Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 80 - 89)



Mr Battle

  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.

Mr Colman

  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.

John Barrett

  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.

Hugh Bayley

  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—

  85. People.
  (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 Agricultural Organisation.

  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.

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