Zambia and Genetically Modified Food Aid


Alexandra C. Lewin


Alexandra C. Lewin (2007). Case Study #4-4, "Zambia and Genetically Modified Food Aid". In: Per Pinstrup-Andersen and Fuzhi Cheng (editors), "Food Policy for Developing Countries: Case Studies." 12 pp.


In 2002 the Zambian government rejected 35,000 tons of food aid because of the possibility that it could be genetically modified (GM). During this time roughly 3 million people in Zambia faced severe food shortages and extreme hunger. As the government turned away this food aid, a debate over GM food aid arose globally. The government of Zambia remains firmly against both milled and nonmilled GM food imports. Other governments throughout southern Africa have placed similar restrictions, although most will accept milled GM food aid.

Much of southern Africa remains skeptical of GM food for a number of reasons. Some of the major concerns include potential health effects, environmental effects, cross-contamination between GM seeds (from nonmilled GM food imports) and GMfree crops in Africa, and increased labeling and certification costs for exporting goods to the European Union.

On the other hand, many pro-GM groups throughout Zambia and the rest of southern Africa advocate for the acceptance of GM food aid. These groups commonly believe that the governments of southern Africa are making the wrong decision in denying food assistance to starving individuals. They point to the benefits of GM technology, which may include improved nutrition, decreased pesticide use, increased production and higher yields, and lower production costs.

Zambians remain extremely poor and malnourished. Poor government policies and widespread corruption, as well as a lack of natural resources, a high rate of HIV/AIDS, rapid population growth, and low agricultural productivity, all contribute to Zambia’s chronic food insecurity. Zambians’ need for food assistance remains great, yet the government continues to turn away GM food aid.

An examination of the stakeholders involved in the administration of food aid can help to illustrate the inadequacies within the food aid system. Stakeholders include international institutions (namely the World Food Programme), U.S. agribusinesses and shippers, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and recipient countries’ producers, consumers, and importers. The administration of U.S. food aid has come to be known as the iron triangle, referring to the power of three stakeholders—agribusinesses, shippers, and NGOs—over global food aid and their practices fostering the current structure of food aid programs

Many international and development experts have faulted the United States for using the food aid system to benefit a small number of U.S. agribusinesses and shippers. NGOs, the third component of the iron triangle, have also been faulted for their dependence on food aid. The United States has increasingly advocated for widespread GM food acceptance, both within southern Africa and the European Union.

Your assignment is to design a policy (or a set of policies) that attempts to ensure the effective use of food aid, while being acceptable to stakeholders within Zambia, other countries in southern Africa, and donor countries. Policies must address the imbalances seen within the iron triangle and, most important, tackle the root causes of poverty in an effort to alleviate the need for food aid.

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