2.The Rise and Fall of the GM Debate in Zambia
3.Zambia builds high-tech lab to detect GM food imports


The second article below - The Rise and Fall of the GM Debate in Zambia by Zarina Geloo - has been widely circulated on pro-GM listservs but there are good reasons for treating some of its claims with a degree of caution.

The article is published by the Panos Institute in London, which provides an information service specialising in issues for developing countries. Panos has an agenda of encouraging "informed and inclusive debate" and when the GM food-aid crisis hit Zambia in 2002, Panos put forward the view that the "heated and difficult" debate over the issue was "tending to drown out the voices in favour" of GMOs.

The services and perspective that Panos offers have attracted powerful support. In 2004 the British government's Department for International Development entered into a partnership with PANOS worth over a million pounds in its first year, with a possibility of a further 5 years of similarly generous funding. Panos also attracts generous funding from major US foundations, like the Ford Foundation.

This pattern of support has been reflected in Zambia where Panos has been funded to carry out a "programme of initiatives... to raise public understanding and stimulate public debate in Zambia on the issues surrounding genetically modified organisms" by the Rockefeller Foundation. As Panos itself acknowledges, the Rockefeller Foundation "is in favour of informed, constructive use of GM technologies."

Panos claims its activities in Zambia have been conducted entirely independently of its sponsor but the article below (item 2), although written by a Zambian journalist, very much reflects the Panos line on the GM issue in Zambia. The article argues that the GM debate in Zambia has failed to be inclusive enough and that pro-GM voices have been drowned out. It suggests that the decision to reject GM food aid as well as any debate over GM in Zambia have been essentially dominated and controlled by the Zambian government, which "cranked up its propaganda machinery" and so drew the Zambian public and the country's civil society along in its wake.

In support of this view of opposition to GMOs being essentially government driven, the article states, "Even some well-known critics of the government, such as the Women's Lobby Group, the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) and opposition political parties, went along with the official stand."

But, in fact, organisations like the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection were so far from merely going "along with the official stand", that they were the focus of ferocious attack from the GM lobby which accused them of engaging in "Activist Scare Tactics" in support of an anti-GM agenda, etc.

Similarly, the claim of a radio journalist quoted in the article that, "There is so much anti-GM feeling that those who are pro-GM are scared of public opinion and keep quiet," seems somewhat at odds with the fact that a GM lobby group - the Biotechnology Outreach Society of Zambia - has not only been launched in Zambia since the 2002 crisis but has clearly been been getting its views across to journalists, as can be seen, for instance, in a recent article on Zambia and its stance on GMOs by the award-winning Zambian journalist, Brenda Zulu.

The Panos article is perhaps at its most questionable in the way in which it seeks to create the impression of a significant alternative voice on the GM issue in the farming community that is being ignored. Thus, the article contrasts reports critical of the impact of GMOs on farmers with "a study by the Zambian National Farmers Union, 'Agricultural Biotechnology and Biosafety in Zambia: A ZNFU Position Paper for Input into Government Policy and Legislation'" which outlined "some potential benefits of GM crops".

This would seem to imply that ZNFU's position is, in part at least, pro-GM. But that's not the case. The paper in question outlines what are said to be the potential pros and cons of the technology. It does not in any way promote a pro-GM position or draw pro-GM conclusions.

In the light of what seemed to us a misleading account of the ZNFU's position, GM Watch got in contact with a Zambian who had until recently worked for the ZNFU to gain his impression of the article. It turned out that not only did he disagree with the impression given of the Union's position but that he specifically remembered the journalist who wrote the article "sending an e-mail with a request to interview someone at the union over the GMO issues. My boss... was not in the office , so i set a date for her to come to talk to me. She never did."

The article concludes by quoting two subsistence farmers whose views happen to coincide precisely with the Panos line. The article says that they "feel they should have been given information to make an informed choice". And they go on to express an interest in what the technology may have to offer. (Remember the Rockefeller line promotes "informed, constructive use of GM technologies")

By way of contrast, according to PELUM ZAMBIA - - which works with the small scale farmers who actually produce 75% of Zambia's agricultural produce, "very few small-scale have expressed any willingness to adopt this technology".

What adds irony to the situation, of course, is the fact that while Panos, and this article, proclaim the right to informed choice in Zambia, poll after poll shows that the majority of American citizens remain almost entirely unaware of the scale on which this technology has been introduced into US agriculture or even that much of what they are eating contains genetically modified ingredients.

It seems, therefore, somewhat naive to, on the one hand, condemn the Zambian government for what, in part, appears to amount to little worse than (a) having successfully put across its viewpoint and (b) being in agreement with many of its usual critics, while on the other hand completely ignoring the fact that successive administrations in the massively powerful country Zambia has found itself up against have (deliberately!) failed to offer American citizens an informed choice. And where, come to that, is the concern that America's corporate media has stimulated so little by way of debate on this issue?

The Panos article ends with the two subsistence farmers saying that "if what they hear about drought-resistant GM maize is true, then it should be made available to farmers like them who suffer from drought. 'Again, it's people in Lusaka [Zambia's capitol] making decisions on our behalf.'"

The problem with this is that the article fails to make clear two key points: (a) that the GM maize that the Zambian government rejected was not "drought-resistant" and (b) that, in fact, there is no drought-resistant GM maize available for these farmers to grow - it's an untried and untested development, which may be available at best many years in the future but is certainly not being denied to them now.

This typifies the problems with an article that seems to reflect either a troubling naivety or else a desire to make the facts fit a preconceived agenda.


There have been several assertions about the potential of GMOs to feed a hungry and poor world through the increase of yields through better crop management, with low inputs. It argued that the technology is the new silver bullet of this generation in agriculture. Clement Chipokolo tries to look at these statements while answering the question "Will GMOs feed the Hungry Poor?"

When the root of the problem of hunger is driven by poverty and unequal distribution of food resources, technology is and can never be the solution. Poverty is the key reason over 800 million people don't have enough to eat. In recent decades existing technologies have produced enough food to feed everyone on the planet - but the food hasn't been evenly distributed and isn't accessible to those who can't afford to buy or produce it. Hunger is not caused by lack of technology; it exists because people don't have access to food or the land and resources needed to produce it.

If the root causes are not addressed, hunger will persist no matter what agricultural technologies are used. Biotech is part of the problem - GM seeds will widen the gap between rich and poor and promotes corporate consolidation.

Commercial GM seeds are developed and commercialized almost exclusively by multinational enterprises. The first interest of corporations is, naturally, to create profit for their shareholders, not to feed hungry people or to worry about poor farmers and consumers who don't have the money to buy patented GM products.

The opportunity costs of agricultural biotech must also be considered. Corporate agricultural research emphasizes high-tech, capital-intensive food production, best suited to the needs of large-scale farmers and not small-scale farmers who are in the majority in this country. The danger is that sustainable agro-ecological technologies that are appropriate for small-scale producers in marginal farming environments in which our government has heavily invested in the past years will receive far less attention and funding.

Corporate funding increasingly determines the direction of public sector research. With sharp declines in public sector agricultural research, there is the added danger that public sector breeders will increasingly serve the interests of corporate science.

While we cannot ignore the potential of science as a major tool of increasing agricultural production, we should hasten to point out the scientific technologies, are not sufficient to combat poverty and hunger. Without policies to reduce the unequal burden of poverty, hunger, and disease in the world, no amount of new science or technology will promote sustainable livelihoods for the poor.

What this country and the rest of the world needs is pro-poor science and technology, combined with policies to support the poor and excluded. One way to build capacity is to foster the development of public-private partnerships.

The key is that new technologies must promote farming systems that are economically profitable, environmentally sound, and culturally appropriate. All agricultural technology applications are not equally beneficial. In some cases, GM seeds can help poor farmers improve pest resistance while reducing reliance on chemical pesticides that are expensive and damaging to the environment.

In the process of developing the agricultural technologies, it is critical for each country to be able to pick and choose carefully, reflecting its own needs and capabilities. New Agricultural technologies should only be introduced when Third World countries gain the capacity to use the science effectively and after its safety can be established.

It has been noted that local farming communities, native and long held traditions and cultures can be profoundly influenced by the exposure to outside influences and new technologies thus infringing on cultural liberties.

Additionally, biotechnology threatens traditional knowledge and crop diversity because GM seeds introduce monoculture and an ideology of privatization that erodes community-based agriculture and locally-adapted diversity. Biotech's corporate seeds will increase the farm communities' dependency on outside sources of seeds and the costly inputs they require.

If patents prevent farmers from saving seed, farmers will have no opportunity to experiment with selection and breeding for local adaptation. GM crops are designed for one-size-fits-all industrial agriculture, not agro ecological approaches that are suited to local ecosystems, cultural traditions and food preferences.

There is a huge concern that adoption of GM grains fortified with micronutrients will further promote monoculture and diminish the value of home gardens and diets derived from diverse, nutritious foods.

GM contamination in Mexico's centre of diversity illustrates the potential for GM technology to abuse the socio-cultural rights of many indigenous communities. In the words of one indigenous farmer from Sierra Juarez de Oaxaca: "The contamination of our traditional maize undermines the fundamental autonomy of our indigenous and farming communities because we are not merely talking about our food supply; maize is a vital part of our cultural heritage. The statements made by some officials that contamination is not serious because it will not spread rapidly, or because it will 'increase our maize biodiversity,' are completely disrespectful and cynical."

This statement certainly represents the feelings of all the small scale farmers world wide including Zambia who have for many years developed have painstakingly developed vibrant local seed-banks in their backyards which have dutifully fed them and their families without necessarily depending on the emerging multinational seed companies.

A recent assessment of GM Crops in Africa gives more evidence about their inability to alleviate poverty and feed the nations. The study examined three GM crops in Africa present-GM cotton, sweet potatoes and maize and concluded that in general their nature is inappropriate for poverty alleviation in sub-Saharan Africa. The report also shows that genetic modification is relatively an ineffective and expensive tool and the evidence assembled in the report suggests that 'there are better ways to feed Africa than through GM crops'.

Moreover, the US State Department website notes that the genetically modified corn sent to Africa as food aid 'would be expected to perform poorly in African growing conditions' and 'is not suited for planting. This is a major concern since in Zambia there is a common practice of food aid recipients in rural areas to save part of their grain for planting. Farmers in famine stricken areas who plant U.S corn can expect lower yields and less food in future.

2.The Rise and Fall of the GM Debate in Zambia
By Zarina Geloo

In 2002 the Zambian government shocked many by returning emergency food aid just when million of Zambians faced starvation. The reason: the package contained potentially unsafe GM maize. Three years on, an audit of the manner in which the GM 'debate' was played out in the national media offers important insights.

LUSAKA (PANOS RELAY FEATURES) Zambia made international headlines in July 2002 when it ordered the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to take back over 35,000 tonnes of food aid just when three million Zambians faced hunger caused by a severe drought.

The government argued that the WFP's consignment of genetically modified (GM) maize could harm Zambian agricultural exports if non-GM Zambian farms became contaminated. It pointed to studies conducted by scientists in the United States, Europe and South Africa which demonstrated that "insufficient evidence was available to demonstrate their (GM's) safety."

The US, the main food donor to the WFP along with the UN agency's Lusaka office, tried its best to persuade the government to rescind the order, but Zambia remained adamant.

When reports surfaced of hungry villagers looting the WFP storage houses where the GM maize was kept, the government cranked up its propaganda machinery. First it ensured that the government electronic and print media, the largest in the country, reported its side of the story. It then organised what it called a "consultative debate" but it was largely seen as an anti-GM legitimacy-seeking conference.

The US on its part paid for airtime on national television so that a group of visiting African-American government officials could counter the Zambian government view.

In all of this, the media remained largely a passive recipient of information. Because journalists had very little knowledge of the issue they could be easily manipulated in either direction. In this case, the government prevailed.

Those who were opposed to the introduction of GM crops into Zambia can be broadly categorised into three groups.

First there was the powerful lobby of agricultural exporters consisting of groups such as the Tobacco Association of Zambia, the Zambia Export Growers Association and the Zambia Coffee Growers’ Association. They were mainly concerned about the potential loss of the European market if their farms were contaminated by GM organisms (the European Union bans imports of GM crops). Zambia exports about 27,216 tonnes of cotton and about 2,000 tonnes of tobacco annually to Europe. Food exports constitute more than 30 percent of Zambia’s Gross Domestic Product.

Then came the Organic Producers and Processors Association of Zambia, which was worried about the effects of GM crops on sustainable agriculture.

Finally, there was widespread concern among small-scale farmers, who comprise more than three-quarters of all Zambian farmers. They argued that GM crops could contaminate seeds grown by them the so-called 'informal seed sub-sector' supplies 80 per cent of all planting seeds in Zambia.

However, there was little technical debate on bio-safety or analysis of crop contamination. If anything, says radio presenter Anthony Mwikita, the story quickly became one of Zambia standing up to the US.

"It was a David versus Goliath kind of story people were proud that Zambia took a decision and defended it under intense pressure, against the US and the WFP, for the good of her people. It was a purely populist issue with the government being made to look like the good guys. Journalists were not interested in GM. It was all about standing up to a perceived bully."

Mwikita has since tried to put alternative views on the radio but found their proponents unwilling to go on air. "There is so much anti-GM feeling that those who are pro-GM are scared of public opinion and keep quiet."

Kelly Kaunda of the Media Institute of Southern Africa adds, "there is a knowledge among journalists that the government has put some kind of a closure on the debate and there are few people willing to resurrect the story."

Even some well-known critics of the government, such as the Women's Lobby Group, the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) and opposition political parties, went along with the official stand.

One influential research paper, co-sponsored by the JCTR and Kasisi Agriculture Training Centre, received wide media coverage. Titled What is the impact of GMOs on sustainable agriculture in Zambia? it argued that commercial GM crops had little, if anything, to offer to small-scale farmers. In fact these crops were likely to exacerbate rural household food insecurity and further erode the little cash income that might be there.

The paper said Zambia should wait for more clarity on the potential risks to and long-term impacts on human health, the environment and the agricultural infrastructure before considering the adoption of GM crops. "During this waiting period, however, there is a need to build the capacity to test and control GM crops."

Another research paper, published by Third World Network Africa, examined the 'appropriateness' of three GM crops Bt cotton, Bt maize and virus-resistant sweet potato by assessing whether or not the crop is demand-led, site-specific, poverty-focussed, cost-effective and environmentally and institutionally sustainable.

Its conclusion: "The maximum gains from genetic modification are small, much lower than with either conventional breeding or agroecology-based techniques."

However, a study by the Zambian National Farmers Union, Agricultural Biotechnology and Biosafety in Zambia: A ZNFU Position Paper for Input into Government Policy and Legislation, did outline some potential benefits of GM crops, which included: the positive impact on national food security with genetically modified crops becoming a valuable tool to complement conventional and organic approaches; and the reduction of input costs (such as insecticides and herbicides) through resistance to various pests and reduction of the level of crop management.

Today, Agriculture Minister Mundia Sikatana insists his government consulted all stakeholders and made an informed decision.

Sikatana says Zambia will not go back on its decision: "We do not have conclusive evidence that GM food is good for us and we reserve the right to refuse it."

The government has now prepared a legal instrument on bio-safety legislation to help regulate and monitor GMOs. It will also establish a national bio-safety authority part of a five year plan to initiate bio-safety research and protection of bio-diversity.

Alongside this authority the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) has set up an advisory committee to develop a standardised policy for the entire region. WFP spokesperson in Lusaka Jo Woods says it no longer stocks GM maize in Zambia, adding "We have moved on, this debate has run its course and things have been settled." The US Embassy in Lusaka said the Zambian government had taken a decision and that there was no more debate on the issue.

According to Father Peter Henriot of the JCTR, people are generally comfortable with the ban on GM food "that’s why there has been no further debate."

Meanwhile, subsistence farmers Melita and her husband Joseph Nkomani who suffered crop failure at the time and were in need of food aid, feel they should have been given information to make an informed choice. "We were the ones who went hungry. The option should have rested with us."

The Nkomanis say if what they hear about drought-resistant GM maize is true, then it should be made available to farmers like them who suffer from drought. "Again, it's people in Lusaka making decisions on our behalf."/PANOS RELAY FEATURES

Zarina Geloo is a freelance writer specialising in development issues.

RESEARCH PAPER | What is the impact of GMOs on sustainable agriculture in Zambia? Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre and Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (August 2002)

RESEARCH PAPER | Agricultural Biotechnology and Biosafety in Zambia, Zambia National Farmers Union (June 2002)

This feature is published by Panos Features and can be reproduced free of charge. Please credit the author and Panos Features and send a copy to MAC, Panos Institute, 9 White Lion St, London N1 9PD, UK. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
3.Zambia builds high-tech lab to detect GM food imports
Despite Zambia's drought, the country is refusing GM food such as maize
Talent Ngandwe
Source: SciDev.Net, 13 May 2005

[LUSAKA] Zambia has begun building a modern molecular biology laboratory to detect genetically modified (GM) organisms entering the country.

The National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research (NISIR) began the project last month. It is expected to finish by December. The Norwegian government has donated US$330,000 for buying equipment and training scientists.

Despite Zambia experiencing its third severe drought since 2000, the government is sticking to its decision to ban GM food imports (see As drought takes hold, Zambia's door stays shut to GM).

Michelle Nganga, head of research and development at NISIR told Times of Zambia last week (6 May) the new laboratory is being built to safeguard Zambians' health and maintain a sustainable environment.

In 2003 the Zambian government launched a five-year strategy for national biosafety and biotechnology. As part of this, the Zambian government drafted biosafety legislation to increase its technological infrastructure to 'protect' people from consuming GM food.

Director of NISIR, Mwananyanda Lewanika, told SciDev.Net that the new laboratory would be responsible for identifying GM organisms, since the virology laboratory at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) has no molecular biology facility.

The goal is to have the new facility accredited as a regional and national referral laboratory that will provide research and training in collaboration with the University of Zambia and the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology. The University of Zambia will arrange for student placements in GM research, while the Norwegian Institute of Gene ecology will use scientist exchange programmes to help in training and research.