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The decision of the Zambian government to ban genetically modified food aid

David Fig
Sociology of Work Unit, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

This draft paper has been posted with permission of the author. Note that it is not to be cited without permission.
An earlier version was presented to a workshop of the Research Committee 24 "Environment and Society" of the International Sociological Association meeting at the third World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, Brazil, 23-28 January 2003
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The growing famine in the interior of Southern Africa during the year 2002/3 has raised important dilemmas for regional governments with respect to food aid. Should governments import genetically modified (GM) maize, the staple foodstuff of the region? The United States had, apparently for some time, issued donations of GM maize to the World Food Programme of the United Nations. Few other governments had made offers of aid available in the form of maize through the WFP. Of affected countries in the region, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Malawi and Swaziland opted to accept GM maize, whilst after considerable public debate and the despatch of a high-level scientific delegation to the United States, South Africa and a number of European countries, President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia decided that his country would not follow suit.

The paper examines the varying pressures on the Zambian government to accept or reject GM food aid. It looks at the politics of international development assistance in the form of food, and specifically of GM maize. It looks at the US strategy to "soften" the way for the adoption of GM food use and commercial crop expansion in vulnerable Southern African countries. It deals with the issue of exports to the EU markets and how these might be affected by GMO contamination. It looks at the dilemma of countries faced with famine, but not yet having adopted a food safety nor a full-scale biosafety regime, in bowing to or resisting such pressures. Finally it examines the significance and impact of Zambia's position for establishing food security at a national level.

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