1.Wambugu's "relentless crusade against hunger wins her top award"
2.Pants on Fire award goes to Florence Wambugu

NOTE: Although item 1 refers to the Monsanto-trained scientist, Florence Wambugu having won an award for her "GMO banana crop", in fact the banana project involves tissue culture and not genetic engineering.

There is, in any case, significant doubt about Wambugu's claims for its success - see:

It's not for nothing that Dr. Wambugu is known as Africa's answer to Dr. Goebbels - see item 2.
1.Kenyan scientist's relentless crusade against hunger wins her top award
Nation, September 9 2008

Dr Florence Wambugu’s work in combating hunger in Africa has been recognised globally for many years.

Her work has not been without controversy but the determined biotechnologist has ploughed on with her mission; to ensure there is food on the table for the poorest of the poor.

The Kenyan scientist has just added another feather in her cap by being announced a joint winner of the 2008 Yara Prize.

The prize, awarded by the Yara Foundation which was established in 2005, is an annual recognition of significant contributions to the reduction of hunger and poverty in Africa as a key contribution to the fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals. The other 2008 winner is Mr Victor Mfinanga from Tanzania.

Dr Wambugu, the founder and CEO of Africa Harvest, has been working with rural farmers in Kenya on the banana plant and sweet potato. She has done numerous tissue cultures on both plants, which she says have increased yields.

Established in 2004, Africa Harvest is a biotech foundation that works with food crop farmers at the grassroots level. It has offices in Kenya, South Africa and USA.

To fight hunger

Dr Wambugu chose the biotechnology route for a simple, powerful reason.

“To fight poverty, hunger and malnutrition. Many children could not access education due to poverty and they were going to school on an empty stomach,” she says. “That is why I decided to go the food route, and the banana appealed to me. I managed to culture it into a disease-free species that has vigour and is prolific, as it almost doubled the yields. This I saw as what would get the poor out of poverty due to a sustainable livelihood.”

Dr Wambugu has dedicated the Yara Prize to her late mother, whom she says sacrificed a lot to see her get an education.

The award is worth $100,000 (Sh6.8 million) and an honorary diploma in agriculture.

Dr Wambugu said part of the money would go into her agricultural work because “the farmers are the real winners of this prize!”

At a time when there is a global debate on biotechnology and genetically-modified foods, Dr Wambugu’s work is not without controversy.

She has over the years been pilloried by international campaigners against genetically-modified foods, particularly because of her association with the Monsanto Corporation which provides much of her funding. Some of her research results have also been called into question.

It is for her specific work with farmers on the tissue culture banana that Dr Wambugu is being honoured. But she explained why the farmers also deserve recognition: “Many that have taken up banana farming have really transformed their lives. Some have won themselves respect and admiration from some quarters.”

Indeed, many experts believe that unless Kenya goes back to its roots and encourages the growing of indigenous crops like bananas, cassavas, and potatoes, hunger is here to stay.

At a recent workshop on the role of African women in agriculture, Ms Catherine Bertini, a senior fellow with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said the global food crisis was nothing new to poor people who spend a large part of their income on food. “Rising food prices have even made it worse,” she said.

Indigenous crops

But she called the Kenyan food crisis a “matter of urgency,” that can only be solved by facing agricultural issues head on.

Her concern is that Kenya, like other African governments, has not given agriculture the attention that it deserves as the backbone of the continent’s economy.

Indigenous crops in Africa, Ms Bertini said, had the capacity to withstand harsh climatic conditions, thus they are best designed to stave off hunger.

Ms Bertini also praised the role of the African women in agriculture. “The voices of people in agriculture in Africa are the voices of women,” she said.

Women provide 85 per cent of the labour force in African farms, yet they themselves do not own land.

The men control the land, machinery and the marketing of the produce, she said. And due to this land ownership issue, many women, though active in agriculture, do not have access to property.

Credit institutions also bar many women from getting funding as they have no title deeds under their name.

This has contributed to the cycle of poverty and hunger. Her sentiments are echoed by former nominated MP, Prof Ruth Oniang’o, who believes that there is need to empower women farmers.

As for other solutions to the food crisis in Kenya, Dr Wambugu says the Government should come up with policies conducive to food crop farming, as it has done for cash crops.

She adds that the Ministry of Agriculture should not just be concerned with research, but also the deployment of the research product to farmers.

“We also need to change our approach to farming. It is not just about telling a farmer to grow this and that. But where would she sell it?”

She states that creating new markets for agricultural products would help about 10 per cent of Kenyans who depend on food aid each year.

Besides, she adds, there are many international markets that have not been touched, and these can be tapped through value addition.

The value-addition model has been tested and it is working, says Dr Wambugu.

The banana crop has been turned from fruit into product. “From jam, to juice, crisps and even wine; the banana has become an international product,” she says passionately.

The award-winning Kenyan scientist’s involvement with Monsanto in a “faulty” GMO sweet potato project put her on the spotlight about four years ago.

A newspaper had then reported about that three-year trials on the GM sweet potato developed by Monsanto with the support of United States Agency for International Development (USAid), International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) and the World Bank.

The project had shown the GM sweet potato to be a failure. It had even been outperformed by conventional sweet potatoes.

The project's failure was also prominently reported in the New Scientist, and was also referred to in other articles, including one in The Guardian.

Dr Wambugu however denied the allegations and insisted that "the GM sweet potato had been a resounding scientific success!"

Anti-GM activists

In her statement at the time, Dr Wambugu attributed criticism of her project to “what anti-GM activists are saying”.

The GM sweet potato has been presented as an agricultural revolution in Africa. To quote an article in Forbes magazine in December 2002, “while the West debates the ethics of GM food, Florence Wambugu is using it to feed her country.”

And perhaps that might be the pointer as to why she is very specific on the Yara Prize. According to her, it is not just for her biotechnology work with farmers to produce more food for Africa, but for her recent work on the GMO banana crop.

The GMO debate has also come home to Kenya. Agriculture minister William Ruto has raised the antennae of some civil society groups with his support for continued research on GM foods by both private companies and State organisations such as the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.
2.Pants on Fire award goes to Florence Wambugu
GM Watch
[some nice pics with this]

'The Pants on Fire award is the prize offered for scientists' services to lying and deception by Professor Bullsh*t, a friendly bloke in a white coat who works in a virtual laboratory on the web.' - Education Guardian


Wham, Bam Boozle!
How to WAMBUZLE the world!

Wambugu's Whoppers earn her Smouldering (not so!) Smalls award


'Nobody has ever claimed that GM is the answer to world hunger,' ventured Tony Combes, Monsanto UK's director of Corporate Affairs. But the same weekend Combes' comment was published, Kenyan scientist Florence Wambugu claimed in the Canadian press that GM crops were 'the key to eradicating poverty and hunger in the Third World.'

Pantie pyrotechnics

This kind of inflammatory claim is far from a one-off with media-friendly Flo, who told the New Scientist, 'In Africa GM food could almost literally weed out poverty'. In the journal Nature she claimed GM could not just solve 'poverty' but could take care of 'famine', not to mention 'environmental degradation'. Warming to her theme, Flo told a Canadian newspaper GM was not just the answer to hunger but could pull the entire 'African continent out of decades of economic and social despair'.

High-flying Flo - the industry's HOT SHOT!

'If anyone tells you that GM is going to feed the world, tell them that it is not,' the former head of Novartis Seeds in the UK once remarked. But nobody from the biotech industry has tried telling that to Flo. Indeed, far from being embarrassed by the Monsanto-trained scientist's extravagant vapour trail, Flo is considered one of the industry's hottest properties.

'I wish we could clone her,' says Val Giddings of the Biotechnology Industry Organisation. Fiery Flo has certainly not gone unrewarded. A two-time winner of the coveted Monsanto Company Outstanding Performance Award, Flo is also a luminary of DuPont's Biotech Advisory Panel. She has also been appointed to the Bill & Melissa Gates Foundation?s Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative.

The US magazine Forbes went so far as to name Flo one of fifteen people around the globe who will 'reinvent the future', telling us, 'While the West debates the ethics of GM food, Florence Wambugu is using it to feed her country'. ('Millions served; Florence Wambugu feeds her country with food others have the luxury to avoid').

Wham, Yam -- thank you Ma'am...
Spinning the spud as a stud!

Wambugu's meteoric career has been launched off the back of a Monsanto-initiated project to create a genetically engineered virus-resistant sweet potato -- a showcase product intended to hype GM as the saviour of Africa.

Trialled in Kenya, the results of sub-Saharan Africa's first GM crop were 'astonishing', according to the article in Forbes magazine. Yields were 'double that of the regular plant', with 'potatoes bigger and richer in colour', indicating they?d retained more nutritional value. For hungry Africa, we were told, 'Wambugu's modified sweet potato offers tangible hope'.

Better yet, a piece in the Toronto Globe & Mail in July 2003 claimed that the yields were actually more that doubled: 'Dr Wambugu?s modified sweet potato
can increase yields from 4 tonnes per hectare to 10 tonnes.'

In May 2004 the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN listed the sweet potato project in its section 'Examples of successful technology development' in its report AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY: MEETING THE NEEDS OF THE POOR? (p.97).

In a report published in January 2004, the Nuffield Council on Bio-ethics said of the project that 'it is expected that yields will increase by 18-25%' and, where sold, 'the increased income will be between 28-39%' (p.39). Overall, the report said, Wambugu's project showed 'the use of GM virus-resistant sweet potatoes could prevent dramatic and frequent reductions in yield of one of the major food crops of many poor people in Africa.' (p.43) ('The use of genetically modified crops in developing countries: a follow up discussion paper'

Not so sweet potato

Contrast such claims with the actual results of the 3-year trials -- quietly published at the end of January 2004. Under the headline 'GM technology fails local potatoes', Kenya's Daily Nation reported, 'Trials to develop a virus resistant sweet potato through biotechnology have failed. US biotechnology, imported three years ago, has failed to improve Kenya?s sweet potato'.

In fact, far from dramatically out-yielding the non-GM sweet potatoes, the exact opposite was the case: 'The report indicates that during the trials *non-transgenic crops used as a control yielded much more tuber* compared to the transgenic'. The GM crop was also found to be susceptible to viral attack -- the very thing it had been created to resist.

New Scientist also reported the GM crop's failure (Monsanto's showcase project in Africa fails - Vol 181, 7 Feb 2004), as did an article in the British daily paper, The Guardian. But then in mid-March, some two months after the original report first appeared, Wambugu suddenly issued a puzzling press release.

Flo flames the critics

All the adverse publicity was based on a foolish misunderstanding, according to Fiery Flo. Far from Flo's spud being a dud, she claimed her hot potato was 'a resounding scientific success'. The 3 years of field trials weren't really testing the GM sweet potato at all, Flo explained -- they were merely a way of testing the extent of the problems faced at a very early stage in the project. Of course!

Strange though that Kenyan farmers were originally promised a finished GM sweet potato by 2002. Equally curious is the fact that neither the wily Wambugu, Monsanto, nor anyone else, ever challenged the New Scientist, Guardian or Kenyan articles at the time they were published. And Fiery Flo's determination to correct any misconceptions over her super-spud has somehow never extended to correcting any of those previous tall tales of yields more than doubled, of GM 'potatoes bigger and richer in colour', and of heroic Flo already using the dud spud to feed millions.

Take care! Beware! Flo's underwear!

Even before the real results were announced, Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies had set off the smoke detectors on a couple more Wambugu whoppers. DeGrassi drew attention to the contrast between the unproven GM sweet potato variety and a successful conventional breeding programme in Uganda which had already produced a new high-yielding variety which was virus-resistant and 'raised yields by roughly 100%'.

Yet Smoky Flo had claimed ?Conventional breeding research had proved powerless to develop varieties resistant to these viruses'. She had also claimed, ?'the time and money spent actually developing GM varieties are less than for conventional varieties'. The Ugandan project achieved success at a small cost and in just a few years. By contrast, in its over-12-years-in-the-making, Smoky Flo's GM Spud-u-don't-like has so-far consumed funding from Monsanto, the World Bank and USAID to the tune of 6 million dollars.

If the pants fit...

Smoky Flo has been hailed as an African heroine on the strength of her potato porkies. Pants on Fire Fighter in Chief, Jean de Bris had this to say, 'The lingerie conflagration set off by this pyrotechnic sweet potato project has not only fueled Wambugu's own career but generated biotech PR worth its weight in gold. Yet far from "reshaping the future" or "serving millions", as is claimed, Wambugu's project has actually wasted millions and helped feed precisely nobody! Flo's blazing bloomers have been a gigantic and shameful distraction from the real task of assisting the poor and hungry in Africa.'