QUOTE: "Wambugu has created a network of allies in Africa that will develop new crops as well as coax governments to okay the use of bioengineered seeds."

1.Africa missing out on GM crops, researchers say
2.Danforth Center Researchers Will Receive $3.3M
3.Chutzpah Science


You might have thought that the US government via multilateral and bilateral free trade agreements and high-level diplomatic pressure was doing a brilliant job of pushing African countries to adopt corporate-friendly regulations for GM crops. Not least, when this external pressure has been effectively complimented by lobbying and funding from USAID's networks and other corporate-friendly groups and scientists. (see, for instance, USAID: Making the World Hungry for GM Crops)

But the first article below reports how "a team of international food scientists" are complaining that "regulatory hurdles are preventing African farmers from reaping the benefits of genetically modified foods". The article does not say who exactly this "team" is. However, the main scientist quoted is the former USAID man, Joel Cohen, who is a keen supporter of the recently formed Public Research and Regulation Initiative (PRRI).

Cohen knows all about Africa reaping the benfits of GM crops. While with USAID he worked with Monsanto to select and provide the funding for Florence Wambugu to head their GM sweet potato project - a project which over more than a decade generated fantastic PR for GM crops while producing absolutely nothing useful for farmers in Africa (at a cost of millions!)

The other 2 items below also connect to PRRI. Item 3 refers to another keen PRRI supporter, Florence Wambugu. Interestingly, Wambugu has claimed the failed GM sweet potato project as a success. Why? Principally, because it helped Kenya ready itself for the introduction of GM crops!

This article relates to the Gates' grant that Wambugu's consortium has just won to genetically modify sorghum for Africa, with the help of Pioneer Hi-bred. Tellingly, the article says, "Wambugu has created a network of allies in Africa that will develop new crops as well as coax governments to okay the use of bioengineered seeds." (item 3)

That larger goal is also relevant to another Gates' grant-recipient featured in item 2 - the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

It was at a meeting at this Monsanto-backed Center that PRRI launched itself. Interestestingly, in USAID's biotech configuration, the Danforth Center is responsible for "assistance with regulatory packages".

The Center's founding president Dr Roger Beachy was recently at the Biotechnology Industry Organisation's annual get together in Philadelphia singing the praises of PRRI to the industry delegates, who were doubtless very grateful to know that "public researchers" had found yet another way of assisting them with "regulatory packages" to overcome their "regulatory hurdles".

Monsanto's Robert Horsch who with Joel Cohen helped select Wambugu for the GM sweet potato project has openly said that his role at Monsanto is to "create goodwill and help open future markets". Wambugu reinforces the point: "it [the GM sweet potato] has no commercial value to Monsanto, except as PR."

Unfortunely, the project also had no value for poor African farmers. This illustrates a point that Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies is not alone in making, "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."

In fact, exploiting poor farmers and taking risks with their livelihoods for reasons of PR and self-interest, particularly when it's done so brazenly and without any sense of guilt, does qualify as "Chutzpah Science".

For more on PRRI:

1.Africa missing out on biotech crops, researchers say
Scripps News Service, July 13, 2005

WASHINGTON - Regulatory hurdles are preventing African farmers from reaping the benefits of genetically modified foods that could relieve hunger and lessen the need for outside food assistance, a team of international food scientists said Wednesday.

Joel Cohen, a researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute, said many African countries are conducting aggressive research into using biotechnology to develop disease and insect-resistant plants, but the seeds they are developing aren't reaching farmers because government regulatory institutions in those countries aren't familiar with how biotechnology works.

"The resistance is not with the farmers," said Cohen, who looked at biotech research in Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. "Farmers have been adopting this technology rapidly."

Cohen said researchers in Africa are studying how to genetically modify 20 different crops, including maize, sugar cane and bananas. Approval of genetically modified cotton plants has taken Africa 10 years, even though the same insect-resistant cotton already is grown in Argentina, China, India and Mexico.

Idah Sithole-Niang, a biochemist at the University of Zimbabwe, said the major and unanticipated bottleneck is that regulatory agencies in African countries aren't familiar with the technology and getting the new seeds approved for use is taking too much time. "The difficulty is moving from the laboratory to the farmer's field," she said.

The researchers released a report on their findings Wednesday and urged more funds to bolster the expertise of African regulatory agencies. International agencies contend genetic modification is one method of making Africa more self-sufficient in producing food by reducing crop losses due to disease and insect infestation.

Genetic modification also provides other benefits to farmers, who don't have to rely on costly pesticides and agro-chemicals for their crops, and can grow drought-resistant crops. One goal of grant programs to Africa is to increase food production. Economists predict a 10 percent increase in African agricultural productivity would result in a 7.2 percent reduction in the continent's poverty rates.

Although genetic modification of plants has sparked a controversy over the last decade, the researchers noted that more than 1 billion acres of crops from genetically modified seeds were planted this year. Nearly all the crops are grown in developed countries like the United States, Argentina, Canada, Brazil, and China

2.Danforth Center Researchers Will Receive $3.3 Million for a Five-Year Project
Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center will work with scientists at nine other institutions to enhance the nutritional value of cassava. The team of scientists, led by Dr. Richard Sayre of Ohio State University, secured a $7.5 million Grand Challenges in Global Health grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fund the research to improve cassava - the most important food crop in Africa. This grant was one of 43 selected from more than 1,500 applications involving 10,000 scientists from 75 countries.

The Danforth Center will receive $3.3 million for its portion of the research, and will provide expertise on the best methods to genetically improve cassava. In particular, the Danforth Center team will be responsible for enhancing disease resistance and increasing the nutritional content of this important food crop.

The Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative is supported by a $450 million commitment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as two new funding commitments: $27.1 million from the Wellcome Trust, and $4.5 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The initiative is managed by global health experts at the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), the Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and CIHR.

3.Chutzpah Science
by: Elizabeth Corcoran

When Florence Wambugu, founder of A Harvest Biotech Foundation International in Kenya, heard about the Gates grants, she immediately thought about three packages of sorghum seeds sitting in cold storage in Des Moines, Iowa. A cousin of corn, sorghum is a staple for half a billion people worldwide, even though it lacks much nutritional value. Five years ago Pioneer Hi-Bred International (a subsidiary of DuPont) figured out how to slide a critical gene from corn into sorghum to make a variant with more lysine--an essential amino acid. The researchers published their work, then filed the details (along with 200 seeds) in cold storage. The sorghum market simply wasn't big enough for Pioneer, says Paul Anderson, research director of DuPont crop genetics.

But Wambugu, who remembered the project from past discussions with Anderson, wanted those seeds. She called Anderson and asked if Pioneer would help her foundation develop better sorghum for African farmers. Wambugu and Anderson worked on their joint proposal for 20 months, ultimately winning $16.9 million from the Gates Foundation. Pioneer agreed to further nutritional enhancements to the sorghum strain, to train African scientists, and to donate the know-how (and seeds) from its earlier work. Wambugu has created a network of allies in Africa that will develop new crops as well as coax governments to okay the use of bioengineered seeds.