|Wambugu's sorghum project halted / Wambugu's deceptive fictions (16/7/2006)|
1.Sh32b sorghum project halted
The picture caption that accompanies the first article below reads, "Biotechnology researcher Florence Wambugu whose dreams of another scientific breakthrough have been put on hold."
Her previous scientific breakthroughs are listed in the article as follows, "Prof Wambugu is known internationally for developing the popular tissue culture bananas and virus resistant sweet potato varieties."
But Wambugu's GM virus resistant sweet potato was shown by 3 years of field trials not to actually be virus resistant and to yield less than the conventional sweet potato it was supposed to replace (Monsanto's showcase project in Africa fails, New Scientist, Vol 181, 7 Feb 2004) http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=2561
Her other "scientific breakthrough" is just as fictitious, see item 2.
1.Sh32b sorghum project halted
A multi-billion shilling research project by a Kenyan scientist to develop a genetically modified sorghum type has been suspended.
The project by Prof Florence Wambugu and a biotechnology organisation was expected to come up with a new variety of sorgum to help alleviate hunger in the sub-Saharan Africa.
The super sorghum was to contain proteins and vitamins. The traditional variety is mainly starch with little protein or mineral nutrients.
Prof Wambugu is known internationally for developing the popular tissue culture bananas and virus resistant sweet potato varieties.
She had secured funding to the tune of Sh32 billion ($415 million) from the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation for her new project.
But her dreams of another scientific breakthrough now have to wait after the South African government refused Prof Wambugu and the Africa Harvest Bio-Technology International permission to set up a research laboratory and greenhouses in the country.
South Africa had expressed concern over the possible contamination of the sorghum varieties native to Africa by the introduction of a genetically modified type.
However, Prof Wambugu downplayed the decision, saying she had faith in South Africa's regulatory systems.
"We have been told to upgrade our containment to a higher level. Once we comply we will certainly go back and reapply to be allowed to start the project. Our activities are guided by the South African laws and there is nothing unusual," she told the Sunday Nation on the telephone from the US.
The director of communications at Africa Harvest Biotechnology International, Mr Daniel Kamanga, said: "The permits have not been denied as such. The government only said they could not grant the permits on the basis of information provided and asked for additional information and which is going to be provided."
Prof Wambugu was optimistic that the project would eventually take off after she addressed the concerns raised by Department of Agriculture's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, which regulates research in bio-technology in South Africa.
The African Centre for Bio-safety, a Johannesburg-based lobby against genetically modified crops, supported South Africa's decision to halt the research.
The move should worry biotechnology firms and research organisations as it is likely to influence decisions by other countries that look up to South Africa for leadership in the field.
A senior Kenya government official said it was a pity the super sorghum project had run into problems with the law in South Africa.
"We were aware of it and we were anxious for the green house trial results. South Africa had been chosen because of existence of legal guidelines and policy frame work, which we lack in Kenya. Sorghum is an important food crop in Kenya, especially in semi-arid areas and parts of Nyanza Province. We were obviously interested in the developments of this particular research," the official said requesting not to be named.
Sorghum is important for food security in arid and semi-arid regions of Africa, with unique abilities to withstand the harsh environmental conditions there. However, the bulk of research has traditionally tended to favour crops like maize, wheat, beans and rice.
Kenya has no biosafety policy and the Biosafety Bill has been stalling at the Attorney-General's office for several years.
So far, research activities and enforcement of administrative regulatory procedures have been under the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS). But still, there are no laws to hold any negligent researchers or institutions accountable in case their activities are harmful.
On the same day (Wednesday) the sorghum experiments were being put on hold in South Africa, there was a heated debate in the Kenyan Parliament over biotechnology following a private member's motion by Saboti MP Davies Nakitare seeking a blanket ban on all production, consumption and sale of genetically modified foods. The motion was resoundingly defeated.
Agriculture assistant minister Peter Kaindi urged the House Business Committee to list the pending Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill as a priority to enable the Government to promote food and animal production through scientific research.
2.Wambugu's deceptive fictions
GM Watch, 11 October 2005 http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=5823
Earlier this year the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation granted a consortium led by the lobby group Africa Harvest and its CEO, Dr Florence Wambugu, the better part of $16.9 million to develop a GM sorghum.
A key part of the Wambugu consortium is DuPont, the GM and chemicals giant. And this is not the first time that DuPont and Dr Wam