment in people, institutions and practices that will, together, enable countries in the region to achieve their development objectives”. Capacity building is a four-step process involving a needs assessment, strategic planning to change the situation, training of personnel to implement the changes, and an evaluation of the results.
A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report describes capacity building as a continuous process that ought to take place at various levels: individual, institutional and societal. The first two levels involve expanding local knowledge and skills. At the societal level, it is about creating opportunities to engage the trained individuals to their fullest potential.
All three levels are interdependent and need to be pursued concurrently in order to achieve the maximum benefit. In a report published in 2000, UNDP acknowledged that due to the different levels of development among countries, some countries may never be in a position to deploy cutting- edge technologies. Nevertheless, these countries need local expertise to understand and adapt technologies for national use, consistent with their development goals.
Food safety is attracting increased attention because of its implications for public health. In general, food control systems in developing countries are poorly developed, and less organised than in most developed countries.
Their overall capacity needs in terms of food safety can be summarised as follows:
i. Basic infrastructure;
ii. National food control strategy;
iii. Food legislation and regulatory framework;
iv. Food inspection services;
v. Food control laboratories and equipment; and
vi. Implementation of food quality and safety assurance systems.
The work in food safety is multidimensional, and there are frequently several food laws under the authority of different agencies. In many countries, effective food control is undermined by the existence of fragmented legislation, multiple jurisdictions and weaknesses in surveillance, monitoring and enforcement mechanisms.
Food-safety legislation developed specifically for the safety of GM foods should be integrated within the existing food laws, taking into account the special risk-management requirements.
In order to make informed decisions on the safety of GMOs and GM foods, governments need substantial human and institutional resources in the disciplines required for assessing the risks for the environment and for human food presented by GMOs.
Developing countries have limited expertise in the required fields of science, as biotechnologists in these countries are generally engaged in research and therefore mostly unavailable to the regulatory bodies and as policymakers. In most developing countries, those same scientists sit on national biosafety committees, and are involved in both risk assessment and policy-making.
There are three vulnerabilities in this scenario:
(a) When developers are also risk assessors, the potential for conflict of interest is magnified;
(b) Because most members of the national biosafety committee are recruited on a voluntary basis, they do not devote too much time to this responsibility; and
(c) Because membership of the national biosafety committee generally rotates, there is no continuity in the capacity gained through experience.
While many developed countries have adopted mechanisms to govern modern biotechnology, most developing countries are either in the process of developing national biosafety frameworks or are yet to start the process. To date, no more than 10 developing countries have implemented national biosafety laws. A further 20-30 are in a state of transition whereby some or all elements are at different stages of development.
A few developing countries that permit the commercial planting of crops derived from modern biotechnology have modest capacities to implement a regulatory framework.
Where national biosafety frameworks are in place, they vary between countries according to national priorities and statutory structures. In addition, the different social conditions that prevail in different countries make it difficult to determine the appropriate regulatory systems that should be enforced by developing countries.
Notwithstanding the diversity, a number of elements are essential and form the core of many national frameworks:
i. National policy and strategy;
ii. Regulatory framework consisting of regulations and guidelines;
iii. Mechanism for handling applications and issuing permits;
iv. System for enforcement; and
v. System for information dissemination.
The impetus to establish regulatory frameworks for biosafety seems to be a significant factor in determining the process whereby they are developed. In some cases, scientists have raised interest in regulating local research, while in others the trigger may have come from multinational companies seeking to continue seed production in the Southern Hemisphere during the northern winter months.
Recently, the importation of food aid has triggered some form of regulation in those countries that have been faced with food shortages. Many countries with regulatory systems have developed and implemented these systems in a stepwise fashion, usually in response to an immediate demand.
The first step has involved the establishment of voluntary guidelines to set in process a structured progression of the regulatory framework. The guidelines initially set the principles for safety in laboratory practices, which are later adapted to ensure environmental safety for enabling field trials.
The advantage of guidelines is that revising and incorporating new information requirements in line with an evolving technology can be done very swiftly. However, guidelines are voluntary and compliance cannot be enforced unless supported by regulations.