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TITLE:  GM food aid in Southern Africa:
        Zambian decision on GM grain expected imminently
SOURCE: Action Aid, Uk, Press Release
DATE:   Oct 15, 2002

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GM food aid in Southern Africa: Zambian decision on GM grain expected 

This week, the government of Zambia is expected to announce whether it will 
take GM grain as food aid. Because of the seriousness of the issue and of 
the situation in southern Africa, ActionAid is speaking out on GM food aid. 
We currently fund famine relief work in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and 
Zimbabwe and have 30 years of field experience.

Maintaining food supplies The first and paramount consideration is that the 
flow of food aid to hungry people must not be broken. Zambia has 3 million 
people at risk. Southern Africa as a whole needs to import over 2 million 
metric tonnes of grain and 14 million people face hunger.

But we must recognise that GM food aid is one of the critical issues facing 
poor communities, governments and aid agencies working in drought stricken 
areas of southern Africa and ultimately in the continent as a whole. Its 
long-term impact cannot be ignored in countries where agriculture is a way 
of life and the lifeblood of economies*.

Tied aid and best practice Whilst the US is the biggest donor to the 
region, its aid, through USAID, comes with strings attached. It either 
donates foodstuffs or it ties its monetary aid to the purchase of US 

This is despite being a signatory of the 1999 Food Aid Convention, which 
recognises that food aid should be bought from the most cost effective 
source, be culturally acceptable and if possible purchased locally so that 
regional markets do not suffer. The UK, Japan, Netherlands and Norway have 
all donated cash, as best practice dictates.

Availability of non-GM grain The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) is 
effectively hamstrung by tied aid conditions imposed by the US government 
who will only donate unsegregated grain (grain that is a mixture of GM and 
non-GM) even though it is still possible to obtain enough non-GM grain from 
Africa, Europe, China and India.

If it is not a practical option to source non-GM grain in time, US maize 
should be milled into flour on request at donor expense. This would be the 
best way to avoid GM maize being planted locally - a key consideration for 
regional governments.

The WFP currently has 34 ships on the high seas delivering food aid. Seven 
of these ships contain grain and two contain milled flour. Despite 
difficulties it is clearly possible to mill grain into flour before it 
reaches the region.

Governments' rights and international agreements Governments have the right 
to make their own decisions on national food policies. We should also not 
forget that under the UN's Cartagena Protocol brokered in 2000, any country 
may reject GM food according to the precautionary principle (countries do 
not need scientific proof that GM is harmful to health), threats to 
biodiversity and to the non-GM trading status of a given country and that 
equally they will not be penalised for taking this stance. The US has 
refused to ratify this agreement.

Donald Mavunduse, ActionAid's Emergencies Programme Adviser said: "Whilst 
getting food to hungry people is paramount, the threat of starvation should 
not be used as a bargaining chip for the introduction of GM technology. 
African governments and civil society organisations have raised legitimate 
concerns about GM. They worry about its safety for health and the 
environment, how it is controlled and by whom and about the impact of GM on 
the future livelihoods of their citizens. These concerns should be 
addressed, not ridden over roughshod."

Governments' accountability Governments in the region must do their best to 
combat the crisis. The Zambian government must urgently carry out a 
reassessment of need and clearly state from where it can source non-GM 
grain and how much it requires. It should also investigate the possibility 
of grain swaps as has happened with one Zimbabwean consignment.

Across the region and in the medium to long term, rural development 
projects must be prioritised and marketing networks established. 
Additionally, SADC countries must develop clear and transparent policies on 
food security that address the issue of GM.

Donald Mavunduse said:"Zambia has a right to reject GM food aid, but not at 
the expense of its people dying of hunger. The Zambian government must 
urgently carry out an assessment of need and make absolutely sure that it 
can source enough non-GM grain on the world market in order to maintain the 
vital flow of food aid."

* Across Africa 7 out of 10 people earn their living from subsistence 
farming and they are growing poorer. African farming families - the rural 
poor - are increasingly vulnerable when there are poor harvests. In 
addition to Southern Africa, Ethiopia is currently suffering from severe 
food shortages, as is The Gambia. Lack of investment in rural development 
and uncontrolled rates of HIV and AIDS have combined with unfair 
international trade rules and subsidies in the western world's agricultural 
sectors to deepen poverty. Against this background, there are valid 
concerns that GM technology, owned and controlled by international 
agrochemical companies could undermine rights to save and exchange seeds 
and trigger adverse effects on poor farmers' agricultural futures.

For further information contact: Jane Moyo, ActionAid-UK Media Unit, +44 
(0)20 7561 7614 or +44 (0)20 7561 7633


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