Drought, inadequate water resources and poor soils, along with other economic and social pressures, have made food shortages a problem in many parts of Africa.

From 2002, GM crops have been offered as food aid. In Southern Africa, several countries have expressed concern about the use of GM crops as food aid, given the lack of clarity about their potential impacts. During the drought of 2002-03, several countries opted to reject GM food aid. In making their decisions, countries considered not only the immediate issue of food shortages and the overall implications of GM crops for human and environmental health, but also future directions in agriculture, the implications of private sector-led research, livelihood and development options, ethical issues and rights concerns (Mohamed- Katerere 2003). Similarly, public concerns are raised about the relationship between GM crops and sustainable agriculture. Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM-Tanzania, PELUM-Kenya, and PELUM-Zimbabwe), Biowatch South Africa, and national consumer councils have all been key players.

Some approaches to GM food aid are identified in Box 4. Mozambique raised concerns about accepting GM maize aid on biosafety and human health grounds and opted to ban its import. Zambia refused to accept GM food aid in any form; Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique refused to accept GM food aid unless it was milled, this being seen as a precaution to avoid any germination of whole grains and to limit impacts on biodiversity; Lesotho and Swaziland authorized the distribution of non-milled GM food, but not before it warned the public that the grain should be used strictly for consumption and not for cultivation; and in 2004, Angola and Sudan introduced restrictions on GM food aid.

Box 4: Some approaches to GMO foods and food aid in Africa

ANGOLA – Banned imports of all GMO produce, except for food aid provided it was milled. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) reported that the additional cost of milling discouraged some food donors.

ETHIOPIA – Banned import of GMO food, saying it would undermine farmers who already have their own traditional ways of fighting pests and weeds. Debate continues over whether GMO crops could help the country out of years of serious food shortages.

KENYA – Does not permit GMO food imports, but government is in final stages of drafting legislation to govern the process of commercializing GMO products.

LESOTHO – Banned GMO food imports unless they are already processed or milled, citing concerns over environmental contamination.

MADAGASCAR – Banned growing or importing GMO foods due to concerns over the effect on human health and environment.

MALAWI – Banned GMO imports unless already processed or milled, citing concerns over environmental contamination.

MOZAMBIQUE – Banned GMO imports unless already processed or milled, citing concerns over environmental contamination.

SWAZILAND – Has no restrictions on GMO imports.

SUDAN – Has some restrictions on GM food aid.

TANZANIA – Is in the process of drafting legislation to govern the import of GMO foods.

ZAMBIA – Banned import of all GMOs, citing concerns over environmental impact and effect on human health. In response, it is alleged that the WFP moved some non-GM food aid stocks out of the country.

ZIMBABWE – Banned import of all GMO produce, except for food aid, provided it has already been milled.

Source: Apps 2005, ERA 2005

Global anti-GM food campaigns have influenced public attitudes to GM foods in Africa. Consumers International (CI), a worldwide federation of consumer organizations with 38 member organizations in about 22 African countries, has played an important role in shaping the debates around GM foods. It advocates a legal regime in which all GM foods are subject to rigorous, independent safety testing, labelling and traceability requirements, and in which producers are held liable for the environmental or health damage which their products may cause (CI 2005). There is growing acceptance of this approach globally.