Recommendations that attention should be paid to nanotechnology's ethical, economic and social risks for Africa, put forward by a regional workshop in Côte d'Ivoire, must be built on, says Kathy Jo Wetter in Pambazuka News.
The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) is promoting the use of nanotechnology as the key to solving problems such as dirty water in the developing world. South Africa's National Nanotechnology Strategy's budget, funded by the Department of Science and Technology, approached US$600 million for 2009–2010.
But Wetter argues that nanotech will profoundly affect Africa's economy, regardless of its level of direct participation or handling of intellectual property (IP).
If a new technology outperforms a conventional material it is likely to replace the conventional commodity, hurting the poorest and most vulnerable particularly workers without flexibility to supply new skills or raw materials, says Wetter.
African governments should enact tougher IP laws that recognise the rights of patent owners, she says.
Nanoscale materials can easily enter most human cells without triggering an immune response. Some nanoparticles can cross the placenta, potentially posing significant risks to developing embryos. Workers who experience routine occupational exposure to nanoparticles will likely be most at risk.
Wetter suggests that commodity-dependent developing countries in Africa gain a better understanding of nanotechnology's impact and participate in determining how it affects their futures. Approaches are needed to monitor and assess the introduction of nanotechnology along with early warning strategies to keep pace with technological change.