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[LUSAKA] The Zambian government has rejected a call made this week (30 July) by a group of scientific, agricultural and nongovernmental organisations to use genetically modified (GM) crops to reduce poverty and hunger.

The group — consisting of AfricaBio, the Africa Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum, Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International, Biotechnology-Ecology Research and Outreach Consortium (BioEROC) and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Application (ISAAA) — released a joint press statement endorsing the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which was published in the Times of Zambia on 30 July.

Responding to the statement, Zambian minister of agriculture and cooperatives, Ben Kapita, told SciDev.Net, "We have always said that Zambia will not be used as a dumping place for GMO products." 

Earlier this year (3 April), the Zambian parliament adopted a biosafety bill aimed at preventing the entry of GMOs in to the country (see Zambia takes steps towards biosafety law).

But Wisdom Changadeya, executive director of BioEROC in Malawi said in a press release that nobody could deny Africa its right to a technology that would help its farmers solve some of its most serious and urgent problems.

Margaret Karembu, a researcher at the Kenya-based AfriCenter, run by the ISAAA, warned that African agricultural productivity could drop while the rest of the global community embraced new tools such as GM technology.

She said that African farmers should not be restricted to traditional methods of agriculture.

The same group of five organisations also welcomed a clarification from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) about its stance on GM technology.

Last month, many media outlets reported that AGRA and its president the former UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, had rejected the use of GMOs completely.

The reports came after a speech by Annan in Nairobi last month (16 July), in which he said that whatever the future potential of GM crops might be, conventional breeding represented an important path to food security (see Farmers and researchers: Annan urges stronger links).

AGRA has since clarified their position on GM technology, stating that although they are not currently funding research into GMOs, they support the use of science and technology — including GM — to aid African smallholder farmers.

Norah Olembo, chief executive officer of Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International in Nairobi, Kenya, welcomed AGRA's clarification that GM technology has an important role to play in fighting poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

But others believe that not researching GM technology at this stage could undermine the future of biotechnology in Africa.

This week (27 July) the Netherlands-based Public Research and Regulation Initiative wrote to Annan, saying they were concerned about AGRA's focus on conventional plant breeding methods.

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