Zambia Finally Rejects Transgenic Food Aid

By Singy Hanyona

LUSAKA, Zambia, August 19, 2002 (ENS) - The Zambian government has made a decision to reject a donation of transgenic maize (corn) from the United States after a protracted national debate over safety of the food.


Zambian Information and Broadcasting Minister Newstead Zimba (Photo courtesy Government of Zambia)
Announcing the decision on a national television broadcast late Friday, chief government spokesman Newstead Zimba said government will not allow importation of genetically modified (GM) maize despite the current food shortage and hunger in the country.

"All genetically modified foods, including the maize grain already in the country, should not and will not be consumed or distributed," Zimba said.

Zimba, who is also Information and Broadcasting Minister appealed for calm in the nation in view of the government's stand on the matter.

"We wish to inform the nation that as a government we have taken into consideration the scientific advice about the long term effects of the [genetically modified foods] and all related grains, and we are rejecting it."


Zambian boy stands amid the remains of a field of sorghum that is usually drought resistant. (Photo WFP/Brenda Barton)
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) asked the government to quickly decide whether or not to accept the genetically modified food, saying a shipment destined for Zambia could be sent to another hungry country.

Last week, Zambia's agricultural minister Mundia Sikatana accused donor nations of deceiving Zamiba for the past seven years, after the WFP said genetically modified foods had been part of aid shipments since 1996.

By international treaty, nations can refuse to allow genetically modified foods to cross their borders.

Mozambique and Zimbabwe have rejected offers of genetically modified grain, despite a food shortage that threatens up to 13 million people in six countries of Southern Africa.

The Zamiban government has signed contracts with the private sector to bring in an additional 300,000 metric tons of non-GM maize to make up for the shortfall. "We have already signed a memorandum of understanding with the private sector in which they will bring the maize for commercial supply," Zimba said.

An additional 156,000 tons of non-GM maize will also be imported as strategic reserves.

Officials have instructed all government institutions to put measures in place to ensure the country does not recieve genetically modified foods in future.

Government has been engaged in exhaustive consultaions in the past weeks, involving local and international scientists, farmers the church, civil society, academicians and the general public.

"The consultations have revealed that the country is not yet ready for genetically modified foods," said Zimba.


These Zambian women have walked 50 kilometres (30 miles) to the Zimbabwean border to sell water to truck drivers in an effort to raise cash to be able to afford food. (Photo WFP/Brenda Barton)
The World Food Programme and other partners have been called upon to help government in the procurement of the required additional maize stocks that are not genetically modified.

Currently, Zambia has no adequate capacity in biotechnology to allow it conduct resaerch and establish the effects of genetically modified organisms on either humans or the environment.

Zambia is struggling with a huge maize shortfall, brought on by drought and floods over the last two growing seasons.

Recently, a group of 8,000 small-scale farmers protested the importation of genetically modified maize from America, fearing the dislocation of the local farming systems and indigenous crop varieties.

The food shortage was declared a national disaster by President Levy Mwanawasa in May, when the President said up to four million people faced starvation. He assured citizens in July that country would not accept genetically modified maize until it had determined whether it was safe for human consumption.

Zambia is still looking to other sources of non-GM maize and financial resources to purchase the commoditity.

An estimated 12.8 million people in six southern Africa countries - Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe - will be in need of humanitarian food aid between now and next year's harvest.

The World Food Program has determined that there will be a four million metric ton cereal deficit for the six affected countries through March 2003, and of this total, 1.2 million metric tons of emergency cereal food aid is required to assist the most vulnerable people.