21st April 2004

Genetically modified grain ban poses problems for WFP

The Angolan government has decided to ban the importation of genetically modified produce puting it in line with other countries in the SADC region. SADC has recommended that member countries should not allow genetically modified food to enter without regulation and control systems.

The decision, which has not yet been implemented, puts Angola in line with Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho, and Malawi. The government has indicated that, due to the humanitarian crisis, it will allow some GM maize to be imported by the World Food Programme, on condition that it is immediately milled to stop local farmers from planting the seeds without any regulation.

According to Liz Matos, director of the National Plant Genetic Resources Centre, farmers in some provinces of Angola are already planting GM seeds which were distributed as food aid. Matos warned of the danger of contaminating the local varieties of crops.

Matos points out that there is no regulatory system in Angola for the use of GM crops, or to monitor its effects, and that until such a system is in place the country should stick by the regional position of SADC. She says that it is also important for future exports - especially to Europe, where consumers are much more wary of GM crops - that Angola can guarantee that its crops are GM free.

The government's decision has been blamed by the United Nations' World Food Programme for its decision to cut by half the amount of food aid delivered in Angola. Almost all food aid distributed by the WFP in Angola comes from the United States, which does not differentiate between GM and non-GM crops. So far this year the US has donated 95 percent of the $24 million worth of food aid.

WFP has warned that due to the new regulation a shipment from the United States of 19,000 tonnes of maize has been diverted to another country, and that a replacement of milled cereal will be sent in its place. However, this will cause a delay and a break in the supply line. WFP has pointed out that unless there is an urgent donation of cash it will have to halve its rations to most of its 1.9 million beneficiaries, and in June and July it will have run out of cereals. It has also announced that it is to delay expanding its school feeding programme, which it had hoped to increase from 45,000 children in two provinces to 235,000 children nationwide.

On a more positive note, WFP has announced that 1,798 tonnes of pulses and vegetable oil, which had been held up at the ports of Luanda and Namibe due to delays in the payment of port dues by the Angolan government, have now been freed for distribution. (APM)

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