Africa talks back
Lusaka, Zambia, 21 June 2006
A working Group composed of civil society and farmers' organizations met in Lusaka, Zambia from 19-21 June 2006 to examine issues concerning hunger, food aid, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and food security in the country in particular, and Africa in general.
Food aid has become controversial in recent years as some agencies and governments have insisted that countries facing famine/food shortages should accept Genetically Modified (GM) food aid, even though some countries have rejected it. The controversy was especially hot in Southern Africa in 2002, where several countries rejected the introduction of food aid with GMO content. Despite the pressure exerted by the US Government and organizations like World Food Programme (WFP) at that time, Zambia managed to stay firm in its decision not to accept GM food aid in any form as it stands today.
The controversy continued in 2004 after pressure from WFP and USAID over Angola and Sudan for restrictive policies on GM food aid. The debate over GM food aid is not just an African issue. In Latin America in 2005 Civil Society from five Central American countries denounced the presence of GMOs, including Starlink - GM variety banned for human consumption - in their region, and in 2006, in South America the Ecuadorean Parliament has passed a law which bans the presence of GMOs in food aid.
In Africa the debate over GM food aid slowed down after the civil society condemnation over Angola/Sudan pressure in 2004, but the challenges related to the structural problems of the US food aid system remains there. The USA is the major producer of GMOs in the world, and the major global donor of food aid in kind. Africa is the major destination of US food aid in kind. In 2005/2006 almost 3 million MT of food aid commodities, out of 4.2 MT worldwide, were sent to Africa.
Cause for concern also exists in internal transborder movements within Africa. For example in 2006 an attempt to import GM maize was foiled at the Zambian border.
Food aid commodities with potential GMO content continue arriving in our continent. Based on US Government information almost ? of all US food aid could be contaminated with GMOs. In 2005 the countries which could be receiving most GM food aid were: Ethiopia, Kenya, Southern Africa region, Uganda, Sudan, Tanzania, Burundi, Congo Democratic Republic, Eritrea and Rwanda (See Annex I).
The workshop set up a Steering Committee made up of civil society and farmers' organisations concluded that:
The current model of distribution of food aid perpetuates dependency of food aid because there is very little investment in sustainable food security. Food aid should be of short term emergency nature; culturally acceptable and immediately followed by long term sustainable food security systems. Food aid should not be used to perpetuate dependency at the expense of sustainable food systems, like the current model does.
There is a need for comprehensive food security policies that would include regulation of food aid shipments arriving to our countries. There is an ongoing lack of transparency in the current food aid procurement and distribution systems by the major procurers and distributors. Civil society must be granted transparent, adequate and timely information about the type of food aid that arrives to the country, the way it is distributed and at what cost.
The Zambian government must make significant investment in food security as a means of ensuring and protecting food sovereignty. Given adequate investment in small scale agriculture, Zambia can produce enough food to be self-sufficient and even have surplus to help neighbouring countries. The research towards achieving this must cease to be top-down and involve needs based participatory research which should include the promotion and popularisation of indigenous/local foods.
A comprehensive Zambian biosafety law needs to be adopted as soon as possible in order to ensure that Zambia environment is protected from GMO contamination through food aid or any other means.
There is a need to activate local, consumer and small scale farmer campaigns in order to overcome subsisting obstacles such as lack of information on biosafety, food security and food aid/GMO and bringing the debate to the level of understanding of the local people using local languages as much as possible.
Programme Against Malnutrition (PAM), Zambia
Environmental Rights Action (ERA)/Friends of the Earth Nigeria
Kasisi Agriculture Training Centre (KATC), Zambia
African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), South Africa
Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (Pelum) Zambia
Organic Producers and Processors Association of Zambia (OPPAZ)