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Some Africans prefer hunger to a diet of gene-altered corn

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This is not the same old story of drought equals famine in Africa. This time, there is hunger in the huts for reasons that have little to do with the weather.

Christian Science Monitor correspondent Danna Harman and staff photographer Andy Nelson spent three weeks traveling in Southern Africa, delving into the causes of the growing food crisis. Amid the desperation, they found a determination to address the primarily manmade problems. This is the third in a four-part series.

For 24 days, the crew of the Liberty Grace saw nothing but endless Atlantic Ocean, a handful of whales, thousands of dolphins, and each other. The hum of engines buzzed in their ears constantly. The wind hammered them as they took long shifts on deck.

On the three-week journey from Louisiana to the ports of East Africa, the ship's chief engineer learned to play the electric piano. Capt. John Codispoti got through some Tom Clancy paperbacks, and the cook perfected his chili-dog recipe.

But no one thought much about the cargo - 50,000 tons of genetically modified (GM) corn being taken to help some of the 14.5 million hungry men, women, and children facing food shortages in Southern Africa.

"Sometimes I wonder about the hungry people out there and this corn we are shipping in," says Mr. Codispoti. "But we never see them, so it's hard to imagine."

What also may be hard for this American crew to imagine is that other shipments of corn - genetically modified, just like the corn in countless US products - is rotting in storehouses in Zambia while the people there go hungry. Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has rejected US corn because he believes that it poses health risks to his people.

While science has yet to prove any health problems caused by GM corn, misinformation has clouded the debate. Now many hungry Africans don't know what to think of it.

Radios, but no batteries
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