The Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) has described as “nonsensical” the move by the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) to allow for the importation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) into the country.

And the ZNFU says there is need for increased stakeholder engagements on the controversial move.

Last week, the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) chairperson Dr Paul Zambezi announced that they had granted four companies new permits to import products that may contain GMOs and stated that the companies that had been granted were Gatbro Distributors; Pick n Pay; Southern National Import and Export and Choppies Super Stores.

Following a board decision at the just-ended board meeting on of July the 5, 2019, in Lusaka, among the products which Gatbro intends to import include: Bokomo Otees; Bokomo Pro-Nutro; Instant porridge; Bokomo Cornflakes; Bisto and Knor soups, while Pick ‘n’ Pay will bring in 72 different varieties of food and feed and these include brands of Bobtail dog feed; (medium, large, steak; feline cuisine – adult chicken flavours) and No Name Popped rice; Knorr soups; Ace Instant Porridge; Kellogg’s cornflakes; Imana Soya and Imana gravy roast chicken flavour, among branded products, which may contain GMOs.

In a statement by NBA communications officer Sandra Lombe, the Authority stated that it was currently reviewing other permit applications, which were at various stages.

But reacting to the development in an interview, ZNFU president Jervis Zimba insisted that Zambia had the capacity to produce its own food and wondered why GMOs were still on the agenda.

“What we want to do now is we want to ensure that we become innovative as a nation, that is the bottom line. If you look at crisps, they are locally-made because we have been saying that we have potatoes in this country and that is innovation. Now, you go and bring a whole lot of cornflakes into the country when in actual fact the same Biosafety could have been talking to the Ministry of Commerce to say we are having these orders and can we make sure that we have factories set up in rural areas or anywhere to make cornflakes for the country. But they are too happy to announce as if they are making headway when in actual fact, we are losing the much-needed foreign exchange, it’s quite upsetting! To me, I think it’s nonsensical to try and look at this issue of GMOs because my head just goes haywire! I don’t know if these board members are Zambian or what I don’t know. For us, we are trying to change this country’s mode by saying let’s grow our own, let’s have these industries of our own, but some people still have this idea that imported stuff is better than ours. Surely, you can’t have people who behave as if they are not Zambians,” Zimba said.

“Secondly, we don’t have the capacity as a country to try and trace down these things; when they are imported, it’s good in the board to say we have given these permits, but do they have the capacity? Nobody has got capacity in the country to check what is coming. It’s going to take us to invest a lot to look at the imports that were coming in the country. The problem with this country, something starts small like this, these permits start small like this, and tomorrow it will be no, so many countries. Look at Pick ‘n’ Pay who wants to bring 72 different varieties of food and feeds in the country. 72! Are you sure all of them are what they have written there? It’s sad. It’s not a question of capacity, what we don’t want are GMO products in this country. Look at maize itself, we have been revisiting on maize purely because of trying to achieve a niche market for the future. We are looking at the future generation; right now, the whole region wants our maize because its non-GMO. Things like cornflakes, really, you mean we can’t produce cornflakes out of maize, we have plenty maize in this country! This is what kills. So, if we have a shortage of cornflakes in the country, it means somebody will start thinking of how to set-up a factory and start producing cornflakes. But you’re busy bringing these GMO stuffs like cornflakes in this country, for what?”

And Zimba called for increased stakeholder engagement on the GMOs issue.

“You know, in this country, what is lacking is stakeholder engagement. You know, the President (Edgar Lungu) has always emphasized that before you do anything, please consult stakeholders. You can see there the board or whatever it is but you know, already, there are contradictions. We have advised the Ministry of Livestock that no imports of cheese, but I can that there is a list of cheese! We are stakeholders in these things, they should be able to consult other stakeholders instead of just sitting in a room as a board you just approve without looking at other stakeholders. This thing is what is killing this nation, the President is always on record that, ‘please, ensure that every sector, you consult the stakeholders.’ And this idea of people sitting in a corner in one boardroom and start to make decisions on behalf of the nation without consulting stakeholders is the most dangerous thing you can have as a country. This thing must come to an end; we must be able to look at other stakeholders because if this cheese will come, it will be contradictory to the ban, which was effected at the Ministry,” said Zimba.