Africa is currently suffering a famine. America is prepared to help - but only by sending genetically-modified food stuffs to affected countries. It's an issue that raises passion on both sides.
"It's not just the US exporting these foods," Andrew Natsios, head of USAID, told us yesterday. "If you buy South African maize, you're eating biotech maize. France and Germany also plant biotech corn, though not in huge quantities. We export our biotech soy beans to Europe and they've been eating them for five years with no problems."
Zambia has refused to accept any GM food and, today, Daily Summit spoke to a Zambian smallholder, Robert Kenda Chimambo, who supports his 12 people on his farm at "just above subsistence level."
He was once richer, he says, but structural readjustment policies in 1991 led to falls in agricultural incomes and rises in prices for inputs. "I have to pay twice as much for fertiliser and seed." he says.
Mr Chimambo believes that these polices have caused the famine and is angry that Zambia should be asked to import GM food. "The Germans, British and French won't eat GM food - so why should we?" he says. "I would rather starve than eat GM food."
The Zambian government's scientific adviser justifies the decision to refuse GM food aid.
"The scientific community is divided on the issue," Dr Lewanika says, "so we used the precautionary principle. Besides, if we allow in GM food aid, then some people are sure to sell it for planting in the next season and then we will never be free from it."
The government is now trying to import non-GM food, with China winning African friends by offering to help. The crisis point will be reached early next year and Dr Lewanika is confident that disaster will be averted.
Daily Summit asked the UK's chief scientific adviser, David King, about the issue and he was critical of the US's "gung ho" approach.
"You have to respect people's views," he said, "though if someone is actually starving and you offer them GM food, I am sure 99.999% of people would accept."
The Economic Commission for Africa, however, will be releasing a pro-GM report later today. In advance of the publication, its director, Dr Patrick Asea, described Zambia's stance as "short sighted" and its use of the precautionary principle as a luxury.
"Biotechnology is the only way out of poverty for Africa, where 70% of people are farmers," he told us, "most of whom are still using incredibly basic farming methods. African farmers suffer extreme weather conditions and very poor soil. Household incomes will only go up when we have more sturdy varieties of the crops."
Dr Asea criticised the decline of donor investment in agriculture. "Crops that matter to Africans, such as yams, cassava and millet, are not receiving investment," he said. "We call them the orphan crops."
David Steven |
02:39 PM | |