Failed Monsanto sweet potato project rides again! (6/6/2007)

1.$3M Grant to Danforth Center to Enhance Sweet Potato for Africa
2.Monsanto's showcase project in Africa fails

NOTE: for the massive campaign of hype and disinformation associated with this project http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=131


1.$3M Grant to Danforth Center to Enhance Sweet Potato for Africa

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center today announced that the Howard G. Buffett Foundation has granted more than $3 million to fund research to enhance resistance to virus infection and increase the nutritional content of sweet potato for Africa. The grant will fund research that uses technology donated by Monsanto Company and the Danforth Center. To enhance the likelihood of research success, the Danforth Center has engaged the International Potato Center (CIP) in Lima, Peru, in the project, and the National Agricultural Research Organisation - Uganda (NARO) to create a multi-institutional collaboration.

"This new and truly unique partnership between the Danforth Center and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation will address hunger in Africa - sweet potato is an important staple crop in many regions of Africa and has the potential to produce high yields," said Danforth Center President Dr. Roger N. Beachy. "By increasing the resistance to disease, crop yields will be enhanced; by increasing the amounts of nutrition in farmer-preferred sweet potato varieties, we hope that our research will be part of a solution in meeting the challenge to efficiently feed Africa's growing population."

Today, sweet potato production is decimated by dual infections of sweet potato feathery mottle virus (SPFMV) and sweet potato chlorotic stunt virus (SPCSV). Danforth Center scientists will work to increase resistance to these two viruses, while undertaking research that will increase the amount of the vitamins folate, zinc and iron. In the 1990s, a project to control the disease caused by SPFMV was initiated in a collaborative between a Kenyan research institute and Monsanto Company, with limited success. Researchers later demonstrated that the disease was caused by co-infection by SPFMV (+) SPCSV, rather than by single virus.

"Increasing the amount of food available to the families of poor farmers in Africa, while at the same time improving the nutritional content of locally produced foods, is vital to their future health and well-being. It is increasingly important to combine conservation farming techniques with basic science to enhance the production of crops like sweet potato, maize and other staple crops to address hunger in many African nations," explained Howard G. Buffett. "This new collaboration with the Danforth Center and their team of scientists will hopefully unlock novel techniques that will improve the food supply in Africa."

"Monsanto Company is committed to addressing issues of food security and sharing technology to improve crops for the developing world," said Hugh Grant, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Monsanto Company. "We are pleased that the Howard G. Buffett Foundation is supporting the work of the Danforth Center scientists as it provides the opportunity to put important agricultural technology tools into the hands of farmers who need them most."

The Buffett Foundation's gift to the Danforth Center builds on other gifts to address issues in Africa that include animal conservation, abundant clean-water, food relief, and the illegal immigration of children. Initial research results from the Danforth Center's sweet potato project are anticipated in late 2008.

About The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center: Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a global vision to improve the human condition. Research at the Danforth Center will enhance the nutritional content of plants to improve human health, increase agricultural production to create a sustainable food supply, and build scientific capacity to generate economic growth in the St. Louis region and throughout Missouri. Please visit www.danforthcenter.org for additional information.


2.Monsanto's showcase project in Africa fails
New Scientist, Vol 181 No. 2433, 7 February 2004

A showcase project to develop a genetically modified crop for Africa has failed.

Three years of field trials have shown that GM sweet potatoes modified to resist a virus were no less vulnerable than ordinary varieties, and sometimes their yield was lower, according to the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.

Embarrassingly, in Uganda conventional breeding has produced a high-yielding variety more quickly and more cheaply.

The GM project has cost Monsanto, the World Bank and the US government an estimated $6 million over the past decade. It has been held up worldwide as an example of how GM crops will help revolutionise farming in Africa. One of the project members, Kenyan biotechnologist Florence Wambugu (see New Scientist, 27 May 2000, p 40), toured the world promoting the work.

Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, UK, says the researchers went wrong by concentrating on resistance to an American strain of the virus. In any case, the virus is only a small factor limiting production in Kenya, he says. "There was too much rhetoric and not enough good research."

Monsanto says it plans to develop further varieties.

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