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USAID and GM Food Aid - October 2002

3. Policies of major food donors
Besides the USA, three of the world's major donors of humanitarian aid are the WFP, the EU and UK. Whereas all USAID donations to southern Africa have been in the form of food aid, WFP, EU and UK maintain that the most effective form of aid is financial. Capital enables recipient countries to buy necessary food supplies locally, as well as helping to improve local infrastructure, supporting local economies and ending the reliance on food handouts from donor countries. Despite this, it remains USAID policy to provide aid in kind rather than cash. Richard Lee from WFP said, "All US aid to Southern Africa has been in kind while all other donations have been in the form of financial aid." 14

UN World Food Programme position

The WFP is clear that economic aid rather than food donations are the best method of dealing with the famine. WFP spokesman Richard Lee said, "We prefer cash donations as they offer us greater flexibility - with cash donations we can purchase locally, enjoy greater flexibility and also speed things up. We can get more for the money if we have cash. We can do the job faster as cash lets us buy the right food we need at the right time - sometimes with aid in kind we already have enough of that food in a country so financial aid lets us spend in different ways. We can look around to get better value for money with financial aid. For example we are buying peas from Malawi and are then able to distribute what is needed in the region quickly." 14 WFP has bought 100,000 tonnes of maize from South Africa since the beginning of the year and purchased a further 55,000 tonnes of maize from outside South Africa. This includes 32,174 tonnes of US maize, 17,597 tonnes of Brazilian maize. The remainder is from Tanzania and Mozambique. 15

However, it was recently discovered that the WFP has been delivering food contaminated with GM to developing countries since 1996 - without informing them. 16 The countries that received GM food aid include India, Colombia, Guatemala, and many African countries, despite the import of GM grain often being in breach of local regulations. However, WFP officials maintain that they are "under no obligation to alert authorities and have made no attempt to distinguish between GM and conventional cereals." If food aid meets the standards of the donor country the WFP maintain they do not need to warn recipient countries - they simply play the role of middleman. A WFP spokesman said, "We think the starving would rather eat GM grain than dirt." 16 Since 1996 most developing countries have made it very clear in negotiations on international biosafety rules for GM trade, that they want to be told in advance about GM imports. Despite this, WFP Executive Director James Morris said in August that, "There is no way that the WFP can provide the resources to save these starving people without using food that has some biotech content." 17

European Union position

Despite the EU Development Commissioner Poul Nielson saying that the EU has "been pushed around by the way the Americans have put pressure on this issue," 18 the EU Commission's position on food aid is quite clear. The Commission states that "Food aid in kind is not an appropriate instrument to create long term food security." 19 According to EuronAid, the EU has stipulated that food aid should, if possible, be sourced locally. Franco Viault said, "In the Southern African food crisis the EU has a clause in its contract with the WFP that the money should be used to purchase the food locally. The idea is that the WFP should try as hard as possible to buy food in Southern Africa." 20 By July 2002 the EU, through EuronAid and the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) had provided Ђ88.5 million in aid for Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia, including 215,000 tonnes of food aid. 19 On 2nd October 2002, the European Commission announced it would be giving an extra Ђ30 million in humanitarian aid to southern Africa. Poul Nielson, "stressed the important contribution the EU is making to the enhancement of long term food security in the region by explicitly ensuring that all food aid is procured regionally or in the neighbouring countries." 21

Roughly 60% of EU food aid donations are given through EuronAid, a Dutch based aid agency,22 who in turn buy 90% of their food locally. This figure would be higher, but EU involvement with WFP means they have less control over the money given to WFP. The policy of local sourcing has been in place since 1996. The European Council Regulation (EC) 1292 / 96 on food aid policy states that the aim of aid donation is "to reduce dependence on food aid…to encourage them to be independent in food, either by increasing production, or by enhancing and increasing purchasing power." 23 Interestingly, it also mentions that, "the genetic potential and bio-diversity of food production must be safeguarded."

UK position

The UK Department for International Development (DfID) policy on the famine in southern Africa is that direct donation of food aid will, "meet about one third of the overall food deficit. The rest would be met by national purchase and increased commercial operations." 24 Since September 2001, DfID has allocated over Ј68 million to humanitarian projects in southern Africa, 25 $28.4m of which has gone directly to the WFP to buy non-GM crops. 26 Besides the WFP Regional Emergency Feeding Operation projects DfID has supported in the region, the UK has also financed projects including the rehabilitation of rail networks in Malawi and supplementary feeding and seed recovery programmes in Zimbabwe. 25

  1. Interview with Richard Lee, WFP Johannesburg. 18th September 2002 ( - 0027115171686)
  2. Interview with Richard Lee, WFP Johannesburg. 2nd October 2002
  3. UN is slipping modified food into aid. Pearce F. New Scientist, 19th September 2002
  4. Zambia must accept some GM food aid, warns WFP Executive Director. WFP, 23rd August 2002
  5. UN presses Africa to take GM foods. The Guardian, 30th August 2002,12264,783096,00.html
  6. Commission response to the Southern Africa humanitarian crisis. European Commission, 15th July 2002
  7. Interview with Franco Viault. EuropeAid 18th September 2002
  8. Commission allocates EUR 30 million in humanitarian aid for Southern Africa. European Commission, 2nd October 2002|0|RAPID&lg=EN&display=
  10. Council Regulation (EC) No 1292/96 of 27 June 1996 on food-aid policy and food-aid management and special operations in support of food security. European Union Official Journal L 166 , 05/07/1996 P. 0001 - 0011!celexapi!prod!CELEXnumdoc&lg=EN&numdoc=31996R1292&model=guichett
  11. Southern African food crisis: situation report 19th September 2002. DfID, 19th September 2002
  12. Clare Short outlines further support to alleviate the food shortages in southern Africa. DfID, 1st October 2002
  13. Southern African crisis worsens by the day, says WFP chief. World Food Programme, July 2002.
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