GM not the answer says United Nation's special ambassador for HIV-AIDS in Africa
But Florence Wambugu was at the conference to push GMOs. The tragedy is, as development specialist Aaron deGrassi points out in his brilliant report on GMOs in Africa, "the excitement over certain genetic engineering procedures can divert financial, human, and intellectual resources from focusing on productive research that meets the needs of poor farmers."
DeGrassi shows that with Wambugu's GM project in Kenya, "At the farm level, there is currently no evidence about the performance of transgenic sweet potatoes. ...KARI researchers have refused to state how the trials, now in their third year, have performed."
And the indications are on the basis of what Wambugu herself has said that any appearance of success has been achieved only by understating the yields of non-GM crops!!
Compare that to the *100% gain* that deGrassi points to, from a new non-GM high-yielding and resistant variety of sweet potato.
This makes clear how criminally misleading Wambugu's sales agenda is.
And if there's a call - like that from US's ambassador to the FAO, Tony Hall - for people to be put on trial for crimes against humanity, it should not be the courageous leaders of Africa, as Hall suggests, who should be put in the dock for standing up to GM.
As Michael Manville so eloquently says, "It is an insult of the highest and most grotesque order to turn those who live from day to day into the centerpiece of an elaborate lie... the companies who make [GM foods], and the flacks who hawk their falsehoods, offer us a new definition of depravity, a new standard to plunge for in our race to care least, want more, and divest ourselves of all shame."
1 Biotech conference in Winnipeg hears how disease is killing Africa's farmers
2.GM crops touted to fight poverty - the Wambugu deception.
1.Biotech conference in Winnipeg hears how disease is killing Africa's farmers
Canadian Press [via Healthcanada.com], Monday, September 15, 2003
WINNIPEG (CP) - Human disease, not drought, is destroying Africa's ability to feed itself and pushing unwanted genetically modified food on the continent will not change that, Stephen Lewis said Monday.
"So many farmers had died or were sick that there was inevitably in various communities a decline in food production," Lewis told a conference of officials of companies promoting and developing genetically modified crops. Lewis, the United Nation's special ambassador for HIV-AIDS in Africa, said he saw this during a tour of the continent last December.
He said about nine million farmers have died in Africa since 1985, mostly of HIV-AIDS.
Lewis, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, admits he is not a personal fan of genetically modified food. But he suggested Africa's problems are too deep for bioengineered crops to solve, even if they deliver all the benefits their backers claim.
"You've got to go way beyond that. You have women in the fields in crippling positions with primitive hoes, working round the clock. You have children being taken out of school in order to work the farms because they've got sick and dying parents."
Lewis western governments and corporations have not stepped up to provide the level of help required. "On drugs, as in agriculture, Canada is privately in alliance with the United States and Europe and resisting change which would benefit the developing world."
However, a Kenyan-born scientist told the conference she believes biotechnology has many benefits for African farmers. "I'm not a GM crusader," said Florence Wambugu. (But) I know for sure that if we are going to increase food production in Africa, you have to use science and technology."
Corn, a staple in much of Africa, produces yields that are much lower than average yields throughout the world, she noted. "The average production in Africa is 1.7 tonnes per hectare. The global average is four. North America, Canada, Europe, you do up to six, even more."
She said most arable land in Africa is already cultivated so ignoring science and technology restricts the chances for agricultural growth.
2.GM crops touted to fight poverty
(29/6/2003) - the Wambugu deception
If anyone's been wondering why we keep going on about Aaron deGrassi's new report on GM crops in Africa, please take a look at the article below, published this weekend in Canada's National Post.
It is based around the statements of a "leading African biotechnology expert" who tells the paper, "Investment and research into genetically enhanced crops, such as corn and sweet potatoes, could create a "green gene" revolution that pulls the African continent out of decades of economic and social despair, said Dr. Florence Wambugu".
And the article gives the impression that this "green gene revolution" is very much an African affair, "Dr. Wambugu worked with Kenyan scientists and government agencies throughout the 1990s to develop the country's first genetically modified sweet potato plant".
What we are not told - and what deGrassi's report makes clear - is that Monsanto are at the very heart of this project. Indeed, they always have been. It was Monsanto who brought Wambugu into *their* GM sweet potato project - a project Wambugu has admitted "has no commercial value to Monsanto, except as PR."
Another article this weekend - profiling one of the men behind the project, Monsanto's Robert Horsch - makes a remarkably similar point, 'his mission is twofold: "create goodwill and help open future markets".'
The sweet potato project was the brain child of three American men: Robert Horsch and a colleague at Monsanto and Joel Cohen from USAID. The three Americans later recruited Wambugu, using USAID money to pay for a three-year post-doctoral position for her with Monsanto.
Over the years Wambugu has more than repaid their investment, doing much to publicize the GM sweet potato project and securing a career as an influential advocate for the biotech industry in the process.
Wambugu's gift for PR is well-illustrated in the article below, according to which:
"Dr. Wambugu, who continues to act as an advisor on the project, said the modified sweet potato seeds should be able to produce 10 tonnes of vegetables per hectare compared with a natural Kenyan crop that yields four tonnes per hectare."
At 10 tonnes per hectare, Wambugu's GM crop appears to be yielding 250% more than a typical non-GM crop, which she says yields just 4 tonnes. This is certainly a very impressive yield gain. The only problem for Dr Wambugu is that Aaron deGrassi has meticulously examined all the available data for his report:
"Accounts of the transgenic sweet potato have used low figures on average yields in Kenya to paint a picture of stagnation. An early article stated 6 tons per hectare - without mentioning the data source - which was then reproduced in subsequent analyses. However, FAO statistics indicate 9.7 tons, and official statistics report 10.4."
So Dr Wambugu's claim of "four tonnes per hectare" for non-GM sweet potatoes actually knocks a further third off a figure (6 tonnes) that was already a serious understatement of average yields (of about 10 tonnes), ie she understates the typical yield by 60%!
This in turn means that her figure on the performance of the GM sweet potato - "10 tonnes of vegetables per hectare" - far from being the 250% increase on normal yields it appears, is more or less the same as that which the FAO and Kenya's official statistics give for the average yield for non-GM sweet potatoes. In other words, an apparent 250% gain turns out to be no gain at all.
And that, of course, is when we are comparing just with the average. High performing non-GM varieties would be likely to produce very much more than ten tonnes per hectare.
This is indeed the case. Aaron deGrassi found that "a conventional breeding program in Uganda was able to produce a new, high-yielding resistant variety in just a few years at a small cost that... **raised yields by roughly 100%.**" [emphasis added]
That's a 100% increase through conventional breeding as against a 0% increase with GM!
Believe it or not, the situation as regards the performance of the GM sweet potato might even be worse than these figures suggest, as we have little more than Wambugu's claims to go on, and as we have seen Wambugu is hardly prone to understate benefits from GM! As deGrassi notes:
"At the farm level, there is currently no evidence about the performance of transgenic sweet potatoes. The most recent account, published in January of this year, makes no mention of the state of the trials. KARI researchers have refused to state how the trials, now in their third year, have performed."
Some unsystematic data suggests the yield gain with the GM variety *may* be 18% - compare that to the 100% for the new non-GM high-yielding and resistant variety.
According to the National Post article, "In Kenya, the company is developing communication and technical programs to help convince the country's farmers to accept engineered crops. "Many are very reluctant to risk and to change," Dr. Wambugu said."
The tragedy in all this, as deGrassi notes, is that "the excitement over certain genetic engineering procedures can divert financial, human, and intellectual resources from focusing on productive research that meets the needs of poor farmers."
Finally, here are two contrasting quotes from articles published this weekend - the first from the article below.
"Genetically modified crops are the key to eradicating poverty and hunger in the Third World, says a leading African biotechnology expert."
"Nobody has ever claimed that GM is the answer to world hunger." - Tony Combes, Monsanto UK's director of corporate affairs
For the article commented on: