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The other side of the story from Zambia

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(Aug. 13, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- Patrick Killeen sent this update from Zambia after an open meeting he attended about whether the country should allow a donation of U.S. corn, some of which is genetically modified.

by Patrick Killeen

The open meeting took place yesterday, Monday 12th August 2002. It was with the minister for Agriculture and the minister for Industry, Science and Technology. With the excception of USAid, World Food Program, a South African Biosafety Assessment Expert and two University of Zambia Deans, everyone else was opposed to any introduction of GMOs into Zambia for various reasons. I was shocked at the huge anti-GM voice as I had expected to be in the minority.

The meeting was heated and turned very anti-American later for their refusal to offer a choice of GM/non-GM to the Zambian people.

The hunger in the south is bad with people eating roots. A compromise was offered that pre-milled GM maize be allowed in as a last resort to feed the people. Already 23,000 tonnes have been brought in by the WFP, although it is illegal as it contravenes international law, but there is no redress course, but the hunger is very real. Sadly I think this short term fix is required as it is too late to get grain and money for it from elsewhere.

USAid and WFP are bedfellows as the US provides 60 percent of the WFP's funding. They grasped the economic oppertunity presented by the famine to expand the US global domination to food. At least if the corn is pre-milled it should lessen any environmental impact and also not have set a precedent for allowing GM seed into the country later. In certain ways, we won the debate, but due to the twist of the famine/hunger the victory is hollow. People in even remote villages have heard about GM and are asking about it. Worries over health and long term consequences being paramount.

All of rhe scientific bodies affiliated to the two ministers advised against the introduction of GM. Today the papers reported differently, the independent papers told the true story of the meeting, but the government paper only reported comments by the pro-GM speakers.

Privately the Agriculture minister is very pro-organic even visitng an organic farm today, but the famine is putting immense pressure on him to bend. We now have to wait a week or so for the final decision, by the President Mwanawasa.

About the author: Patrick Killeen is the organics manager for Agriflora, the largest Zambian exporter of conventional and organic vegetables and roses. It sells mainly to the United Kingdom. The organic crops include Mange tout and sugar snap peas, green beans, baby corn, baby carrots, chillis, asparagus, courgettes, pattipans and runner beans.

Agriflora employs between 7,000 - 12,000 people depending on the season. It offers free training to all staff and grows rain-fed maize for employees. It is also taking part in the winter maize (irrigated) programme initiated by the new government in an effort to alleviate the drought induced famine in the south of the country.