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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 June, 2003, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
Ethiopia wary of GM seeds
Damian Zane
BBC, Addis Ababa

Food distribution centre
Millions of Ethiopians depend on food aid
Ethiopia has given a lukewarm reaction to comments by US President George W Bush that the introduction of safe biotechnology could end global hunger.

That is despite the fact that more than 12.5 million people in the country are currently dependent on food aid following last year's drought, and even in good years millions of Ethiopians need assistance.

President Bush told a biotechnology conference in Washington that a European Union (EU) moratorium on genetically modified (GM) crops was discouraging African countries from trying new, high-yielding seeds for fear of losing their export markets.

But Ethiopia's chief environmental advisor said that the US and EU could do more for Ethiopian and African farmers by removing agricultural subsidies.

That would enable farmers here to earn a higher income from their output and then invest more in the land.

Farmers 'need support'

Tewolde Berhane, director general of the government's environmental protection authority, said that lack of investment and other structural problems created food shortages, not simply the wrong kind of seed.

A woman and children queue at a feeding centre
Aid agencies say Ethiopia is facing a new famine

The comments were echoed by the director for the Action Aid relief organisation in Ethiopia.

Fikre Zewde said local farmers will boost productivity when there is better market access and a greater focus on supporting what the farmers do now.

The US embassy in the country said that while GM technology is seen as a possible solution to some of the hunger problems in Africa, there are no plans to introduce seeds to Ethiopia.

No decision yet

The Ethiopian government said that it has no problem accepting GM food aid, but it has not clarified its policy on seeds.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the EU's executive has rejected President Bush's remarks as "simply not true".

"None of our member states has tried to impose our views on African or other less developed countries," said European Council spokesman Gerassimos Thomas.

Ethiopia's government and a host of aid agencies are trying to find other solutions to the country's chronic food shortage.

Some organisations believe there may be 18 million people at risk of starvation and malnutrition in Ethiopia.

Save the Children has said aid workers are battling "a major emergency" which could turn into a famine as bad as those of the early 1980s.

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