1.Pioneer modifies sorghum to boost nutrition in Africa
2.GM-for-Africa project homegrown in Des Moines, Iowa
NOTE: This article contains the suggestion that 'anti-biotechnology groups are trying to influence African governments' over issues like the GM sorghum project targeted at South Africa. According to one of those behind this project, 'Europeans are foisting such views on Africans'.
The only 'anti-biotechnology group' the article specifically refers to is an 'organization called GM Watch, which grew out of a news and research service in the United Kingdom'. It makes absolutely no reference to the groups and campaigns within South Africa that have led the resistance to this project - those like the Africa Centre for Biosafety, Biowatch South Africa, SAFeAGE - the South African Freeze Alliance on Genetic Engineering, Earthlife Africa or GM-free Africa.
By contrast, even though Pioneer is the key player behind the GM sorghum project, we're told that it is an 'African - Florence Wambugu - who proposed the sorghum partnership with Pioneer, a unit of DuPont.' No mention of the fact that Wambugu - quite apart from her longstanding relationship with Dupont - was trained by Monsanto and has been accurately dubbed 'Monsanto's apostle in Africa.'
As with Wambugu's GM sweet potato project for Monsanto, the project's backers understand the importance of training up African scientists to stand in the foreground to brand such projects as 'African'. And Wambugu has even stood centre stage in South Africa and described the project without any reference at all to its main (corporate) backer (see item 2).
For more on what's really happening in Africa
1.Pioneer modifies sorghum to boost nutrition in Africa By JERRY PERKINS, REGISTER FARM EDITOR Des Moines Register, January 6 2008 http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080106/BUSINESS01/801060308/1001/NEWS
Researchers at Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. are helping develop transgenic sorghum that will be more nutritious for the 300 million Africans who eat the grain as a staple in their diets.
Genetic modification of crops is controversial in Africa, where some say the technology is unsuited for developing countries and potentially dangerous.
But the payoff, project sponsors say, will be better nutrition and improved health for many poor, subsistent African farmers and their families who grow sorghum in small food plots.
Pioneer is building better sorghum as part of the Africa Biofortified Sorghum Project, a nine-member consortium that won a five-year, $18.6 million grant, one of four funded by the Gates Foundation.
The project has developed its second generation of transgenic sorghum seeds, known as 'ABS#2.' The second-generation transgenic sorghum plants have more essential amino acids that are easily digestible, especially lysine, and more of vitamins A and E, along with more available iron and zinc.
Pioneer also is training African scientists from South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the Kenya Agricultural Institute to work on the project in Johnston and back home in Africa.
Two of the African scientists - Kenneth Mburu of Kenya and Getu Beyene, an Ethiopia native working in South Africa - are now working on the project at Pioneer's laboratories in Johnston. Three African scientists preceded them.
Paul Anderson, research director for grain end-use improvement at Pioneer and the project's principal investigator, said the breakthrough in the second-generation sorghum was made possible by biotechnology, which uses technologies such as gene splicing to transfer traits from one plant to another.
'There is no way this could be done by (conventional) plant breeding alone,' said Anderson.
Using Pioneer's biotechnology techniques, genes that boosted protein quality and digestibility and mineral availability were transferred to sorghum, Anderson said.
'They all seem to work as expected,' he said. 'This is a great success within a very short period of time.'
Because the project involves a genetically modified plant, it is controversial in Africa.
An organization called GM Watch, which grew out of a news and research service in the United Kingdom, says it opposes biotechnology because corporations are using biotechnology and genetically modified plants to take advantage of poor farmers in developing countries.
Other organizations say biotechnology threatens Africa's biodiversity, traditional food crops, production systems and native cultures.
Anderson says Europeans are foisting such views on Africans.
In fact, Anderson said, it was an African - Florence Wambugu - who proposed the sorghum partnership with Pioneer, a unit of DuPont.
'This is a very heavily African-influenced project,' Anderson said. 'It was designed by Africans, in Africa, for Africa.'
Wambugu was a member of the DuPont Biotech Advisory Panel and visited Pioneer's Johnston headquarters about six years ago, when Anderson told her about Pioneer's sorghum research.
When the call for proposals came from the Gates Foundation, Wambugu remembered Pioneer's work and suggested to Anderson that they seek a grant.
Anderson went to Pioneer's president, Paul Schickler, who was then vice president of international operations.
'He said I could do it if I had the time. At the time, I wondered,' Anderson recalled. 'It meant a lot of 4 a.m. phone calls to Nairobi, Kenya, setting up the proposal over a year and a half. I've spent a lot of personal time on the project, probably 200 hours.'
Pioneer has donated about $5 million in patented sorghum genetics, seeds and know-how to the project, Anderson said.
Pioneer's Anderson said the consortium is working with other African countries that are interested in growing the modified sorghum. He declined to say which countries are interested because he doesn't want to tip off opposition groups.
Opposition in Africa to genetically modified crops like ABS#2 has made it more difficult to secure permits needed to test genetically modified sorghum.
Anderson said that the South African regulatory body that governs experimental crop trials rejected an application for greenhouse tests of the genetically modified sorghum. The consortium has appealed the rejection.
Field tests of the genetically modified sorghum have been conducted in the United States and Puerto Rico, Anderson said, and he hopes that experience will help the consortium overturn the denial of the permit in South Africa.
Robert Paarlberg, a professor of political science at Wellesley College, said the South African denial of the biofortified sorghum trial surprised its advocates. South Africa has been the only African government that has approved genetically modified crops.
'South Africa wanted to be extra careful with sorghum because it has wild relatives in Africa,' said Paarlberg. 'They wanted to take a look at the gene flow issues.'
Paarlberg has written a book that will be published in March about how anti-biotechnology groups are trying to influence African governments.
'It would be a shame if unproven and undocumented biosafety risks block the (biofortified sorghum) project,' Paarlberg said.
The genetically modified sorghum faces other hurdles, even if it is approved for production in Africa, Paarlberg said.
'There is no guarantee farmers would grow the biofortified seed,' he said. 'You need a distribution system to get the seeds in the hands of low-resource farmers.'
2.GM-for-Africa project homegrown in Des Moines, Iowa (GM Watch, 31/10/2005)
Interesting how the Bill Gates-backed GM sorghum project is being spun for different audiences.
According to Florence Wambugu, who heads the CropLife International-backed 'Africa Harvest' lobby group that's fronting the project, this is 'absolutely an African driven project' and nothing to do with 'foreign companies introducing technology that may not be appropriate to Africa'.
That at least is what Wambugu told Reuters in Johannesburg. But in the US, the Des Moines Register reports that the project is getting off the ground with not only the help of a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but with the help of the DuPont-owned subsidiary Pioneer's 'crop seed expertise and vast plant genetic resources'.
And it doesn't stop there. Pioneer, the Register reports, is providing sorghum germ plasm, intellectual property rights 'and the expertise to make sorghum more nutritional - a contribution valued at $4.8 million'. It's also apparent from this article that Pioneer is training 'Africans at its worldwide research headquarters in Johnston as part of the effort'
If the combination of all these different elements seems to add up essentially to a DuPont project fronted by Africans, then it would hardly be a first. The Kenyan GM sweet potato project with which Wambugu was previously so associated was often presented within Africa, and beyond, as a Kenyan project initiated by Wambugu and run by KARI - the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute (KARI). In reality, however, the project had been conceived by two senior Monsanto scientists and Joel Cohen of USAID. It was these three Americans who recruited Wambugu, who had only just completed her doctoral thesis at the time, to front their project. They then trained her up, using USAID money to pay for her training at Monsanto. And Monsanto then donated the technology to KARI.
One of the three men involved - Robert Horsch - has said that his role at Monsanto is to 'create goodwill and help open future markets'. In fact, the project went a lonmg way to doing this, generating thousands of column inches of superb PR for GM until it eventually leaked out in January of last year that the Kenyan trials had shown the GM sweet potato to be an utter failure (Monsanto's showcase project in Africa fails, New Scientist, Vol 181 No. 2433, 7 February 2004)
But guess what? Wambugu now has a new PR winning GM-for-Africa project to take its place centre stage. And while it seems to be pretty much the formula as before, there's clearly been some PR tweaking to keep the GM giant much further in the background - something which will also have looked good when it came to the funding application.
The rationale is apparent from the angle of Wambugu's comments to Reuters in Joburg. Reuters reported that the resistance to GM 'has been against foreign companies' and that in Wambugu's view, 'GM crops are expected to gain wider acceptance in Africa as more homegrown projects emerge that will spread benefits among the poor'.
This particular project seems to have been 'homegrown' in Des Moines, Iowa. But if you read the Reuters piece out of Joburg, there is not even a mention of Pioneer or DuPont.
For more on Wambugu's spin doctoring see her Pants on Fire award:
and her 'smoke 'n' mirrors' biotech banana project: