New Scientist - Monsanto's showcase project in Africa fails (5/2/2004)

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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for how the Monsanto project was promoted through a massive campoaign of hype and disinformation:


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