GENET archive


3-Food: Recent articles on GE food aid (2): Guardian & Reuters

genet-news mailing list

                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Zambians starve as food aid lies rejected
        Despite a terrible drought, the African state says it is right to
        refuse GM maize from the US
SOURCE: The Guardian, UK, by Rory Carroll,2763,813220,00.html
DATE:   Oct 17, 2002

------------------ archive: ------------------

Zambians starve as food aid lies rejected
Despite a terrible drought, the African state says it is right to refuse GM 
maize from the US

In the woodlands of southern Zambia hunger arrives with the rhythmic clack 
of stone against stone as villagers pound open the hard mungongo nuts, a 
food of last resort for which they compete with monkeys and elephants. The 
pounding is the only sound in hamlets such as Siatumbu where families slump 
in front of thatched huts, weakened and tired.

The matriarch, Muntimba, has witnessed drought many times and this one is 
the worst, she says. "The children cry themselves to sleep from hunger. We 
go further into the bush to find nuts and berries, but it's not enough. If 
this goes on we'll die."

In a neighbouring village, the headman, David Bouvu, 71, sits in the shade 
of a tree, shaken by rebellion. "The children refused to go to school 
today. They said they were too weak to walk or concentrate. That never 
happened before, no matter how bad it got."

There are no confirmed deaths from starvation, but the villagers are 
becoming anaemic and those with Aids are deteriorating as immunity systems 

In the nearest town, Livingstone, several thousand tonnes of emergency 
relief maize sits in a warehouse with frosted windows on Industrial Road, 
untouched since arriving in July. Mr Bouvu knows of the food aid.

"The GM? Yes, the radio says it's poison."

Would he eat it? "If it was in front of me now, yes."

A food crisis threatens more than 14 million people in six countries in 
southern Africa, the result of drought, floods and bad policies. As the 
crisis deepens so does an anguished debate: should the countries accept 
genetically modified maize, donated mostly by the US. The maize has been 
rejected by Zambia and has aroused suspicion in other states concerned 
about the impact on health, the environment and trade.

International environment and development groups accuse the US of 
manipulating the crisis to benefit the biotech corporations, and of using 
the UN to distribute domestic food surpluses which cannot find a market. 
America responds that hysteria stoked by Europeans is endangering starving 

Swaziland and Lesotho have accepted the GM maize. Mozambique, Malawi and 
Zimbabwe insist it is milled into flour, so that farmers cannot plant the 
seed. Zambia, with almost 3 million hungry, has rejected it in any form.

The government claims there are enough alternative food sources to feed its 
people until the harvest in March, and that the risk of famine is 
overstated. "We are confident we can cope without GM," said the agriculture 
minister, Mundia Sikatana, citing stockpiles of home-grown maize and 
cassava and commercial food imports.

Maize dealers and millers are suspected of hoarding in expectation of price 
rises. Posing as a buyer wanting 500 tonnes, the Guardian was assured by 
two local transport companies that the order could be sourced and delivered 
to anywhere in Zambia within days.

A manager at Olympic Milling, based in the north, said he was sitting on 
45,000 tonnes, and that fresh imports were arriving, lured by the high 
prices. "But farmers and millers are not releasing anything. There are many 
people committed to high prices."

It is unclear if these sources would be enough. Aid agencies despair over 
the lack of reliable data. Britain's Department for International 
Development estimates that without the GM maize, only half of the required 
food will reach the hungry. GM would close most, but not all, of the gap.

Richard Ragan, the head of the World Food Programme in Zambia, says the aid 
pipeline is broken. "Because of the restrictions on what we can distribute, 
we are only reaching half of the people in need."

A field worker for the aid agency Care, Robbie Mwiinga, says that disease 
and malnutrition are rising because people are receiving less than 350g of 
other food aid a day.

Rising tensions

Aid agencies accept that the government has the right to reject food it 
deems unsafe, but they privately denounce it for waiting until August, five 
months into the crisis, to ban the bulk of relief food.

Tensions have risen over the GM stockpiles, which the WFP imported before 
the government ban. Suspecting it was in danger of rotting, villagers in 
Kalomo demonstrated for handouts, and crowds in Monze and Nangoma looted a 
ware house. Aid workers in Southern Province, the worst-hit area, say the 
ban is hurting the enfeebled and destitute, but that mass deaths are not 
inevitable if more food comes soon. "It's a gamble," said one.

The government insists that the risks of GM food are too great. Groups such 
as ActionAid and Greenpeace warn that GM crops would threaten biodiversity 
and make subsistence farmers dependent on the biotech companies. Nor would 
the EU accept Zambian food imports deemed "contaminated".

Milling the seed would eliminate those concerns, most non-governmental 
organisations agree. Several donors, including Britain, have offered to pay 
for the milling, but the government says the seeds could be stolen and 
planted. President Levy Mwanawasa is even more worried about the impact of 
eating GM, milled or not. Branding it "poison", he has said he will not 
sacrifice Zambian lives by accepting modified food.

Americans and Europeans may have been eating GM food for seven years 
without detectable harm, but there is no long-term proof it is safe, said 
Mwananyanda Lewanika, a Mississippi-trained biochemist and the president's 
scientific adviser. Maize is the staple diet of Zambian villagers and they 
would be vulnerable should it turn out to give them allergies or resistance 
to antibiotics.

Arrest threat

Dr Lewanika was part of a Zambian delegation which recently toured the US 
and Europe on a GM fact-finding mission. The group has submitted a report 
to the president and an announcement is expected soon on whether to lift 
the ban. "Personally, I don't think we should permit GM in any form until 
we have our own regulatory mechanism set up," he said.

The debate is no longer about science, but about politics. The president, 
elected last year in a controversial ballot, has stifled dissent. State 
radio and newspapers echo his concern about GM and play down the food 
crisis. An MP who alleged in parliament that three constituents had starved 
to death was threatened with arrest.

"Now that the opposition have come out in favour of GM, the president can't 
back down without looking weak," said one diplomat. "And his policy is 
popular with the urban elite; they like the idea of standing up to the US."

Interviews with Zambia's agriculture and health ministers also suggest that 
relations with the WFP have broken down because of personality clashes and 
suspicion that the UN food agency is beholden to US commercial interests.

Certain groups advising the government have vested interests. The National 
Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research, long-starved of 
resources, would run the "regulatory mechanism". Millers and farmers 
sitting on stockpiles know prices will fall if GM or any other type of 
relief food floods the market.

Analysts say, however, that the imbroglio would not exist were it not for 
the US system of tied aid. Instead of donating mostly money, as the EU 
does, to let those handling a crisis buy food on the open market, 
Washington donates subsidised GM food grown only in America. It is 
allegedly a covert, additional subsidy to its farmers.

If the aid agencies had cash rather than maize they could resolve the 
crisis without touching GM, said Guy Scott, a former Zambian agriculture 
minister. "But it is the official policy of USAid (the US agency for 
international development) to promote GM."

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  WFP sends Zambia non-GM S.African white maize
SOURCE: Reuters
DATE:   Oct 18, 200

------------------ archive: ------------------

WFP sends Zambia non-GM S.African white maize 

JOHANNESBURG - The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) has sent 16,000 tonnes 
of GM-free maize to Zambia to feed the hungry while the government there 
decides whether to accept U.S.-sourced gene-modified food, a spokesman said 
yesterday. A spokesman for the WFP told Reuters the agency had used Dutch 
and Japanese cash donations to buy the white maize from South Africa for 
Zambia, which banned genetically modified food aid in August. WFP spokesman 
Richard Lee said the grain was being sent to Zambia in trucks and would 
last for about a month. "It should be there by mid-November," he told 
Reuters. The WFP estimates that more than 14 million people in Zambia, 
Zimbabwe, Malawi, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique may face famine. The 
U.N says drought and mismanagement has caused the region's worst hunger 
crisis in many years. Zambia banned GM food aid in August citing health 
concerns, leading to criticism from some donors who say the country's poor 
desperately need food. Lee said Zambian scientists were expected to send a 
report on the safety of genetically modified food to their government in 
the next few days. He added that the WFP was negotiating with the European 
Commission and the South African government over substantial donations of 
cash and maize towards the U.N. agency's appeal for $507 million of aid for 
the region. He said he expected announcements to be made soon on the size 
of the donations.



|                   GENET                     |
| European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering |
|                                             |
|             Hartmut MEYER (Mr)              |
|               Kleine Wiese 6                |
|           D - 38116 Braunschweig            |
|                 Germany                     |
|                                             |
| phone:  +49-531-5168746                     |
| fax:    +49-531-5168747                     |                      
| mobile: +49-162-1054755                     |
| email:                   |