Main Issue

Biotechnology is the modification of living systems and organisms to develop or make new products. It has been around for thousands of years. Farmers, for example, have used selective breeding to improve crop production.

In modern times, scientists have altered the very DNA of living organisms to create products in fields ranging from agriculture to health care. Some crops, for example, have been genetically modified to increase nutritional value or build resistance against pests. But for all the benefits of genetic manipulation, there are also risks.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) entered into force in 2003, ushering in a new era for the safe transfer, handling, and use of biotechnology. Through its strategic plan, the protocol aims to adequately protect biodiversity from any potential adverse effects of living modified organisms (LMOs). Many countries need capacity-building support to fulfill their obligations under the protocol. This entails developing a national approach embodied in the development and implementation of a National Biosafety Framework (NBF).

The CPB seeks to ensure an adequate level of protection in the field of the safe transfer, handling, and use of LMOs resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity. While rooted in the precautionary approach, the CPB recognizes modern biotechnology as having great potential for the promotion of human well-being, particularly in meeting critical needs for food, agriculture, and health care. The protocol sets the parameters to maximize the benefit that biotechnology has to offer, while minimizing the possible risks to the environment and to human health.

What We Do

The GEF provides funding to build country capacity to implement the Cartagena Protocol. As a first step, we help countries take stock of their capacity to implement the protocol and develop a national approach. This can include elements such as raising awareness about biosafety, promoting access to information, and engaging the public in designing a strategy.

Through regional or sub-regional projects, we also help countries share resources and coordinate the development of NBFs. We support thematic projects that build on common capacity building challenges countries face in making the protocol operational.


The GEF has supported development of NBFs in 127 countries. By the end of GEF-7, as many as 65 countries will have received support to implement them.

As part of the GEF’s support to the CPB, we supported a multi-country capacity building project to support compliance in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Peru. One of the most important achievements of this project was to unify the protocols and tools for biosafety risk assessment and management. As a result of the project, the participating countries learned how to monitor LMOs and how to avoid cross-pollination between LMOs and non-LMO maize, potato, rice, and cassava. The project also helped participants assess the profitability of their farms, as well as the costs and benefits of introducing LMOs. The project established a platform for South-South learning and knowledge exchange and facilitated the creation of a community of practice on biosafety in Latin America.

In Brazil, the project activities grew into a network of more than 100 participating and collaborating organizations, ensuring that the work on biosafety continues. In Costa Rica, the public outreach campaign resulted in a clear increase in requests for biosafety information and speaking engagements from the project team at the University of Costa Rica. Through these efforts and stakeholder consultations, the project succeeded in communicating science-based information and in positioning the participating research institutions as trustworthy sources of knowledge on the topic of biosafety.

Looking Ahead

The GEF’s strategy to build capacity to implement the CPB prioritizes implementation of activities that are identified in country stocktaking analyses and in the Conference of the Parties guidance to the GEF. In GEF-8, eligible countries can seek support to implement their NBFs - the initial phases of basic capacity building. In addition, the GEF will support the ratification of the protocol by the countries that have not yet done so.

The aim of GEF investment to build capacity is to ensure that countries have functional NBFs, are in full compliance with the requirements of the protocol, and have mobilized adequate resources to support implementation of the protocol. Countries will be supported to implement the provisions of the protocol, including capacity building related to risk assessment and risk management in the context of country-driven projects and enhancing public awareness, education, and participation concerning the safe transfer, handling, and use of LMOs. In addition, the GEF will support the updating and revision of existing NBFs and compliance action plans to allow countries to adapt to the regulation and safe use of new biotechnologies and synthetic biology consistent with the provisions of the protocol.

The GEF will support thematic projects addressing some of the specific provisions of the Cartagena Protocol. These projects should be developed at the regional or sub-regional level and build on a common set of targets and opportunities to implement the protocol beyond the development and implementation of NBFs.

The GEF will also provide support for the ratification and implementation of the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress to the CPB. There will also be a specific focus on capacity building and regional cooperation to support the effective implementation of the supplementary protocol.