Lesotho + 5 more

South Africa: SA donates food aid, offers to mill GM maize

JOHANNESBURG, 9 October (IRIN) - South Africa will donate 100,000 mt of maize towards relief efforts in food insecure parts of Southern Africa, and has offered to mill genetically modified (GM) maize donated by the international community.
Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe have all been affected by the current food shortages brought on by drought, floods and failed government policies.

Most of the six countries facing food shortages in the region have refused to accept donated whole GM maize for fear that it could be planted by farmers and contaminate local crops. They have insisted that GM maize be milled before distribution, a South African official told IRIN.

President Thabo Mbeki's spokesman Bheki Khumalo confirmed that the offer had been made by Mbeki at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting in Luanda at the weekend.

"South Africa will have to work through the World Food Programme (WFP) and the logistics are being handled by the department of agriculture - the modalities of the donation and offer to mill are still being discussed," Khumalo said.

The department of agriculture told IRIN that South African millers had been approached to assist and the government had identified millers in areas able to serve "Zimbabwe, Lesotho and so on".

"Because the maize to be milled was donated by foreign countries we do not know exactly what the quantities are. We have negotiated with millers and some have offered to do it for free and keep the by-product and others will do it for a minimal fee," said a spokesman for the department.

WFP said that it would release a statement on the agreement as soon as discussions between it and the South African government were finalised.

The total number in need of food aid in the six countries until March 2003 has reached 14.4 million.

"Much of the increased need for food aid is specific to Zambia and Zimbabwe, where many households already have little or no food remaining," WFP said in a statement last month.

"In Zimbabwe, most people cannot buy maize in the markets and the majority of farmers do not have cereal seed for the upcoming season. In Zambia, market prices have risen rapidly and earlier than usual. In both countries a humanitarian disaster will only be averted if urgent action is taken," the food agency warned.

The South African government's offer to mill GM maize is aimed at allowing WFP to get food to those in need in countries that have stipulated they will not accept whole grain GM maize, and do not have the capacity to mill the quantities required.

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