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3-Food: Food security concerns pose GMO challenges for southern Africa

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  Food security concerns pose GMO challenges for southern Africa
SOURCE: Southern African Research and Documentation Centre
        Southern African News Features 06 No. 30, by Joseph Ngwawi
DATE:   Mar 2006

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Food security concerns pose GMO challenges for southern Africa

Southern Africa is projecting a maize surplus of more than two million
tonnes during the 2005/06 agricultural season but divergent views on
genetically modified crops raise interesting questions about the role of
intra-regional trade in bridging shortfalls in some member states.

A preliminary assessment of the food security situation in the Southern
African Development Community (SADC) shows that the seasonal rainfall
performance for much of the SADC region has been above normal.

According to the SADC Food Security Early Warning System - which carried
out the assessment - only Tanzania has had a poor season following a
delayed start to the rains.

Buoyed by an anticipated surplus of the staple maize of more than 5.4
million tonnes in South Africa, the SADC region is expecting an overall
surplus of about 2.28 million tonnes of the crop this year.

Output in all other member states is forecast to be poor, ranging from a
domestic deficit of 14,000 tonnes in Angola to anticipated shortfalls of
781,000 tonnes and 1.38 million tonnes for Malawi and Zimbabwe, respectively.

Projected maize shortfalls for Botswana, Lesotho and Tanzania are 142,000
tonnes, 138,000 tonnes and 418,000 tonnes, respectively.

Countries projecting shortfalls will have to rely on intra-regional trade
and food assistance from donors to bridge the gap between now and the
2006/07 harvest around March/April next year.

This poses challenges as most of these countries have strict regulations
governing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). South Africa, which has
the biggest maize surplus, allows production and distribution of GMO food.

South Africa is the only African country that has fully adopted GMO
technology and has the largest hectarage of about 500,000 under GMO
crops. While South Africa is pushing ahead with commercial GMO crops,
other southern African countries shun them since the technology is still
under experimentation and therefore, restricted use.

Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland and Zambia prohibit GMO imports for fear of
bio-terrorism, and lack of clarity about the health and environmental
implications of GMO technology. The countries also fear unscrupulous
dumping by companies or nations in efforts to dispose of surplus stocks
or to recoup the cost of research and development, and production.

Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe only allow milled GMO maize products to
enter their territories and have banned imports of raw GMO maize. In
cases where un-milled GMO food aid is allowed, there are usually public
warnings that the grain should be consumed and not used for cultivation,
and that it should be properly packaged.

South Africa has had a GMO Act since 1997, which allows farmers and
manufacturers to produce, import, export or distribute genetically
modified food and crops. They must, however, first get permits before
engaging in production or distribution of GMOs.

There are current attempts to amend the GMO Act following criticism that
it, among other things, undermines consumer choice by being silent on
compulsory labelling of GMO food and that it places the liability for
activities involving GMOs on end users, not producers.

The divergent views on GMOs within SADC could have repercussions on
domestic industry in most countries in the region in the event that the
bulk of the maize stocks in South Africa are genetically modified.

This will mean all imported maize destined for other countries in the
region would have to be milled first before shipment in order to meet
stringent regulations in the importing member states. This will affect
the viability of milling companies in the receiving countries.

So far only Tanzania has indicated it wants to enact a law to govern the
introduction and adoption of genetic engineering.

The government plans to table a Bill in Parliament to discuss GMO crops
amid strong resistance and campaigns from the public and non-governmental
organisations against its adoption.

There are efforts to harmonise agricultural policies within SADC, with
member states having already agreed on common seed standards in order to
facilitate their movement across borders.

A meeting of senior government officials from the region agreed in
Mozambique in December 2005 to adopt a harmonised seed regulation system.

Southern African News Features offers a reliable source of regional
information and analysis on the Southern African Development Community,
and is provided as a service to the SADC region.

                                 PART II
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TITLE:  Africa needs technical help to enact GM rules
SOURCE: SciDev.Net, UK, by Ochieng' Ogodo
DATE:   20 Mar 2006

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Africa needs technical help to enact GM rules

[CURITIBA] Most developing countries will struggle to enact a key UN
agreement on genetically modified (GM) organisms because they lack the
necessary technology and personnel, a conference has heard.

Hartmut Meyer, biosafety advisor to the German aid agency GTZ, was
speaking on Friday (17 March) at the meeting of parties to the Cartagena
Protocol on Biosafety, in Curitiba, Brazil.

The protocol -- part of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity -- is
intended to allow countries to protect their biodiversity from the
potential risks posed by GM organisms, by banning GM imports for instance.

African nations in particular lack the capacity to implement the
protocol, and this will not change unless wealthier countries provide
technical assistance, said Meyer.

He said that South Africa is the only African nation with a laboratory
that can test for GM traits according to international standards.

Such laboratories are needed to allow nations to inspect and certify that
food and other products are GM or non-GM.

"Even if you were to provide the technology, who would use it?" asked
Meyer. He said donors should also provide relevant training to produce
the skilled workforce needed to use it.

Jarle Harstad, senior evaluation officer with the Global Environmental
Facility, which helps developing countries fund biodiversity-related
projects, agrees that few African nations have made real progress in
implementing the protocol.

"The developed world ought to be willing to share technical advances ... to
enable African and other developing nations to implement the biosafety
protocol," he says.

However, he points out that sharing technology with developing nations
can be complex, especially when technologies are patented.

                                 PART III
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TITLE:  Hungry Nations Demand Truth About GM Food Aid
SOURCE: Panos, UK, by Ebenezer T. Bifubyeka
DATE:   22 Mar 2006

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Hungry Nations Demand Truth About GM Food Aid

The recipients of food aid for decades, poor and hunger-stricken
countries in East Africa say they will continue to reject genetically
modified (GM) food aid until an effective labelling system is put in place.

Labelling GM foods, because of health and environmental risks, was the
subject of heated debates at the just-concluded meeting of the
international Biosafety Protocol in Curitiba before a compromise deal was
finally struck on the night of March 17.

According to the deal, if an exporter knows that a shipment contains
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) then labels must be explicit and
declare that it 'contains' GMOs. However, negotiators struck a compromise
after the delegations of Mexico and Paraguay argued that verification was
not always possible because the supply chain couldn't be tested all the
way down to the source.

As a result, the conference allowed a provision for exporters to use 'may
contain' for up to six years if they are not sure about the origin or
presence of GMOs in the shipment. The Protocol will review the
suitability of this arrangement at its meeting in four years' time.

In the face of famine

The agreement comes at a time when millions of people are facing hunger
in East Africa. It follows the decision by the government of Zambia to
reject food aid from the United States in 2002 on the grounds that it
contained GM corn.

According to Gordon Simango, information officer for Christian Care, an
NGO in Zambia, nearly 2.7 million people in Uganda are at risk of hunger.
However, he says, most organisations delivering food aid do not have
policies on GM food, except a few that say: ' all beneficiaries have the
right to choose and decide if they want GM food aid or not '

One way around the problem, he says, is that donors could offer 'cash-
based food aid' whereby they give cash to buy food, instead of food
consignments which in any case "can go bad in transit."

Critics also point out that the deal has many loopholes, not least the
fact that the obligations only apply to member-states of the Biosafety
Protocol. As for non-members - the United States is the most prominent
one - the Protocol does no more than urge compliance.

Nnimmo Bassey of the Nigerian chapter of Friends of the Earth, an
international NGO, said governments cannot afford to wait for four years
to review their policies. "We shouldn't wait for GMOs to multiply and
then start trying to control them later when they are already
uncontrollable," he said.

"African leaders should start transferring food from upcountry, where
there is plenty of food, to famine-stricken areas and not just rely on
imported GM food or plants whose side-effects are still obscure."

Making informed choices

A Ugandan government delegate, who requested anonymity, said it was not
for governments to tell hungry people what to eat. "For us, we tell our
people the truth about food containing GMOs. It is the decision of an
individual receiving GM food to decide either to eat it or reject it."

He said Uganda is in the process of creating a biosafety framework and
has started training scientists to analyse GMOs.

"A draft [of the framework] has been made by the National Council of
Science and Technology and it is ready for approval. Besides, we have a
fully-equipped research laboratory at Kawanda Country Research Institute
(in Kampala) and it will start operating once the law is ready."

Not only Uganda, delegates from several other African countries, such as
Namibia and Ghana said they were drafting laws and setting up national
testing facilities for GMOs.

But many also pointed to the urgent need to inform farmers back home of
the decisions made at Curitiba.

"Some delegates come here and, after attending the meetings, they go back
and don't bother to pass on the information down to their farmers,"
complained a delegate from Mauritius.

Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, head of the African Group and Director
General of the Environmental Protection Authority of Ethiopia, said that
food aid labels should reveal exactly what they contain.

"Besides, donors must be liable for any misinformation that may be
discovered afterwards on both environment and health. Food aid is
governed by the rules of the Protocol to make sure that there is no
contamination in the environment and health," he added.

Ebenezer T Bifubyeka is a reporter with The New Vision newspaper in
Uganda and founder of the Mbarara Environmental Advocates Link (MEAL),
which seeks to create environmental awareness among local leaders,
politicians, academics and the general public.

His coverage of GM issues has won him a Panos fellowship to report on the
WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong in December 2005 and from the CBD
meeting in Brazil in March 2006.

European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
news & information

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