Zimbabwe row over GM food aid ends

Published: Sunday 15 September 2002

finally, there's hope on the horizon for Zimbabwe's hunger-stricken population. The country's government has reached an agreement with international relief agencies for the quick release of thousands of tonnes of food aid. In an unusual pact between the Zimbabwean government, the un World Food Programme and Zimbabwe's Grain Marketing Board, 17,500 metric tonnes of genetically modified (gm) corn from the us will be delivered to Zimbabwe. In return, the government will give the World Food Programme an equal amount of corn, which is not genetically modified, from its own stocks. The un agency will then hand over this corn to non-governmental organisations for distribution among starving Zimbabweans -- people who, aid officials say, otherwise never get to see the food stored by the government. The new accord ends the dispute over gene-altered corn between aid agencies and Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean government had turned down a large shipment of us grain earlier this year, because it could not be certified as non-gm.

Zimbabwean officials contended that if the us-donated seeds were sown instead of being consumed, they would yield plants with gene-altered pollen, which could contaminate the surrounding fields. Zimbabwe had wanted to mill the kernels and distribute it as meal. However, this proposition led to a deadlock, as the United States Agency for International Development (usaid) -- which donated the corn -- and the World Food Programme --which is distributing it were unwilling to give it to the authorities. The agencies insisted that the food should be distributed by ngos to prevent its diversion for political purposes.

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