Food Aid and GMOs: A Threat to Food Sovereignty

Food Aid and GMOs: A Threat to Food Sovereignty

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By Elizabeth Bravo

The great famine in the region of Bengal in 1943, where an estimated two million people died, was caused because the colonial masters thought it convenient to export food from that region, rather than feed the poor and hungry. Those were times of the Second World War.

History reports similar cases. According to Davis (2002), at the end of the 19th century the concept of the Third World was forged, when three waves of droughts and floods in different parts of the world produced a decrease in food production. This led to the death of around 30-50 million people in China, India, some African countries, and even Brazil.

However, the reasons are not related only to the climate, but to the political impositions emanating from the colonial authorities of that time. For example, the peasants had gone from an agriculture oriented towards self-sufficiency, to one based on export crops. Its production had been inserted into world trade. European countries had turned these countries into their peripheries on the world economic stage.

A historian at the time, Romesh Dutt noted that the number of people who died in India alone was equal to the total population of Ireland. He contrasted this with the Irish famine where a million people died between 1846 and 1849, the same one that has been much studied and denounced as being a European famine.

In 1876, although crop losses were catastrophic in some parts of India, they were not in others. At that time the British had built an excellent communication and rail system. But these were used, not to transport food to the regions that suffered famines, but to take it to the ports from where the grains left for England. The food was exported. For this reason, between 6 and 12 million people died. A similar situation occurred in China and in the French colonies in Africa.

And it is that hunger has been used as an instrument of political intervention, that is why today the demand of peasant organizations and other social movements of the world have focused their fight on the defense of food sovereignty.


Food sovereignty is the right of each people to control and sovereignly decide on their food, controlling the entire production chain, to obtain food self-sufficiency. It is based on the control of the entire production process, so access to land and water are basic components; as well as control over the seeds and the technologies used.

Their priority must be the satisfaction of local, regional and national needs, starting with the family unit, then the locality and finally the country. It is achieved through a productive system with peasants, indigenous people, fishing communities and other local communities, capable of maintaining their traditional practices.

Food Sovereignty is increasingly threatened by all the institutional architecture imposed in our countries by neoliberalism.

The OMG and today the FTAA, forces us to unprotect our local production, the IMF and the World Bank impose structural adjustment programs on us. FAO and other agencies are also at the service of the free market.

Here we analyze the role that food aid plays in this structure.

Food aid is one of the mechanisms preferred by the United States' policy of channeling its development aid.

Food aid has always been used to achieve the objectives of the foreign policy of the United States, since the country that receives the aid is
conditioned by the donor country to follow a certain political line.

This is reflected in the countries that have received food aid as a priority in the last 40 years. In the 1970s during the Indochina War, 70% of aid went to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos; in the eighties it was directed to El Salvador -during the civil war- and to Egypt -which was its entrance to the Middle East-. Since then, aid to countries that implement structural reforms towards the free market has been privileged. In the 1990s, aid has gone to Eastern Europe, to support the transition to a market economy (Salgado, 2002).

In 2003, the countries that received the most food from the United States were Iraq and Afghanistan

Food aid in recent years has forced countries to accept reforms from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, with the impacts that are already being experienced in different parts of the world.

In 2000, Ecuador received food aid from the United States, despite not being a year in which it faced climatic crises, as happened in 1998. When the Minister of State came to deliver this aid, she also signed the agreement by which a US military base would be established on the Ecuadorian coast.

Along with donated food, the United States imposes on countries that access the aid: restrictions on the import of similar agricultural products to avoid competition with third markets).

In addition, the food load often has to be transported by United States companies, although the rates are higher in the international market. This means better business for its merchant marine (Salgado, 2002).


The PL 480 program is the largest food aid program in that country, it has been an important tool for the expansion of markets, and has helped to dispose of agricultural surpluses that could not have been disposed of otherwise. In 1999 the program managed a fund of US $ 1.2 trillion, which supported the shipment of approximately 4 million metric tons of agricultural products.

70% of North American agricultural products are sold to developing countries through long-term concessional financing provided by the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) of the United States Department of Agriculture. Said products are sold in the local market of the country receiving the credit (monetarization of food).

This does not constitute a donation.

The Commodity Credit Corporation is a financial institution belonging to the Government of the United States, created in 1933 to support and protect the income of farmers and the prices of agricultural products and to subsidize agricultural export products of that country. It has the authorization to buy, sell, lend, make payments and carry out other activities with the purpose of increasing production, stabilizing prices and ensuring adequate supply and facilitating efficient marketing of agricultural products.

The projects approved by the United States Department of Agriculture are carried out through the World Food Program and a private voluntary organization (generally of North American origin) that constitute costly international bureaucracies, to which a high percentage of aid is allocated. .

Despite the fact that some 60 countries finance the operations of the World Food Program (WFP), the bulk of the aid comes from the United States, so that country has a lot of influence on the policies of this program, and can be functional to the agricultural policies of that country. Catherine Bertini, executive director of the same until April 2002, is a former official of the United States Department of Agriculture and comes from the corn area of ​​that country (Walsh, 2000).

In 1998, WFP received US $ 1.7 billion. The United States is the largest contributor to the program. For example, in 1998, this country gave WFP 875 million dollars, followed far behind by the European Union, which gave almost US $ 185 million. In 1999, 1.6 million metric tons of US agricultural products were delivered to the World Food Program.

WFP's administrative costs can be very high, but there is no specific information on them, because, being part of the United Nations system, it is not subject to any type of Audit, or accountability system (Palacios, S., Correa JP 2001)


Food aid constitutes a form of additional subsidy to US agricultural products, because the State buys those products that have not been able to be placed on the international market. Recipient countries, on the other hand, become dependent on such aid with fatal effects for the national economy. This was the case of wheat in the Andean region.

In the 1960s, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador began to receive large quantities of wheat from the United States through the Alianza para el Progreso program, created by J.F. Kennedy in 1961.

As a result, countries became dependent on US wheat food aid. Local consumers preferred to buy donated wheat, since the product that comes in as aid is sold at such a low price - because it is subsidized that it cannot compete with local production. Local producers went bankrupt.

Ecuador, being self-sufficient in the early 1960s, today imports 97% of its wheat (Salgado, 2002). We received donated wheat from the United States
highly subsidized and market prices were so low that Ecuadorian producers could not even cover production costs if they wanted to compete with US wheat. In Ecuador, on the contrary, the importation of wheat was subsidized, because it was argued that it was of better quality.

In summary, food aid helps the United States to:
- place agricultural surpluses
- limit competition in the international market
- generate income for their companies
- influence politically in recipient countries
- promote your foreign policy

With the following impacts in the host country:
- displace local producers to comply with United States policies
- lose local productive capacity
- job loss, leading to poverty
- dependence on imported food, and changes in eating patterns.


It is often argued that food aid benefits the trade balance of recipient countries, both in the short and long term, as the country stops importing (Prudencio and Velasco, 1987). However, donated food is orienting the national productive structure towards a new consumption structure, based on imported raw materials; which generates a lower investment of the national agricultural productive apparatus and a greater flow of foreign exchange in the increasing imports (Prudencio and Velasco, 1987).

In addition, different eating patterns are adopted. The food donated is mostly processed products, and the processing capacity of the national industry in many of the recipient countries is based on imported inputs; therefore, national consumption is being oriented towards products with a high content of imported raw materials. More and more is imported, which implies a greater outflow of money so there are fewer resources to invest in the national agricultural production process (Ramos, 2002).


Due to the impact of Global Warming, natural disasters such as droughts, floods, etc. they are more and more frequent, and the scale of the damage it causes is greater. The trend is that these disasters will become increasingly common. Disasters are caused by natural phenomena whose intensity and impact depend on environmental and social vulnerability. Generally, the target of disasters is the poor family living in vulnerable conditions.

When these disasters occur, the country begins to receive food aid from abroad. Although this help is always welcome, the experience of organizations working on the issue shows that local responses are always faster and more effective.

When the Nevado de Ruiz Volcano erupted in Colombia in 1986, several experts on the subject analyzed the role of foreign aid in emergency conditions. They found that the normal reaction among the victims is the presence of a self-preservation instinct that allows them to find solutions to their own problems. Often a large influx of aid can inhibit recovery mechanisms, and local initiative collapses with the advance of dependency relationships (Davis, 1986)

They also found that those who offer help take it for granted that they have full knowledge of the required needs, and therefore rush to carry out projects on their behalf, disdaining the ability of those affected to work with their own resources or local resources. (Davis, 1986).

In El Armero (a town affected by the Nevado del Ruiz eruption), external donations remained in storage for a few months until they could be distributed, because the roads were blocked. Those who were closest to the catastrophe felt relieved to contribute their help, given the multiple announcements that were given by the mass media about the formidable shipments that had arrived, but that nevertheless were far from their destination, since they could not reach (Restrepo, 1986).

Generally, the governments or entities that give the aid, act without consultation, believe that the aid should arrive immediately and be located in the place of misfortune, based on the criteria of an official of the entity. In the case of Armero, heavy winter clothes arrived, exotic foods or foods that are produced in the country, and that would have been obtained cheaper in the local market. The author maintains that the more money is allocated to support a situation of misfortune, the greater the ignorance of the needs of the victims, and calculates that 90% of the donations are inappropriate, and create more problems than those it solves. The way disasters have been handled in Mexico, China, and the Philippines demonstrate this (Restrepo, 1986).

In Ecuador, when an emergency situation arose in the Amazon region, aid agencies distributed milk to indigenous children who were lactose intolerant. They suffered stomach damage, which exacerbated their malnutrition problem (Jijón, personal communication)

In this regard, the Corn Unum Ecumenical Council concludes that although food aid has the noble purpose of allowing a given population to survive in a crisis situation; by definition it must be temporary. It recognizes that it can discourage local producers, create dependency, change food habits, favor intermediaries and can lead to corruption.

Once the crisis conditions end, food aid, instead of decreasing, often increases, becoming systematic, creating in the recipient country, dependence on imported food (Ramos, 2002).


The United States Department of Agriculture is exporting thousands of tons of transgenic corn and soybeans to the Third World through food aid programs.

These programs eliminate the risk that United States farmers have, of not selling transgenic products, due to the rejection of consumers. This risk has been generated by the agricultural policies of the United States by massively expanding transgenic crops, and is passed on to a group of consumers who are "helped" by necessity.

Food aid is becoming the largest unregulated export market that is open to farmers in the United States, because for poor countries, constantly facing economic crises, or that are victims of environmental disasters, it will be very difficult to reject these helps. In industrialized countries, on the contrary, the rejection of these foods is growing (Ruff, 2001).

According to research carried out by the Food First organization (2001), the United States Government has sent 2 million transgenics annually to the Third World, and the World Food Program half a million. According to Walsh (2000), through these programs very lucrative contracts have been given to some grain traders such as Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, which won a third of the contracts (for a total of 140 million dollars in 1999 ).

The World Food Program has stated that it remains neutral on this issue, but encourages recipient countries to make their decisions based on science. However, in the Zambian food crisis and in other cases to come, WFP has pressured countries to receive GMO food aid.

The presence of GMOs in food aid has been reported in different parts of the world. The first documented cases come from India. In the first quarter of 2000, a cyclone hit the East Coast of the State of Orissa in India. In response to this cyclone, an aid package arrived from the United States consisting of a mixture of corn and soybeans that turned out to be genetically modified (Good Food Campaign, 2000).

Subsequently, a series of complaints have been generated about the presence of transgenic foods in various parts of Latin America, Africa and Asia.

The most scandalous case was that of Zambia, as the pressure exerted by the United States was so strong that it threatened to prosecute this country in the International Court for genocide.

On the issue of GMO food aid, the United States maintains that they distribute the same food that is consumed by people in their country. But this is not true, since genetically modified soybeans and corn are used mainly for animal feed.

GMO food aid represents one of the clearest cases of environmental injustice, since the poorest of poor countries, who face extreme conditions, are exposed to food that is used for animals in some rich countries like the United States, and which are rejected even for this purpose in others, such as Europe and Japan.

Below are some examples of this environmental injustice.


Ethiopia is one of the countries that receives the largest amount of food aid from the United States.

In this country there is no ownership of land. The land belongs to the State. What there are are rights to use the land, and it is very easy to grant those rights to the peasants.

The United States Government wants to destroy the land tenure system in Ethiopia, so that a private property system is established.

For this, the small farmer is being destabilized, so that large landowners occupy the land, in export crops. Food aid plays a very important role in this.

The government has had battles over the issue of food aid. Many efforts have been made to change the food aid system, for aid that can be used in a better educational system, to solve the water problem, infrastructure development. They have said that they can support these issues, if food aid is also accepted. The destruction of the food production system in Ethiopia will spell the end of a very traditional system that has fed the Ethiopian people for the last 5,000 years.


The problem of famines in Africa is a phenomenon that has been brewing for some decades. Until 1970 Africa was a continent that was self-sufficient in food. In 1984, about 140 million people out of a total of 531 million were fed imported grain. In 24 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, the per capita production of grains fell from 150 kg in 1970 to 100 kg in 1984. The fertile lands were used for export crops (Shiva, 1996). It could be said that this region has lost its food sovereignty.

In the second half of 2002, several countries in Southern Africa suffered from food shortages to meet the needs of the population.

This was due to a mix of climatic factors associated with IMF impositions. For example, Malawi was forced by the IMF to sell the maize that this country had destined for domestic supply (World Development Movement, 2002).

According to residents of that country, the IMF had forced Malawi to sell its maize reserves to pay its foreign debt services. At the beginning of 2002, Malawi sold 167,000 metric tons of corn, which corresponds to almost all the existing reserves, after the IMF's impositions to reduce the reserves, to pay a debt it had with South Africa of US $ 300 million.

To meet their dietary needs, they had to accept GM food aid from the United States. Ironically, many of the agricultural workers who lost their jobs or crops due to the droughts, were forced to work in the distribution of these transgenic foods.

On the other hand, domestic aid granted by African governments to their farmers has been discontinued due to pressure exerted by the WTO. Now they have to eat subsidized corn in the United States to face hunger problems, but genetically modified.

In Malawi, 70% of rural families faced hunger problems in 2001, rendering that country unable to feed its own people.

These policies also include the privatization of food production and distribution systems, the elimination of subsidies to
small producers, policies to deregulate the prices of basic foods, such as corn, policies that in the past allowed Malawi to face problems of reduction in food production and avoid reaching a state of famine.

Between October 2001 and March 2002, the price of corn increased by 400% due to the policies imposed by the IMF in that country.

To this is added the obligations that this highly indebted poor country has, to pay external debt services to rich countries and the World Bank, despite the humanitarian crisis it faces. Malawi spent 20% of the country's budget on debt repayments in 2002, money the country desperately needed to tackle its food and health problems.

It is these policies of the IMF and the WTO that transformed the problem of food shortages into famine.

In another country in the region, on October 29, 2002, the Government of Zambia reaffirmed its decision that it would not receive transgenic foods given the lack of scientific certainty that these foods do not cause harm to human health. It then became clear that WFP had made no attempt to find alternative non-GM food sources. The first announcement of the Government of Zambia in this regard had been made in June 2002.

Because WFP had made no effort to find alternative sources? The orders had been placed only 4 months later because this United Nations agency had been waiting for the Zambian government to change its mind until the last moment and accept the food that the United States was offering them. This was interpreted as a measure of direct pressure on the Government of Zambia.

Meanwhile, the WFP already had genetically modified corn stored in the country to be delivered within the food aid programs in the country. The Government of Zambia had asked WFP to remove the stock of transgenic maize without success, which led to hungry populations looting these places, located in different parts of the country, to access these foods. This request had been made 10 months before without the WFP taking any action, and he demanded that the WFP respect the sovereign decision not to get GM foods.

The United States Government had donated 160,000 MT of corn to the region, of which 10,000 were destined for Zambia. Groups working in development programs in Zambia have determined that enough food had been produced in the northern region of the country to meet local demands, especially for the production of cassava, which constitutes 30% of the country's staple diet. A priority when you want to face a food crisis, you should look for alternatives in national production, and then resort to external aid and food imports. But this possibility had not been considered by WFP.

Zambia suffered such intense pressure from the United States that the spokesman for that country accused the president of that country of genocidal for not allowing its hungry population to have access to safe food [2]. The United States tried to pressure Zambia also through the Vatican and the Bishops of Zambia, who supported their government in its decision.

This year, 14 Southern African countries grouped in the SADC (Southern African Development Community) adopted a common strategy to tackle the problem of GM food aid. The decision is not as radical as the decision made by Zambia was, but it does establish the need to work on a regional standard on the subject.


Since the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq has suffered a longer bombing process than Vietnam experienced during the war. In the last 4 years, and before the war that started in March this year, the worst aerial bombing campaign carried out by the United States and the United Kingdom since the Second World War has been perpetrated.

The impacts of these bombings, as well as the embargo that this country faced for so many years, has left a country devastated. According to a United Nations planning report, the war could leave an estimated 10 million Iraqi civilians, including refugee and displaced populations, at the expense of famines and epidemics and in urgent need.

Sanctions under the Food for Oil Program, which began in 1996, allow Iraq to export US $ 4 billion a year, but it is estimated that the money to cover the country's minimum needs amounts to US $ 7 billion. A decade of sanctions has meant the highest mortality in a stable population. It is estimated that this amounts to 2 million people. UNICEF estimates that the sanctions have killed around half a million children, but this number could be higher.

After the war, the United States intends to help solve the human problems created by them, through its food aid policies

In this regard, the United States shipped 28,000 metric tons of food, including wheat, rice, soybean oil and skim milk, and will make more shipments in the future. This will be done through the World Food Program. It is important to mention that the funds for the distribution of food are made within the Food for Oil Program. In other words, it is paid for with the wealth of the Iraqi people themselves.

Within the country's restoration program, the United States Government is proposing to initiate a transition period to move away from the highly subsidized food policy that ensures food for all Iraqis to a market-based economy. This will create more humanitarian problems. To this end, the Banco de Comercio has been created, which will start operating in December or January.

The Bangladeshi organization UBINIG, denounced that genetically modified wheat is being introduced in this occupied country. The transgenic wheat has not yet been approved for commercialization, but it could be thought that the harvest resulting from the field tests carried out was sent as a pre-commercial requirement. Iraq is one of the centers of origin of wheat, so the introduction of transgenic varieties would be putting the genetic diversity of this important crop at risk (UBINIG, 2003).

A very similar situation was experienced in Afghanistan. An occupied country, destroyed by many years of war, where the United States played an important role from the beginning, today benefits from food aid.

After the start of the US war against Afghanistan, in 2002, the US Congress approved a fund of US $ 320 million for food assistance in that country, and for Afghan refugees in neighboring countries. "Doctors Without Borders" said that these operations "are in no way humanitarian aid operations, but rather a military propaganda operation, aimed at creating an international opinion of acceptance of the military incursions led by the United States Army (The Associated Press , 2001).

It is impossible to ensure that Afghanistan is not receiving GMO food aid. Like Iraq, here we find one of the origins and center of diversity of wheat


The most vulnerable populations of the poorest countries in the world are receiving transgenic food through food aid programs.

Ellos pertenecen a los grupos tales como niños, mujeres embarazadas o lactantes, en algunos casos pacientes HVI+, con niveles de desnutrición alarmante y un sistema inmunológico muy delicado, que viven en situaciones de estrés por la guerra o por haber sobrevivido desastres naturales.

La ayuda alimentaria en muchos casos es necesaria, pero esta debe basarse en la solidaridad, para apoyar a quienes enfrentan situaciones extremas; por lo tanto esta debe hacerse en un marco de igualdad y respeto.

La ayuda alimentaria no puede constituir un mecanismo para colocar excedentes agrícolas y mucho peor aun para colocar productos que otros no quieren. Mientras haya producción de transgénicos, el mercado de los pobres estará abierto a estos productos, vía ayuda alimentaria.

Esto es a la vez un llamado al Gobierno de Brasil, segundo productor de soya en el mundo, para que no entre en la loca carrera de los transgé


* Benbrook,2003. GRAIN
* Davis, I.1987. La ayuda internacional a quién ayuda" En: "Ecología de un Desastre: Volcán Nevado el Ruiz · Deodatus Balile. 2003. Southern African Nations Adopt Common Gm Strategy. SciDev.Net. Sep 15, 2003
* Davis, M. 2002. The Origins of the Third World: Markets, States and Climate. The Corner House Briefing No. 27
* Dutt,R. C., Open Letters to Lord Curzon, Calcutta, 1904, pp.3-4. Citado en Davis, M. 2002.
* Edwards,S, 2002. Ayuda Alimentaria ¿Aliviar El Hambre o destruir el Sistema deTenencia de la tierra en Etiopia? En: Ayuda alimentaria o
alimentos transgénicos.
* Good FoodCampaign. 2000. Stop Dumping GE Food. Using Disasters to open markets. Versión Electrónica distribuida por Diverse Woman for Diversity
* Food First(2001). Food Aid in the New Millenium. Genetically Engineered Food and Foreign Assistance. Fact Sheet. Electronic version.
* PontificioConsejo Cor Unum. 1996. El Hambre en el mundo. Un reto para todos. El desarrollo solidario. Vaticano.
* Palacios, S.,Correa J. 2001. Carta dirigida al Defensor del Pueblo del Ecuador. 14 de mayo del 2001.
* Prudencio, J.Velasco, M. 1987. Mujer y donaciones de alimentos. CERES-PMA. La Paz
* Prudencio,J. 1994. Alimentarse en Bolivia.
* Ramos, María Luisa. LA AYUDA ALIMENTARIA Y LA POLITICA ESTADOUNIDENSE EN BOLIVIA. En: Ayuda alimentaria o alimentos transgénicos.
* Javier DaríoRestrepo y "Arquitectura de emergencia". En: : "Ecología de un Desastre: Volcán Nevado el Ruiz
* Ruff, A. M. Saying No to Transgenic Crops. FAR EASTERN ECONOMIC REVIEW, Edition of 14 June.
* Salgado, W.2002. Ayuda Alimentaria o Ayuda a las Exportaciones. Ecología Política No. 22. ICARIA Editorial. Barcelona.
* Shiva, V.1996. Modern Agriculture Causing Food Problems in the Third World. In: Eat Smart, Healthy, Local. Safe & Secure Food for Tomorrow.
PAN-AP. Penang.
* The AssociatedPress. AFGANISTAN: MIGAJAS DE ALIMENTOS SON PROPAGANDA MILITAR. AP- OCTUBRE 2001 · UBINIG. Do not use GM food as humanitarian Aid in Iraq Carta de UBINIG al Programa Mundial de Alimentos. 28 March, 2003
* Walsh, D. America finds ready market for GM food – the hungry. Independent (UK) 30 March 2000.
* World DevelopmentMovement. IMF blamed for Malawi famine · Press Release, Tuesday 29 October 2002
· WorldNetDaily. October 10. Frankenfoods create furor on Dark Continent

[1] Ponencia presentada en el I Congreso Brasileiro de Agroecologia, IV Seminario Internacional sobre Agroecologia. 18 a 21 de noviembre 2003,
Porto Alegre (RS).

2] Ponencia de Colin Powell. Cumbre de Desarrollo Sustentable. Johanesburg, Septiembre 2002.

* Elizabeth Bravo V.
Campaña Transgénicos
Ecological Action
Alejandro de Valdez N24 73 y La Gasca

Video: Food Sovereignty Prize Winners Discuss Building Global Movem (July 2022).


  1. Remy

    I agree with all of the above-said. We can talk about this topic. Here, or in the afternoon.

  2. Jum

    This is a curious topic

  3. Newell

    In this something is I like this idea, I completely agree with you.

  4. Leax

    How does this sound fun?

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