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Zimbabwe Allows Imports of Genetically Modified Maize - 2002-09-06

Reversing previous government policy, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has said his country will accept genetically modified maize brought into the country by the World Food Program. Mr. Mugabe's decision to change the policy came after a meeting with a top official of World Food Program.

Even though Zimbabwe is undergoing a severe food shortage, until recently its government had been staunchly opposed to allowing any genetically modified food into the country. At the recently ended World Summit on Sustainable Development, its agriculture minister, Joseph Made, said Zimbabwe would never accept genetically modified grain.

The change in policy came after talks between Mr. Mugabe and James Morris, the executive director of the World Food Program. In remarks to reporters Friday, one day after his meeting with Zimbabwe's president, Mr. Morris said genetically modified grain would soon be coming into the country.

The Zimbabwe government has no foreign currency to import grain and is now largely dependent on imports funded by the World Food Program. However, agricultural economists say the donated food will be insufficient to feed Zimbabweans until the next harvest next April.

But though the Zimbabwe government has changed its policy on genetically modified grain, Mr. Morris indicated that there had been no progress in persuading the government to allow private organizations to import grain into the country.

Zimbabwe's Grain Marketing Board holds the monopoly in grain trading and human rights organizations have told the United Nations that the Grain Marketing Board is selling grain in a partisan way.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change says at least 20 tons of grain it has bought has been stuck for a week at the border with South Africa. The government says the MDC cannot import the grain because it does not have a permit.

On Friday Zimbabwe's Catholic Church issued a pastoral letter asking the government to allow the private sector to import grain.