Perceptions of genetically modified maize (as food aid) by the people in Chongwe and Magoye districts, Zambia.
Zambia is one of the Southern African countries that experienced drought between 2001 and 2003. As a result the country had low levels of maize harvest, which is the country's main staple food. The Zambian population depends on maize for both household food security and cash. For this reason the Government of Zambia appealed for help from the international community in order to meet the shortfall of maize with a view to feeding its starving population, particularly in the rural areas. In response to the government's appeal, World Food Programme, (WFP) a United Nations Food agency brought assistance in the form of 27,000 tonnes of genetically modified (GM) maize into the country in July 2002. The Zambian government, however, rejected GM maize in both grain and milled forms, citing health, environmental and trade concerns with the European Union. Thus the focus of the research was to understand, on one hand the government's action of rejecting GM maize as food aid, while on the other hand accepting that drought-stricken small-scale farmers would go hungry as a result of this decision. Understanding the perceptions of government action was therefore essential to understanding the situation the situation fully. In other words, was it a good scientifically based government decision, or was it one made for political gain? Moreover, the purpose of this research was to present arguments about the safety and benefits of Genetic Modification technology for the world, particularly the developing countries. The findings of the study were that the levels of GM technology awareness in Zambia low among technocrats and too low among the rest of the population. To this end, government officials, relevant NGOs and small scale farmers were interviewed. In addition, small scale farmers in Chongwe and Magoye participated in focus group discussions. The findings were that although the Chongwe community experienced drought in their area, they were of the view that the government was justified in rejecting the GM maize from 2001-12 because they did not want to contaminate their land which they regarded as very suitable for farming. On the contrary, the Magoye people were among the communities that had been anxious to get food and were therefore not happy with the government's decision. The hunger suffered at the time in this community caused them to loot the government stores of GM Maize (provided as food aid) before the government could recall the stocks. The issue of access to the GM maize was apparently more important than debating on the potential impacts that might have occurred to their community. Other findings were the Zambian government's decision to reject GM maize (as food aid) impacted negatively, both economically and socially, in these areas. The majority of small-scale farmers experienced food shortages and resorted to various coping strategies such as picking wild-fruits and roots in the bush in order for them to survive.
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