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May 31, 2012

Antipathy to GM crops still strong in Zambia, but is resistance ultimately futile?

Zambia has one of the strongest records of official opposition to GM crops in Africa. An official of the recently elected-into-power ruling party has re-iterated the country's opposition to GM technology and foods, but will Zambia be able to resist the seemingly increasing momentum of the GM tide?

Happily, Zambia has for several years enjoyed surpluses of its staple crop, maize. But during a period of a severe maize deficit several years ago, the country highlighted the strong feelings against GM crops in many African countries by refusing GM maize food aid donations from the US.

On March 30 2012, Wynter Kabimba, Secretary General of the ruling Patriotic Front said Zambia  'would not allow the iintroduction of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) because they pose a danger to food security and the environment.' He was quoted as asking rhetorically, 'Why would anyone want to introduce a technology that puts a whole population’s health at risk?'

Obviously his contentions are the subject of fierce and passionate international debate, but Kabimba's comments reflect the belief of many, perhaps most, in Zambia and many other countries.

But opinions are shifting rapidly, as shown by Kenya's recent decision to allow the importation of GM maize, and its trials and approvals of the commercial cultivation of other GM crops,a trend that is likely to grow in Africa. Who knows, while the ruling party.government says one thing, that doesn't mean that GM trials aren't quietly going on in the country!

African countries that are dependent on aid, or otherwise subject to the strong influence of a 'donor' nation like the US that also sees the aggressive promotion of GM technology as part of its strategic global interests are particularly susceptible to flip-flopping on this controversial issue. Wikileaks revealed that diplomacy, aid, arm-twisting and other 'inducements' are all part of the arsenal of promoting GM crops and reducing resistance to them in target countries.

Despite both countries' previously strong opposition to GM technology, the debate and politics of accepting/rejecting it is inevitably different between them. Zambia is a nearly universally fertile country with a mostly agriculture-friendly climate, plenty of water and large land mass with a low density for its population of 15 million. Kenya's much bigger population of 40 million is on a land mass not substantially bigger than Zambia's, but much of it is increasingly subject to erratic rain and drought. Zambia probably has far greater prospects of being maize sufficient fairly consistently than Kenya does, even if farming of most of the staple maize,as of most of everything else, is rain-fed in both countries.

From this angle one can argue that Kenya's controversial acceptance of GM technology to try to help meet its food needs is understandable, as is Zambia's continuing confident dismissal of the technology.

Still, as seen elsewhere, there are powerful forces working tirelessly to wear down the resistance to GM crops and technology! What a ruling party official says today does not necessarily tell us anything about what might be official policy five or ten years down the line.

African Agriculture

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