Main Issue

Biotechnology is the use 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 strengthen nutrition or build resistance against pests. But for all the benefits of genetic manipulation, there may also be risks.

Modern biotechnology has great potential to help meet critical needs for food, agriculture and health care. But the transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms could have adverse effects on biological diversity.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety 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. 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.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) seeks to ensure an adequate level of protection in the field of the safe transfer, handling, and use of living modified organisms 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 National Biosafety Frameworks (NBFs). In particular, we support thematic projects at a regional or subregional level that build on common capacity building challenges countries face in making the protocol operational.

Looking Ahead

GEF’s strategy to build capacity to implement the CPB prioritizes the implementation of activities that are identified in country stock-taking analyses and in the COP guidance to the GEF. GEF-7 will provide the opportunity for another 71 eligible countries to seek support for support to implement their NBFs, the initial phases of basic capacity building.

The GEF will help Parties 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 living modified organisms. GEF experience has shown that these kinds of approaches are effective where stock-taking assessments support the potential for coordinating biosafety frameworks, interchange of regional expertise, and capacity building in common priority or focal areas to develop the capacities of groups of countries lacking competences in relevant fields. 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 built on a common set of targets and opportunities to implement the Protocol beyond the development and implementation of NBFs.


The GEF has supported the development of National Biosafety Frameworks in 126 countries, and their subsequent implementation under the Cartagena Protocol.

GEF supported a multi-country capacity building project to support compliance with the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica and Peru. By the end of GEF-6, as many as 64 countries will have received support for implementation of their National Biosafety Frameworks (NBFs)

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 iving modified organisms (LMOs) and how to avoid cross-pollination between LMOs and non-LMO maize, potato, rice and cassava. The project also helped the participants to 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 mushroomed 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.