Politics | Christopher M. Annear

“GM or Death”: Food and Choice in Zambia

from Gastronomica 13:1 (originally published in Gastronomica 4:2)

Food is complicated nourishment that feeds more than the belly. As recent events in Zambia have shown, it has the capacity to make (or break) relationships before even a morsel is raised to lips. Last year Zambian president Levy Patrick Mwanawasa sparked international controversy when he banned genetically modified (GM) foods from entering Zambia, including in the form of famine aid. Since then, contentious debate has ensued that transcends questions regarding the relative virtue of GM foods, both in terms of nutritional safety and geoeconomic prudence. The potency of President Mwanawasa’s words and the strong international, almost exclusively Western, repudiations to his declaration reveal a tenuous relationship between African and Western donor countries over the topics of food aid and food values. What he has shown, in effect, is that food can constitute political poison even when gastronomically edible.

Mwanawasa’s GM food remarks drew—perhaps even courted—criticism from beyond the borders of his midsized south-central African country for his purported insensitivity to the food needs of his own people. Due to the effects of El Niño on the past two growing seasons (2001, 2002), southern Africa has been reported to be a virtual famine zone. Therefore, the posited relationship between food and affected African countries is often discussed as if it were linear and axiomatic: the hungry continent requires food, any food. In this article I discuss the paradox that, on the one hand, debate is encouraged concerning the possible health risks of certain foods for people who can buy it; yet, on the other, donor governments deny the right of choice to those people in countries who receive it at no immediate economic cost. I examine two ideas central to this controversy: one, that the privilege of food choice is present only in prosperous, industrialized countries; and two, that food is conceptualized symbolically, culturally, and ethically in a variety of ways. In sub-Saharan Africa this is no less the case than in Western countries, yet when Africans attempt to exercise choice concerning GM foods they are told: “Beggars can’t be choosers.”1 Such sentiments suggest that Africans are denied the right of free food choice because Western nations, many of which are also aid donors, have already tacitly determined the relationship of food pathways to and for Africa.

The news reports and opinion pieces published in response to President Mwanawasa’s decision have been less refutations of his argument against GM foods than comments on his perceived arrogance and ignorance at denying food to “his own starving people.” While this Western response to African hunger has been seen before, Mwanawasa’s initial declaration, and perhaps even more his stubborn adherence to an anti-GM stance, is rather less orthodox. In order to better analyze Mwanawasa’s political position this article will do what many others have not: it will reserve judgment long enough to examine the social, political, and gastronomic environment in Zambia that helped to generate the president’s antagonistic posture, articulated in one editorial as the choice between “GM or death.”2

“Africa Becomes Battleground for Genetically Altered Food”3

No controversy—nuclear power, global warming, or even the eerie possibility of cloning human beings—occupies a larger space in that disturbing arena where science, social values, and commerce collide [than GM foods].4

The controversy over genetically modified foods is one of those rare topics that draw together cultural, economic, and religious values. Although typically presented as a scientific issue, GM foods also tend to inspire emotional reactions that speak to global issues of economic and cultural power. Before July 2002, GM foods debate in the West focused on juxtapositions that pit international producers against local consumers5 and occasionally agribusiness against individual farmers,6 but rarely did they concern themselves with ameliorating hunger. These parameters were tested when international media began running a seemingly paradoxical story: “We Would Rather Starve Than Get Genetically Modified Foods, Says President,”7 which reported that Mwanawasa was considering refusing any food aid that included genetically modified elements. Articles written in response to the Zambian president’s political stance articulated a range of opinions, from aloof dismissal of what was regarded as “yet another case” of an African leader posturing with dictatorial bravado, to expressions of disbelief and anger. Advocates, and even some opponents to GM foods being allowed into European markets, voiced their discontent at a president who would refuse food aid to his own starving people, regardless of its value or content.8

Woman with baby selling non-GM tomatoes, Mansa market, Luapula Province, October 1999. Photograph by Christopher M. Annear ©2004

I suspect that the reason for ignoring the issue of food quantity in a debate that until Mwanawasa’s statement had been primarily about food quality is that it reshuffled the political arguments. One of the main sticking points with GM foods has been the long-term health effects of bioengineering on consumers and the land on which it is grown. However, the capacity of such seeds to enduringly fulfill promises of improved yields is rarely questioned.

Moreover, agribusiness firms have often promoted genetically modified organisms as the next hunger-quenching “Green Revolution.”9 Based on the generally accepted notion that GM crops would bring enhanced productivity, Africa and GM foods seemed to be an ideal match: the continent “ravaged by hunger” is given high-yielding crops. But a problem arose when Africans themselves began to challenge this relationship.

Defining Food in Contemporary Zambia: Rural Perspectives

In an industrial society getting a meal is an interval or a conclusion to the day’s work; in a society [that is pre-industrial], getting a meal is the day’s work.10

The debate over whether to accept or refuse GM foods in Zambia is inextricably connected to the symbolism of food. The late New Zealand anthropologist Raymond Firth’s observation above offers a useful point of departure. Firth is correct—food production and procurement are essentially different activities in industrial and agrarian societies. Therefore, the meanings associated with food are likely to be dissimilar, as well, and certainly Zambia is no exception. However, modern Zambia, along with most other countries of the world, must account for both urban and rural modes of labor and production, which coexist and interact through both meanings and markets within its national borders.

Zambian President Levy Patrick Mwanawasa during his July 2002 visit to the Lunda-Kazembe Mutomboko Ceremony in Mwansabombwe, Luapula Province, Zambia. Photograph by Ruth Kerkham ©2004

At least 60 percent of Zambians live in nonurban areas.11 While many rural people rely on urban wage-remittances, severance payments, and other forms of imported income, the vast majority of Zambians subsist on locally cultivated staples such as maize, cassava, and finger millet. Rural residents typically produce the daily meals they consume through carefully planned year-round agricultural labor, and thus are intimately involved in the precarious process of food cultivation and harvest. Not surprisingly, therefore, among the attributes of highly valued foods is the ability to generate consistent and reliable results. Foods laden with the richest symbolic meanings are most likely to be “traditional”12 ones that are known and trusted locally.

Defining food in rural, agrarian areas at first appears deceptively simple: food is what fills a person’s stomach, food is what fuels strength for work. Symbolic subtleties, however, emerge upon consideration of which foods fulfill these requirements. Moreover, it is not just the type of food, but also the processes by which it is prepared, for whom, and at which times, that shape value. In the Luapula region, and throughout northern Zambia, the most significant food is nshima,13 a thick porridge made from maize, cassava, and sometimes finger millet, that is eaten at almost every meal. Consuming several hearty portions of nshima means that a person will be “satisfied,” which in turn results in strength for work. The concept of being satisfied (ukwikuta in Chibemba, the most widely spoken language of northern Zambia) implies more than merely replacing emptiness with food. To eat an adequate amount of locally relevant food “delivers one from hunger” or “chases the hunger” (ukutûka nsala). Nshima is considered so significant to the Zambian diet that a common complaint following the consumption of several ears of roasted maize or a hearty plate of peeled and boiled sweet potatoes sans the basic staple dish is, “Alas, we are dying of hunger. We have not had a bite to eat all day.”14

Nshima in Zambia is often discussed in terms of the energy and gastronomic satisfaction that it confers upon individuals, yet it provides something more significant still: a sense of social coherence. Eating is a social activity, with nshima the anchor of every meal. Raymond Firth underscores this notion of food as socially cohesive. He discusses food production and meanings among Tikopian islanders of the South Pacific as a collaboration between the pragmatic and symbolic:

The relationship of people to food in Tikopia is strongly pragmatic, empirical. They want to eat it, they are anxious about the supply of it, they organize a great deal of their activity around getting it and making it ready for eating. They also are very interested in the idea of food, intellectually and emotionally. They talk a lot about food; they enjoy their own foods cooked in their own way; they are very hospitable in pressing food upon visitors; and very pleased when visitors enjoy it too. With all this the Tikopia have quite an elaborate set of symbolic concepts in which food figures—either being symbolized by other things or itself symbolizing activities and relationships … strictly speaking there are no symbolic objects—there are only symbolic relationships.15

Similarly, the symbolic relationships invested in and reflected by important foods are key to understanding the emotional responses of people in places like Zambia to genetically modified foods.

Symbolic Consumption: Relationships, Values, and Choices Encoded in Food

There are objects or substances which are not edible by their physical nature, because they cannot be masticated or cannot be digested or their flavour is antipathetic: earth, wood, grubs, some marine fauna, etc. Then there are others which are inedible because of their social nature. …16

Now, to return to an assertion presented earlier: what makes food bad to eat even when it is gastronomically edible? Among the variables that affect such a morality of consumption are time, place, and social standing. Certain foods may not be appropriate, or might even be considered temporarily unpalatable during episodes of mourning, rites of initiation, or due to one’s age. Groups, rank, and gender are further delineated and variously amalgamated through the idiom of food. It is often through eating that social relationships are realized and symbolically represented.

Matrilineal clan aggregates in northern Zambia are often united under the banner of foods and animals. Ubowa (mushroom), ubwali (nshima), and isabi (fish) are commonly found group titles. While in some circumstances the consumption of the clan emblem is prohibited to members, clan names can also foster cooperation and familiarity among groups. Certain clans maintain special joking relationships that involve mutual obligation and the social leeway to act especially rudely toward each other without incurring the same ire as one would in typical interactions. These relationships are founded on the complementary nature of the clan names. For example, members of the mushroom and rain clans are “joking cousins” because mushrooms cannot grow without rain; likewise, the fish and crocodile clans are paired because crocodiles subsist on fish.17

Food is also used as an idiom to represent and transform interethnic relations in Zambia. Comparable to many other practices throughout the world, people are sometimes grouped by the foods they are purported to eat. An example is found in the Bemba proverb “abalya mbulu, balapalamana,” which translates loosely as “those who eat water monitors (a large species of lizard) gravitate together.” In a similar manner, ethnic Bemba and Ngoni have in part transformed their previously hostile rivalry into a peaceful joking relationship through gastronomic teasing. Members of each group playfully mock the other for their respective “repulsive” culinary habits. Bembas are cajoled by Ngonis for their atrocious willingness to eat monkeys, while Ngonis are mercilessly harassed for their “disgusting” habit of regularly consuming a certain type of rat. This manner of mischievous banter is so pervasive that Bembas and Ngonis are iconographicaly represented in house paintings and public murals as monkeys and rats throughout Zambia. As shown by interethnic and clan joking relationships, “fighting” via ethnic foodways can diffuse tension and invite sociability. As elsewhere, food in Zambia bestows richer sustenance than merely the sum of its constituent nutrients. Nourishment is endowed upon the social consumer through the symbolic relationships that are both represented and conferred via food. Such messages and meanings are, of course, as various as the foods that are eaten. Concepts appear especially diverse when comparing areas where food is bought and where it is harvested. However, I argue that the processes that pervade the social content appropriated through food are very much the same in urban and rural regions. These include communicating through symbolic representation, fighting for political leverage, and demanding the right to accept (and reject) foods.

Ndlovu’s Thinking:18 Urban Values and Involvement

Although rural people are usually more physically vulnerable than urbanites to envisioned calamities set in motion by GM crops, the debate in Zambia has nonetheless been almost exclusively an urban one. With few exceptions, urban values and definitions of food are the ones that drive public discourse.19 This is generally the case wherever GM foods are debated—in North America, the European Union (eu), and Africa. One of the most significant elements of delineation between urban and rural areas is access to mass media. While much has to do with the capability to receive incoming news and ideas, perhaps even more consequential are the outward channels for sending messages. However, there is a difference between sending and communicating. Compared to those in rural areas, city residents have much greater access to information from foreign sources, yet few ideas coming from Africa seem to be heard in international discourse. In Zambia, the GM foods debate has presented a temporary solution, which has served to open communication with the outside.

In this way the GM foods debate presents an opportunity to economically marginal so-called Third World nations—the “privilege” of international voice. Urban Zambian opinions seem to be greatly influenced not only by the content of perspectives expressed in the West, but also by a desire simply to be involved. The GM foods debate appears to be viewed in Zambia as a modern and cosmopolitan issue that connects the country to outside nations socially and, Zambians hope, economically.

Most Zambian news articles and opinion pieces discuss food issues by focusing on Zambia’s relationship with the eu. In contrast to rural areas, food is not considered to be meaningful for its local productive significance in cities such as Lusaka and Kitwe. Instead, it is recognized for its value as a trade commodity that opens social and economic links with western Europe. Furthermore, due to the current anti-GM mood in most eu member countries, fears that gm-contaminated food products could be refused in Europe have increased the stakes for hopeful exporters such as Zambia.20 Interestingly, these anxieties are at present wholly academic, since Zambia does not to any significant extent export edible crops to Europe.

As such, the urban Zambian debate ostensibly concerning GM foods can be viewed as a pseudoscientific discourse about international power and modern Zambia’s role in the world. The newspaper article entitled “Ndlovu’s Thinking” is a good example of such discussion. It is an editorial written as a rebuttal to Zambian member of parliament Alfred Ndlovu, whose original written piece expressed general confidence in the integrity of the United States to provide healthful foods as aid to drought-stricken regions of Zambia.

The editorialist disagrees with Ndlovu, calling him naïve for trusting a capitalist country to have moral rather than economic motives propelling decisions concerning GM food products. He expresses pragmatic disillusionment with Zambia’s relationship to Western countries and reminds readers of how international aid donors, especially the United States, have previously sent understudied medical products such as the antidiarrheal Immodium to Africa, only to later ban it after many Africans died. Although cautionary, the writer is not entirely dismissive of Western countries. He wants Zambians to be cognizant of the nature of capitalistic, profit-minded decision making; nonetheless, he counsels his readers not to sever international relations. Ultimately, the editorialist is hopeful that greater international parity can be achieved among countries through careful and constructive engagement.

This rebuttal to Ndlovu expresses sentiments that echo the majority of Zambian commentaries. Common themes declare that GM foods might be poisonous and that crossbreeding between GM and indigenous varieties could permanently contaminate national food supplies,21 resulting in a decrease of endemic biological diversity.22 Despite the scientific rhetoric that consistently peppers these pieces, this mainly urban debate actually concerns power and international relations. Zambians often lament their lack of political power; inclusion in GM debates perhaps allows for a measure of engagement. For many Zambians, simply being recognized by Western countries as a participant in such a debate is a victory unto itself.

“Dignity in Hunger”23

It is all about economics. If you have economic power you can choose what you eat and eat what you want from where ever it is produced. On the other [hand,] you eat what is thrown at you, and [are] forced to give what you want, unless you have dignity. “Uwakwensha ubushiku bamutasha lilya bwacha!” [One who drives at night is only thanked in the morning].24

In Zambia, involvement in the GM foods debate generates international interaction that is otherwise nearly nonexistent. Whereas North American and European news sources tend to dismiss African skepticism of the healthfulness of GM foods as arrogant and irresponsible,25 Zambians assert their opinions with self-confidence and the expectation that they are—or should be—equal partners in the discussion. However, the de facto reality of international news coverage is that political and scientific issues tend to be reported as if they occur exclusively in Western countries. Individual non-Western voices are thus very rarely included in news accounts of debates that do not explicitly refer to their country or region of origin. It appears that international news outlets covering Zambia’s response to being “forcefed” GM foods have been dismissive because of the tacit belief that Zambia is overstepping its role as a donor-dependent nation.

The sentiments in the quote above underscore the opinions of many residents of the cities and towns of Zambia. However, what about the perspectives of the rural Zambians who are reported to be starving? The few articles that depict the plights of Zambian villagers have been published almost exclusively in Western newspapers,26 and tend to express an overwhelming willingness on the part of rural people to eat whatever food is given to them. Moreover, while Western media report starving African masses, Zambian newspapers tend to contradict them, often agreeing with President Mwanawasa’s stance that “There has been a false picture being painted to the outside world that people in Zambia are dying of hunger.”27

Mr. Nason L. Chibwe displaying non-GM cassava root grown on his farm in Kansele on the Luapula Plateau during his independently organized agricultural show and farmer workshop, October 1999. Photograph by Christopher M. Annear © 2004

In reality, the current state of hunger in Zambia is neither wholly desperate nor satisfactory—nor, of course, is it a singular circumstance nationwide. Shortages appear to be most acute in the south and southwest of the country, where diminished rainfall has hampered the cultivation of maize for the past two seasons.28 During those same two growing seasons, in Luapula Province a combination of more acceptable rainfall and the general reliance on the two-to-three-year-maturing, hardy cassava plant has produced a relative bumper crop. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence suggests that localized food shortages are still occurring in some areas, due less to poor harvests than to overselling by individuals attracted to exceptionally high prices for staple foods. Even in areas where food is scarce, poor Zambians may be suffering more from governmental inability (or unwillingness) to distribute Zambian-grown foods than from environmental capriciousness. At the very least, the current problem has certainly been exacerbated by a dysfunctional political system that has failed to distribute available food resources.

Conclusion: Relief-induced Agonism—Starving for International Attention

This article has considered the Zambian role in international debate over genetically modified foods. President Mwanawasa’s initial skepticism and later ban on GM foods from entering the country (including in the form of aid) have elicited a wide range of international and national responses. Despite spirited debate on many sides of this provocative issue, none of the news or editorial pieces I have come across presents compelling analysis that helps to explain why Zambians, and above all their president, have expressed the opinions discussed throughout this article. In an effort to replace rhetoric with comprehension, I suggest that Zambian urban and rural perspectives on GM foods, as well as Western media reaction to the Zambian government’s controversial stance, can be viewed as an extension of Robert Dirks’s notion of “relief-induced agonism.”29

Dirks describes relief-induced agonism as a condition of predictable and patterned aggression that follows after acutely underfed populations first receive enough nourishment to regain some strength. Perhaps counterintuitively, the reciprocal act of aid recipients is not merely to be unappreciative of the efforts by relief workers, but to act out aggressively, at times even physically abusing the people who fed them. The very people, therefore, who assisted the early recuperation of starving populations become the targets of their aggression.

Some populations in Zambia may currently be in such dire physical condition; however, what has so amazed Western donor nations is the unexpected analytical belligerency exhibited by Zambia’s government and citizenry. Zambian urbanites are angry at perceived international inequality and the apparent Western unwillingness to treat African countries as anything more than “dumping grounds” for their unwanted and/or unused resources. The writer of “Ndlovu’s Thinking” articulates his anger as follows:

What I am saying is that neither the world, the un nor anyone will protect your citizens. It is for the government to ensure [that] its people and nation … [are] protected. This is fraught with hardships and danger when you are a small nation without economic muscle and without a strong infrastructure, because you will always be held to ransom on aid, loans and others unless you accede to certain programmes etc. … Africa in the world pecking order comes bottom of the pile, fact not sentiment.30

What Zambia may be expressing is a relief-induced agonism of the analytical rather than physiological sort—a reaction to perceived political starvation. I am not suggesting that Zambian rejection of genetically modified food aid is necessarily an automatic reflex reaction of a starving people, but instead a calculated response by a geopolitically hungry people. Debate of GM foods has been recognized in Zambia as a conduit for varied urban and rural responses that reach outside the African region. There are, of course, sincere anxieties in Zambia about the future health effects of genetically modified foods. However, what has been considered here is how the GM foods debate has become a forum for expressing urban frustration over both the lack and the tenor of social, political, and economic engagement with the world outside of Africa.

Conversely, the presence of such rapacious urban voices serves to magnify the rarity of national media engagement with rural areas, even though these are where most hypothetical GM contamination would occur. If Zambia and other politically and economically marginal countries are to succeed at building the internal strength and stature that they so desire, then all people must be given voices both inside and outside of national borders. Foods, Firth reminds us, mark symbolic relationships. Meanings are therefore neither fixed nor unidirectional. Just as urbanites seek to be recognized as participants in worldwide discussions concerning GM foods, rural perspectives must also be heard in order to reach meaningful accord.

The Zambian rejection of genetically modified foods is significant and noteworthy, even if heavily skewed toward urban channels of communication. For the attentive observer, it is more than just President Mwanawasa’s defiant anti-GM declaration that can be heard emanating from Zambia. His act was one of calculated political opportunism; however, by making his pronouncement he inadvertently initiated a debate over economic power and choice that included a country which was hitherto a silent recipient of aid. While international response to his position has been largely critical, it has also focused a temporary spotlight on a hungry country, a small but considerable consolation for the many Zambians who see few other options than to express their relief-induced agonism. As a nation that is generally politically stable but slowly deflating economically, Zambia, like many other countries in similar straits, might be too weak to rise up, yet it is still strong enough to take a nip at the hand that feeds it.


The author acknowledges Parker Shipton, Diana Wylie, James A. Pritchett, James C. McCann, and Ruth H. Kerkham as well as two anonymous reviewers for insightful editorial comments. Additionally, appreciation is extended to Dr. Kenneth D. Kaunda, the first president of Zambia, and his assistants, Mr. Godwin Mfula and Mr. Gabriel Banda, for offering illuminating perspectives during his yearlong residency with the Boston University Balfour African President in Residence program, 2002–2003. This article is dedicated with great fondness and respect to the late Mr. Nason L. Chibwe, bashikulwifwe.

1. Zambia has been told by the United States either to use fifty million dollars to buy America’s GM maize through the World Food Programme, or face starvation. When the United States had earlier tried to force GM food aid on India, an unnamed usaid spokesman told the media: “Beggars can’t be choosers.” See Robert Vint, “Force-feeding the World: America’s ‘GM or Death’ Ultimatum to African Reveals the Depravity of Its GM Marketing Policy,” AgBioIndia Mailing List, http://www.connectotel.com/gmfood/ag020902.txt, 2002.

2. Ibid.

3. Emily Gersema, “Africa Becomes Battleground for Genetically Altered Food,” Associated Press, 9 September 2002.

4. Michael Spector, “The Pharmageddon Riddle: Did Monsanto Just Want More Profits, or Did It Want to Save the World?” New Yorker, 10 April 2000.

5. See, for example, Mark L. Winston, Travels in the Genetically Modified Zone (Cambridge, ma: Harvard University Press, 2002); Kathleen Hart, Eating in the Dark: America’s Experiment with Genetically Engineered Food (New York: Pantheon Books, 2002); and Bill Lambrecht, Dinner at the New Gene Café: How Genetic Engineering Is Changing What We Eat, How We Live, and the Global Politics of Food (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2001).

6. Winston, Travels in the Genetically Modified Zone.

7. This headline is an excerpt from comments made by the president to the British news outlet Sky News. Sky News must have considered this story very important because Mwansabombwe, where the ceremony is held, is quite remote, one thousand kilometers from the national capital, Lusaka. “We Would Rather Starve Than Get Genetically Modified Foods, Says President,” Zambian Post, 30 July 2002.

8. See, for example, Elizabeth Neuffer, “Unpalatable to the Starving: Food for Thought,” Boston Globe, 1 September 2002; Henri E. Cauvin, “Between Famine and Politics, Zambians Starve,” New York Times, 30 August 2002.

9. See, for example, “Bring on a Gene Revolution,” Financial Mail (South Africa), 6 September 2002; Isabel Vincent, “Zambia Refuses Food Despite un Assurances: Officials Fear Genetically Modified Grain Will Destroy Their Crops,” National Post (Canada), 27 August 2002.

10. Raymond Firth, Symbols: Public and Private (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973), 244 (italics in original).

11. Central Statistics Office of the Republic of Zambia, Preliminary 1990–2000 Census Data (Lusaka: Central Statistics Office, 2002). The precise figure for rural populations is 61 percent, up from 60 percent in 1990.

12. I put the qualifier “traditional” in quotes to highlight the relatively rapid integration of nonendemic crops such as cassava and maize into the small group of trusted and reliable staples in Zambia. Cassava likely reached the northern region of Zambia in the early eighteenth century via Portuguese and African traders and slavers. Although maize originally reached Zambia by similar means, what is now widely grown is a hybrid form of the crop called sr-52, one of the first agricultural hybrids developed in southern Africa. Linda C. Jackson and Robert T. Jackson, “The Role of Cassava in African Famine Prevention,” in Rebecca Huss-Ashmore and Solomon H. Katz, African Food Systems in Crisis: Part Two: Contending with Change (New York: Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, 1990), 207–225. Johan Pottier, Migrants No More: Settlement and Survival in Mambwe Villages, Zambia (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 20–21.

13. The term nshima is used generically throughout Zambia to refer to this staple food. Ubwali is the specific term used in Luapula and much of northern Zambia, where the language Chibemba is primarily spoken.

14. Audrey I. Richards, Land, Labour and Diet in Northern Rhodesia: An Economic Study of the Bemba Tribe (London: Oxford University Press, 1939), 47. Despite the date of Richards’s work, this sensibility continues to be voiced in Zambia today.

15. Firth, Symbols, 245.

16. Firth, Symbols, 248.

17. Audrey I. Richards, “Reciprocal Clan Relationships among the Bemba of N. E. Rhodesia,” Man 37 (1937): 188–193.

18. “Comment: Ndlovu’s Thinking,” Zambian Post, 9 September 2002.

19. Winston, Travels in the Genetically Modified Zone.

20. See, for example, “Better Dead Than gm-fed? Europe’s Green Are Helping to Keep Africans Hungry,” Economist, 21 September 2002; Rachel Wynberg, “High Risks and Dubious Benefits: The Case Against the Introduction of gmos,” African Wildlife 5 (2001): 9–11.

21. “Comment: Ndlovu’s Thinking,” Zambian Post.

22. Wynberg, “High Risks and Dubious Benefits.”

23. “Comment: Dignity in Hunger,” Zambian Post.

24. Ibid.

25. “Feeding Hungry Gets More Challenging,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1 October 2002; Cauvin, “Between Famine and Politics, Zambians Starve.”

26. Devon Walsh, “Earth Summit,” Independent, 30 August 2002; Davan Maharaj and Anthony Mukwita, “Zambia Rejects Gene-altered u.s. Corn,” Los Angeles Times, 28 August 2002.

27. “Aid Workers Deny Food Crisis Exaggerated,” United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks (irin), 20 September 2002.

28. But apparently not the 2003 growing season. This most recent harvest has been a dramatic improvement over the 2001 and 2002 seasons, respectively. See “Kaoma District Expects 21,000 Tonnes of Maize,” Times of Zambia, 1 August 2003.

29. Robert Dirks, “Famine, Hunger Seasons and Relief-Induced Agonism,” in Rebecca Huss-Ashmore and Solomon H. Katz, African Food Systems in Crisis: Part One: Microperspectives (New York: Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, 1989), 295–302.

30. “Comment: Ndlovu’s Thinking,” Zambian Post.

5 Responses to “GM or Death”: Food and Choice in Zambia

  1. Melody September 21, 2013 at 12:02 pm #


    Did you read the article? Clearly, the author is trying to add another side of the story to the public discourse about why former President Mwanawasa rejected the food including some of the reasons you are stating in your comment.

  2. sandi May 14, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

    Do your homework & research GM crops before you write an article like this. How dare you criticize anyone for not wanting to eat Roundup infused food. No one should. There IS another option & Zambia citizens deserve wholesome organic healthy food like the rest of the world. I say Bravo to their President for caring about the health & welfare of the people in his country – which is more than I can say about the United States! Hopefully someday everyone will wake up & ban GM crops everywhere for the future of the human race. I believe someday people will look back, shake their heads & ask “WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!?! How stupid could they have been to ever think GMOs were safe?” I know I will never knowingly eat any GMOs.

    • Joe L June 5, 2013 at 7:18 am #

      What is wrong with you? They can’t grow “organic food” (hello!!! famine!) and non-GM food would rot before it could reach them. It must be easy for people like you to sleep at night since you have a full belly, while forcing others to starve to death because of your irrational anti-science food beliefs. They have tons of food stored but won’t allow people to eat it because wackos like you have told them that it’s poison. So instead babies wither and die.

    • Morgan October 10, 2013 at 9:54 am #


      First, GMOs are safe. There are plenty of scholarly articles and research test dones that can qualify this statement. You should be more open minded on these issues (meaning know your facts before taking such a firm side). I am sure no logical human being would want to consume Roundup. Stating that GMOs contain that is simply false and the comment was issued out of ignorance and emotions fueled by believing such ill informed ideologies. Becoming more open minded first comes with education and accepting one’s own ignorance. You challenge this author, but as far as I can tell, his research expanse far surpasses your spat of logical fallacies and frustrated jargon. Please do us all a favor and educate YOURSELF. The word choice and font style used in your response suggests your initiative to type was simply one of aggravation and was unnecessarily emotional.

      Please, in a plea to spread the power of education and help you grow as a more compassionate human being, learn a little more about BOTH side of the argument before staking a claim on on side. Step back and acknowledge both sides.

      Have a great day everyone :) and thank you Chris for your article.

      • Betty Brady October 23, 2013 at 11:47 am #

        Back up your comments with proven sources showing independent studies (not those done by the Agri-chem companies) proving GMO food is safe. If you cannot do that, don’t comment.

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