- The Washington Times - Friday, September 6, 2002

From combined dispatches
HARARE, Zimbabwe The government has dropped its objections to genetically modified crops in a step that should encourage other countries in the region to accept badly needed food aid, the World Food Program said yesterday.
"We made great progress today on the [genetically modified food] issue," WFP Executive Director James Morris told reporters after a meeting with Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe. "It will enable us to do our job."
Mr. Morris is also U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy for the humanitarian crisis in southern Africa, where aid workers say up to 13 million people face a developing famine.
Like several other countries in the region, Zimbabwe has expressed opposition to feeding its people with corn from the United States, which cannot certify its food donations as GM-free.
Until now, the government has only said it may allow aid workers to distribute ground corn, to allay fears that GM grain would be planted locally. The government fears that if GM corn became cross-fertilized with domestic crops, it would jeopardize the country's future ability to export to Europe, which will not accept modified crops.
U.S. aid officials have been harshly critical of both African governments that refuse the food aid and of environmental groups that they say are counseling governments to reject the aid, even though millions of Africans are at risk from drought and famine.
Andrew Natsios, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told The Washington Times in Johannesburg last week that the Bush administration "is not going to sit there and let these groups kill millions of poor people through their ideological campaign."
U.S. officials say the famine has been aggravated by Mr. Mugabe's land-redistribution program, in which hundreds of white-owned farms have been seized, often violently, and are being handed over to poor blacks as well as relatives and associates of the president.
The resulting confusion has idled many of the most productive farms in the region, which traditionally have fed not only the country's own population, but also exported surpluses to neighboring countries.
Mr. Mugabe defended his policies in a rare meeting with foreign journalists yesterday, denying the seizure of the white-owned farms had worsened the food shortages.
"It's absolute nonsense," he said, describing his program to redistribute the land to blacks as an effort to better the lives of the poor. "If anything, it's the only way you can empower people to produce, not just enough for subsistence, but more. To enable them to enjoy life."
Mr. Mugabe said he had no intention of leaving anyone landless. Each white farmer, some of whom own several large farms, would be allowed to keep one farm of "appropriate size."
"We have said and sworn that no one should go without land, but they want much more, greedy, greedy, greedy colonialists. We cannot satisfy their greed at the expense of the rest of the people. We want to distribute land fairly and justly," he said.

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