Looking for evidence in political debates: the case of GMOs in Zambia

14 December 2011

I have mentioned the work by Emma Broadbent a few times in this blog. She is conducting a series of cases for the Evidence based Policy in Development Network that explore the contribution of research based evidence to the development of political debates in Africa. Zambia Analysis has published a synthesis of the case she wrote for the GMO debate in Zambia. (Zambia Analysis, by the way, is an interesting initiative. It is an effort to improve the policy debate in Zambia and a perfect opportunity create a new demand for think tanks’ research -I hope donors are paying attention.)

The watershed moment for Zambia’s position on GMOs came in 2002 when, faced with food shortages and widespread starvation, the government chose to reject 35,000 tonnes of food aid from the US because it included GMO maize. The move was starkly criticised by the WFP, FAO and USAID on stark grounds that it endangered the lives of starving people and was based on a lack of evidence.

But was it? In fact, the account of the GMO debate in Zambia shows that evidence was used by both sides (for and against).

The ban was not made without advice and deliberation. The decision to go beyond banning the aid shipment and ban all GMO imports came after intense debate and serious attempts to weigh up existing knowledge. After a number of research institutes advised the government against accepting GM maize, a team of Zambian scientists and civil society representatives was sent on a US-funded international study tour and concluded that GMOs could be a health hazard.

The full article is on page 26: