ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

2 August 2002


Food stocks are running out across Southern Africa

"The U.S. is using its power to impose its view that modified maize is not a danger" - Carol Thompson, a political economist at Northern Arizona University

"Zambian Vice President Enock Kavindele told Reuters in Lusaka that his country had declined a $50 million (31 million pounds) line of credit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture because of provisions that it would have to purchase GMO commodities." - Eat GM or starve, America tells Africa, Reuters

"If these crops get in, then farmers basically lose their rights to their own agricultural resources" - Carole Collins, senior policy analyst for the Washington-based Africa Faith and Justice Network

"Pollen drift is a real problem, especially with maize. It places these countries in an extremely difficult position." - Neil E. Harl, a professor of economics at Iowa State University

'Asked if people were going "too far" by saying that gene-altered humanitarian exports were part of a strategy to spread the crops around the world, Harl said: "I'm not sure that is going too far." ' - Starved for Food, Zimbabwe Rejects U.S. Biotech Corn, Washington Post, July 31, 2002

"It is highly unethical not to just cover the costs for milling. Tell me how much it costs to drop one bomb on Afghanistan. Who is starving whom here?" - Carol Thompson, a political economist at Northern Arizona University

"Food is power. We use it to change behavior. Some may call that bribery. We do not apologize" - Catherine Bertini, Executive Director of the World Food Program

1.Offer African countries the non-biotech corn
2.Zambia shouldn't be pushed into accepting GMOs
3.Zambia Rejects GM Grain
4.An organic perspective from Zambia


1. Offer African countries the non-biotech corn

by Robert Schubert
CropChoice editor - An alternative news source for American farmers

(Aug. 1, 2002 -- CropChoice commentary) -- Much of the corn probably is genetically engineered. No, we won't mill the kernels to prevent any of it from being planted and then contaminating, via cross-pollination and seed mixing, your conventional varieties. Would that eliminate you from the markets -- mainly Europe -- that normally buy your corn because it's not genetically engineered? Probably. But life's tough. We haven't any other corn.

That seems to be the official line at the U.S. Agency for International Development about the corn it has offered to Zambia, Zimbabwe and other African countries whose citizens face severe hunger after two years of drought and floods.

But is U.S. government and industry officialdom being honest?

Consider a 2001 American Corn Growers Association ( survey of elevators in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and seven other major corn producing states. More than 100 reported that they required segregation of genetically engineered varieties.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that only about 30 percent of the domestic crop was genetically modified. That means about 70 percent wasn't.

Our leaders could take that conventional corn and donate it to African people facing hunger. And just in case some genetically modified characteristics slipped in, our government should mill the corn. That would fairly well avoid any possibility of destroying the Africans' export markets the way ours were destroyed by trying to force biotech corn onto countries that don't want it.


2. Zambia shouldn't be pushed into accepting GMOs - JCTR

By Bivan Saluseki
The Post, Zambia, July 30, 2002

ZAMBIA should not be pushed into accepting Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) crops without examining their overall impact over the agricultural sector, Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) economic and social development research project co-ordinator Muweme Muweme has said.

Muweme yesterday said the government is acting wisely and courageously in  the face of this challenge by slowing down its acceptance of GM maize.
Muweme said Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (KATC) and the JCTR feel the risks associated with accepting genetically modified relief maize into the country is highlighted in terms not only of health concerns but also of serious impact on the infrastructure of Zambian agriculture.

KATC director Paul Desmarais said the Zambian government must not give in  to the pressures exerted by offers of GM maize before adequate study is  done and effective precautions taken.

Desmarais said he is aware of the need to empower small scale farmers who  are the producers of the bulk of Zambia's food crops to produce  sustainably. "This means promoting a farming system that uses low external inputs and makes greater use of natural resources found at farm level, including seed," said Desmarais.

According to JCTR, the present food shortage situation in Zambia and other parts of this region must not be dealt with in ways that will give rise to even greater problems in the future. " Much more in-depth examination by government officials, members of parliament and civil society is required," said Muweme.

According to a study jointly undertaken by KATC and JCTR, the possible  introduction of GMOs into the country has many serious risks that must be  thoroughly investigated before any decisions are taken. Bernadette  Lubozhya, an agro-scientist conducting this study, cautioned that  genetically modified crops are likely to bring many long-term problems,  such as lower yields, increased herbicide use, erratic performance and poor economic returns to small scale farmers.

Lubozhya said there would be a loss of European markets for Zambian  products such as fresh flowers, fruit and vegetables, tobacco, coffee and  organic products, because the European Union bans GMOs. She said GMOs would bring potential environmental problems such as insect resistance,  contamination of wild plant relatives to our domesticated crops, greater  use of chemicals, less bio-diversity, and harmful mutations that can cause diseases.

The study showed that GMOs would have a negative impact on the informal  seed sub-sector, which supplies 85 per cent of planting seed to the 75 per cent of the farming community in this country. Another concern, according to Lubozhya, is that some GM crops that might come to Zambia have been modified in a manner that makes them more dependent on pesticides. She cited the example of the use elsewhere of Roundup Ready Soybeans, which are dependent on Roundup herbicide. "Both the seed and the herbicide are owned by the same corporation," she said. Lubozhya said it is the overall impact on the infrastructure of the agricultural sector in Zambia that must be looked at in this debate on importation of GM maize.

She said concern about the health consequences of consumption of GMOs is  certainly valid, but it was also not the only point at issue at this  moment. "For officials from the United States to say that they have eaten  GMOs without bad effects is certainly no argument at all for ready  acceptance of GMOs into Zambia," Lubozhya said.

"We currently have no capacity to evaluate, monitor and sustain the health risks posed by GMO products, at the very moment that the global market is pushing for healthier food products." JCTR director Fr. Pete Henriot commended agriculture and co-operatives minister Mundia Sikatana for acting in a responsible fashion at a very difficult moment.

"Stating that Zambia has to prudently evaluate the current offer,  especially in the light of discussion of a National Biotechnology and  Biosafety Policy, is a very positive stance that we endorse," he said.

Fr. Henriot said there is an OAU African model legislation that could be  very helpful for Zambia to follow as it writes its Biosafety Policy. The  African model protects the rights of local communities, farmers and  breeders, and provides for regulation of access to biological resources.  JCTR has warned that as extremely serious as is the food shortage today, it could be even more serious tomorrow if Zambia blindly accepted GMOs that have the potential to undermine Zambia's sustainable agricultural  infrastructure.


3. Zambia Rejects GM Grain,,30200-1059294,00.html
Tuesday July 30, 2002

The offer of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of US grain to help avert a famine in Southern Africa has been blocked because it has been genetically modified.

Aid agencies say a severe drought has led to nationwide crop failure, leaving more than four million of the country's 10 million people on the brink of starvation.

But in an exclusive interview with Sky News' Eve Richings, Zambian PresidentLevy Mwanawasa has said his people would rather die than eat toxic food.


Fifty million dollars-worth of genetically modified maize from America has been kept out of the country until it was shown to be safe to eat.

"It is necessary to examine the maize before we can give it to our people and I'm certain if it is found to be safe then we will give it, but if it is not then we would rather starve than get something toxic," the President said.

Other countries in the region feel the same way adding to the problems of aid agencies which say grain is desperately needed now and predict a full-scale famine is just weeks away.


Unicef spokeswoman, Dr Stella Goings said: "People are beginning to die in the southern provinces. They're dying now in communities where there is no food and there is no water.

We're trying to mobilise everything we can reach communities and save lives now."

The US Agency for International Development has appealed to Zambia to accept the GM grain and to do so quickly to avert the looming disaster.

Last Updated: 17:27 UK, Tuesday July 30, 2002


4. An organic perspective from Zambia

by Patrick Killeen
Organic farmer in Zambia - An alternative news source for American farmers

(July 30, 2002 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- The current GMO situation in Zambia has speeded up a gear lately.  USAid is currently offering $50 million in aid provided that it is used to purchase genetically modified maize.  Zimbabwe has rejected the maize and Mozambique has even refused to allow it to be transported through that country.  Zambia had a change of president in Jan 2002 and he is making serious efforts to weed out corruption, particularly that of the previous incumbent and his regime.  The current vice-president was a high profile member of the previous regime.  Drought here has mainly affected the south of the country where already hunger is evident, hence the USAid move which although generous comes with a catch of GM maize only. Currently the bio-safety regulations, which are firstly required to be passed by parliament prior to any importation of GMOs are not yet in place, therefore the VP is trying to push them through.

The introduction of GM crops are being pushed by the cotton companies (Dunavant) and by some people who see them as the way forward for the small scale farmers.  Opposition is mainly from exporters, NGOs,tobacco association and organic farmers .  The consultant (Dr. Peter Gregory from Cornell University, USA) to advise the government was funded by USAid. His report has caused some division in the Farmers Union (ZNFU), it was a little biased in highlighting the potential benefits and negating any possible risks.  On Tuesday of last week the VP informed the public of the intention to take up the USAid offer to alleviate the famine in the southern province.

On the morning of July 25, a live national radio programme on Radio Phoenix with a panel from both sides was aired (I was on the panel representing the commercial viewpoint.).  Other options were examined e.g. other crops to reduce dependence on Maize i.e. sorghum, rice, cassava etc..., Cuba's organic success story, Ethiopia with a food surplus from a mix of organic and conventional methods and open pollinated varieties were offered as some examples of another way forward.  The unanimous public telephone response was "NO," let's wait, we do not have the money to safegaurd the nation from any potential errors.  The VP was booed by fellow parliamentarians (many who had listened to the radio programme) later that day when he tried to rush the bio-safety bill through and it was rejected.  A press response from the VP and USAid negated the fears and highlighted the hunger in the south.  The Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) working closely with organic farmers has commisioned a report on the potential risks to Zambia from the introduction of GMOs.  It has released a press response to the VP/USAid response to the radio programme today.  The full JCTR report is due for release on August 15.

The VP has commissioned a group of scientific experts to assess the risk to human health, as a recent university study from the UK has shown that microflora in the gut have the GM soya DNA after GM soya was fed to humans in the first trial of its kind.  The multinationals had said this could not happen!!   The USAid administrator in Lusaka has said that there is nothing to fear because he and his family have been eating GM foods for 5 years and have experienced no side-effects. The same USAid rep said that the US government would not support certain agriculture development programmes in the Southern African region, but stopped short of saying what these were (but he did give Zimbabwe, which incidently has refused GM maize but also has a dubious political regime as an example).

There is currently a high level of satisfaction with the new president Mr. Mwanawasa, who is working hard to eliminate corruption from the highest levels down.  Hopefully the VP Kavindale will not bow to USAid pressure and accept the GM maize.  Internationally, tests on the possible risks are throwing up some worrying results.  Non GM funded/company research is tiny, hence the lack of independent non-GM company funded info.

There is a lot of selective misinformation being put out by the few to the detriment of many.  The introduction of GMOs into Zambia is not  to help the small scale/peasant farmer as US multinationals would lead us to think.  If we are honest, GMOs are there to line the pockets of the GM company shareholders/distributors with no thought to the cost of  the long term sustainability of mankind and the environment upon which we totally depend.
Find out more about ActionAid's carefully thought through emergency work in Southern Africa:

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