Jesuits warn Zambia 'should not be pushed into accepting GM maize'

 Two organisations working in famine-stricken Zambia have warned of the long-term dangers of accepting genetically modified maize. In a joint statement from the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) and Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (KATC), the risks associated with accepting genetically modified relief maize into the country are highlighted in terms not only of health concerns but also of serious impact on the infrastructure of Zambian agriculture. "The Zambian government must not give in to the pressures exerted by offers of GMO maize before adequate study is done and effective precautions taken," said Paul Desmarais, director of KATC. Because the focus of KATC's work is with small scale farmers, Desmarais is aware of the need to empower these farmers, who grow the bulk of Zambia's food crops, to produce sustainably. This means promoting a farming system that uses low external inputs and makes greater use of natural resources found at farm level, including seed. "The present food shortage in Zambia and other parts of this region must not be dealt with in ways that will give rise to even greater problems in the future," he said. According to a study jointly undertaken by JCTR, and KATC, the possible introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the country has many serious risks that must be thoroughly investigated before any decisions are taken. Mrs Bernadette Lubozhya, an agro-scientist conducting this study, cautions that genetically modified crops are likely to bring many long-term problems, including: 1. Lower yields, increased herbicide use, erratic performance and poor economic returns to small scale farmers. 2. Loss of European markets for Zambian products such as fresh flowers, fruit and vegetables, tobacco, coffee and organic products, because the EU bans GMOs. 3. Potential environmental problems such as insect resistance, contamination of wild plant relatives to domesticated crops, greater use of chemicals, less bio-diversity, and harmful mutations that can cause diseases. 4. Dominance of corporate monopoly (corporate farms, many with international connections) over food production, which drives family farmers to destitution (as evidenced in the North America). 5. Negative impact on informal seed sub-sector, which supplies 85% of planting seed to the 75% of the farming community in this country. 6. Diversion of the very essential emphasis on sustainable agriculture that guarantees future household food security. Mrs Lubozhya said some GMO crops that might come to Zambia have been modified in a manner that makes them more dependent on pesticides. Roundup Ready soybeans, for example, which are dependent on Roundup herbicide. Both the seed and the herbicide are owned by the same corporation. The study also raised concern about the health consequences of consumption of GMOs. "For officials from the United States to say that they have eaten GMOs without bad effects is certainly no argument at all for ready acceptance of GMOs into Zambia. We currently have no capacity to evaluate, monitor and sustain the health risks posed by GMO products," she said. Peter Henriot, JCTR Director, strongly commends the Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Mundia Sikatana, for acting in a responsible fashion at a very difficult moment. "Stating that Zambia has to prudently evaluate the current offer, especially in the light of discussion of a National Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy, is a very positive stance that we endorse," he said. The joint statement says: "There is an OAU African Model Legislation that could be very helpful for Zambia to follow as it writes its Biosafety Policy. The African Model protects the rights of local communities, farmers and breeders, and provides for regulation of access to biological resources. "As extremely serious as is the food shortage today, it could be even more serious tomorrow if we blindly accept GMOs that have the potential to undermine Zambia's sustainable agricultural infrastructure. "JCTR and KATC call on the government to seek wider advice in reaching decisions associated with GMOs coming into Zambia." For more information, visit the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection website at: source: CISA

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