Examination of Witness (Questions 80 -
MONDAY 25 NOVEMBER 2002
80. As a caveat on GM, it is a very complex
debate and it is massively misunderstood here in Britain as well
as elsewhere. The risk assessment and all those questions need
to be on the table and I would welcome a much more open debate
on it. Is it not true in fact that corporations with an interest
in GM foods actually sponsor the World Food Programme and the
USA is paying for some of the GM corporations running research
programmes? It is not a case of for or against GM in that clean
way, is it?
(Ms Lewis) Absolutely. I would not know about the
USAID funding but certainly there are interest groups in every
aspect of food assistance, whether it is soya bean producers and
the people who produce corn soya blend, so you always have interests,
but I really would not know about the USAID funding.
81. This is a good time because the World Food
Programme is at this moment chaired by the United Kingdom, I understand.
This is a good point at which to carry that forward.
(Ms Lewis) That is right, Ambassador Beattie.
82. It is important that food aid does not undermine
local markets and one way of doing this is to target it at the
poorest who do not have the resources to reach these markets.
When you are selectively targeting everybody in an area, a village,
what can be done to ensure that where there are local markets
that they are not undermined and that the sustainable development
of these local markets can grow?
(Ms Lewis) This is one of our jobs and that of our
implementing partners on the ground, to monitor the situation.
We want to be sure that when we go into a community situation
that these are the most vulnerable people, that they do need food
assistance in the short-term and then we start looking at a reasonable
exit strategy. Also, one of the things that we try to do to support
local markets, where possible, is to buy food, if there is any
surplus, to support the local markets. We have seen from our implementing
partners in some studies that have already been done in Southern
Africa that there does not seem to be much disruption because
there is not anything on the markets anyway. We have to be very,
very vigilant that we do not stay too long. It will depend on
the next agriculture season and this HIV vulnerability.
83. Does there come a saturation point when
you are trying to target the poorest, and that is 80 plus per
cent in an area, that trying to distinguish those who should and
should not receive it outweighs the advantage and you just have
to blanket an area?
(Ms Lewis) I am sure there would come a time but unfortunately
we have not had enough resources to reach nearly the targets,
so at 80 per cent I would think I was fully funded.
84. One of the lessons I would love to be able
to draw out of this study we are doing is to look at ways of trying
to avoid this sort of crisis happening in the future. We are told
that in the Horn of Africa there are better early warning systems
and better reserves of grain and better plans for responding to
a crisis when it happens which grew out of the mid-1980s famine
there. Why are there not similar plans prepared in Southern Africa?
Is it practicable, having learned what you have learned in the
last few months and doubtless will learn in the next few months,
to put together a strategy, perhaps with SADC in the lead, if
not to avoid these problems in the future then to respond to and
deal with these problems better should they reoccur?
(Ms Lewis) Absolutely. One of the things that we are
doing is trying to work with SADC to increase their capacity.
We have a very strong collaboration in the food agriculture and
natural resources unit there in Harare with Save the Children
UK and FEWSNET, which is the famine early warning system funded
by USAID. As I said, we have absolutely asked SADC to take the
lead on vulnerability assessments in the region, which they have
graciously accepted and are giving us leadership there. We are
also working with the US State Department's Meteorological
(Ms Lewis) Whatever it is, those satellites. I cannot
remember what the name of it is. That is a linkage that we are
using now. We are also working very closely with the South African
government in their early warning division of disaster management.
Certainly they have had just a wealth of experience helping with
the floods in Mozambique and many of the natural disasters in
South Africa. I think we are learning from them and have a close
collaboration with them. I think we are going to be doing things
a little better but it is very important that SADC has the support
and the capacity that they need to maintain this and to start
looking to the future so that we do get the flags up early enough
that we do respond in a much more rational and strategic manner.
86. When we looked at the DFID-funded grain
starter park distribution in Malawi, where starter packs were
going to two-thirds of rural households, we were surprised to
learn that many of the starter packs contained seeds which were
one year only seeds, seeds which would grow a crop but the maize
grown would not be fertile if it were planted the year afterwards.
We were told that all of the commercial seed suppliers in Southern
Africa were supplying seeds of this type. DFID took the view that
the packs should contain an alternative type of seed called an
open pollinated variety, which was a less high-tech seed that
produced maize which you could then plant part of the following
year to create a further crop. They have given contracts to a
number of commercial farms to grow the open pollinated variety
so that a greater proportion of starter packs contain this rather
more sustainable type of seed. It strikes me that it is something
that the World Food Programme really ought to take a lead on within
the region because if through our aid programmes we are delivering
into countries without the cash resource to buy new seed year
after year, surely we should be delivering in seed that is sustainable
and of the sort of technology that people have traditionally used?
(Ms Lewis) Absolutely. I have not heard this. I will
flag this up for my colleagues in FAO and see if we can get more
information about this. It seems to me that there are people who
are taking advantage of the situation.
87. So it is an FAO-lead?
(Ms Lewis) That is right, it would be the Food and
Mr Battle: We were told it is the hybrid seed
that is the marketable commodity but it is one year only and it
self-destructs so you cannot sustain it.
88. Thank you very much for coming and answering
our questions. I do not think any of us, particularly those of
us who have been, as we have collectively, to Malawi, Zambia and
Ethiopia in recent months in any way under-estimate the scale
of the difficulties that you face and hopefully we in part of
the inquiry will come forward with some policy recommendations
that in the future may make matters a little easier.
(Ms Lewis) I would certainly want to thank the Government
of the United Kingdom. You were the first folks on the scene with
us in Southern Africa and we appreciate that very much. If I may,
I will tell you an update on the Ncala railroad. The locomotives
arrived last Friday and the maiden voyage left with 25 wagons.
There was a derailment and one of the wagons tipped over so we
were delayed abut 24 hours so even the best efforts
89.But you are getting there.
(Ms Lewis)But we are trying. Thank you so much
for your support on that.