LUSAKA, Zambia (AA) – The government’s plan to import maize from South America could force consumers to pay more for a staple food and put them at risk with genetically modified food, experts said.
Speaking on Jan. 21, President Edgar Lungu announced the government’s intention to begin importing maize from South America.
“I’m extremely worried that this prevailing weather pattern since the start of this rainy season will definitely affect the maize production. Unless we do something as a government, our people will starve,” Lungu said.
The country has only enough maize in stock to last until June 2016, Lungu warned.
“It is for this reason that my government is thinking of importing maize from South America without delay before other countries in the Southern African region who have no food as well finish it up,” Lungu said.
But the cost of imported maize may prove prohibitive for many Zambians. In Zimbabwe, which began importing maize at the beginning of January, the price of the foodstuff has risen by 17 percent, according to the Grain Miller Association of Zimbabwe.
There may also be risks to consumers who eat imported maize from South America.
Zambia National Formers Union (ZNFU) Executive Director Ndambo Ndambo told Anadolu Agency in a telephone interview on Monday that the government is likely to import genetically-modified maize (GMO) from South America.
“GMO in South America is specifically produced for stock feed and not for human consumption. The chemicals involved in the production of GMO are hazardous to human life,” Ndambo said.
Ndambo said that, in some cases, GMO maize could have a deleterious effect on the human reproductive system, and it has also been related to initiating cancerous diseases.
There have been several scientific studies that have shown GMO foodstuffs to cause dangerous effects, but the results are controversial.
But opposition parties say there should be no maize shortage. They blame the government for mismanaging the local maize harvest.
“Information on record suggests that Zambia has had bumper harvests since the opposition Patriotic Front took over the government in 2011. Since then, Zambia had not experienced a drought which could put maize
production at risk. If the country is on the verge of starving, as claimed by president Lungu, then this government mismanaged the maize production of the last farming seasons,” United Party for National Development (UPND)
President Hakainde Hichilema told Anadolu Agency in an interview on Friday.
“There is no way the country could run out of maize when we have had bumper harvests since 2010,” he added.
Forum for Democracy and Development President Edith Nawakwi told Anadolu Agency in an interview on Friday that the Zambian government exported the maize from the previous bumper harvests, hence the shortage.
“The only reasonable explanation as to why this government wants to import maize from South America is that all the maize that was in the reserves from previous bumper harvest were exported to neighboring countries,” Nawakwi said.
Maize production jumped 32.29 percent in the 2013/2014 harvest, according to statistics from the Zambia National Farmers’ Union (ZNFU). At that time, the country had stocks of maize of 597,192 tons, most of which was
under safe storage with the Food Reserve Agency (FRA), private traders and commercial farmers.
The estimate for total available maize for the 2014/2015 marketing season was 3,947,863 metric tons, according to the ZNFU.
Statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture show that the country’s total requirements for maize were estimated at 2,795,358 tons.
Nawakwi said that the only explanation for the maize shortage was the export of the commodity to neighboring countries at a low price.
Sam Mulafulafu, Zambia Executive Director of the Catholic charity Caritas told Anadolu Agency in an interview on Friday that the government should have been more careful when exporting maize.
“It does not make sense for the country to have had bumper harvests in the last four to five years, and now to begin importing from South America. Where are the strategic reserves? This is a scandal.”
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