Monday, September 26, 2005

AFRICA HARVEST: At The Heart Of A Debatable Issue

Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International (AHBFI) - But let's just call it "Africa Harvest"- was incorporated in the United States as a non-profit organization in 2002.

The organization's web site states that it is dedicated to using technology as a tool to fight hunger, malnutrition and poverty in Africa. Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, it also has offices in Johannesburg, South Africa and Washington D.C., United States.

Africa Harvest sees its tasks as implementing needs-driven programs and providing practical solutions to challenges facing those smallholder farmers who are resource-poor in rural communities. It also believes in undertaking projects that focus a strategy, which it has developed and refined, over the years called the 'Whole Value Chain (WVC) Strategy."

The genius of the WVC Strategy is that it "looks at agricultural products and projects through an inverted pyramid; this means that an end user or customer is identified before focusing on issues such as agricultural production (inputs such as seedlings, fertilizers and water), product distribution and marketing."

Africa Harvest states that under its WVC Strategy, the project beneficiaries are able to make money from the sales of whatever is produced in excess of home consumption requirements.

Africa Harvest believes its strength to be principally the expertise of its core staff in consortium building; capacity building; planning, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development projects; and includes the implementation of socio-economic impact studies.

Africa Harvest says that even though it has been in existence for only a few years it has a mission and a vision have been in existence much longer than that. The organization's founder and CEO Dr. F. Wambugu did her post-doctoral work on the GM (genetically modified) sweet potato, in 1991. This postdoctoral research of Dr. Wambugu was done at a facility of the Monsanto Corporation in St. Louis, USA and under a USAID scholarship. The sweet potato that was the subject of Dr. Wambugu's research later became the first GM crop in sub-Saharan Africa.

Today, Africa Harvest sits at (or very near) the center of the African arena of the global GM debate.

According to the Africa Harvest web site: "The continent continued to lag behind while the rest of the world powered ahead, adopting GM techniques to improve their agriculture."

Amid a swirling conflict between parties on either side of the issue (the U.S. favors GM foods while the European Union (EU) has placed a moratorium against biotech crops), Africa Harvest has framed the argument in support of its belief in the positive value of GM foods in what it terms an "African agenda." This agenda is meant to rally the continent around the issues of hunger, malnutrition and poverty, which Dr. Wambugu says are "intricately tied to the issue of GM food."

The sweet potato that was the focus of Dr. Wambugu's research is the core of Africa Harvest's Transgenic Sweet Potato Project. This project can fairly said to be the creation of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and began when Dr. Wambugu transferred the technology that she was developing at the Monsanto Corporation back to KARI. KARI carried out field trials in 2000 and since that time the Institute has grown in both its infastructure and as an institution generally. KARI remains a partner to Africa Harvest on the transgenic sweet potato project today.

Another GM project of Africa Harvest is the MSV (Maize streak geminivirus) Resistant Maize Hybrids Project in Kenya. Africa Harvest has also been working with the Department of Forestry and Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources in Kenya to disseminate genetically modified seedlings for reforestation to grass root rural communities for sustainable rural development.

Africa Harvest says that its "flagship program" is a "technology-transfer project aimed at supplying disease and pest-free materials to farmers using the tissue culture technology." And it says that this "project has been generating the information and data necessary for the formation of a critical decision-making process that will enable policy makers, planners and managers to develop appropriate agricultural policies for Kenya's banana sector."

Finally, the African Harvest site presents its Chura Community Tissue Culture Banana Project, which is described as "A Partnership Project between DuPont, Africa Harvest and the Chura Community." Dupont is the Dupont Chemical Company located in the state of Delaware in the U.S., and this portion of the web site is comprised of 20 PDF files that are much too extensive for me to go into here.

Other programs that support Africa Harvest's GM projects are its:

- Communication for Development Program, which is described as "an effective biotech communication and public acceptance program"

- Technical Program that includes which consolidate existing agri-biotech projects in Kenya and East Africa, and expanding these to other countries and regions. African Harvest seems particularly proud of that aspect of this program that has "recently diversified to nutritional Bio-fortification of Sorghum with essential amino acids, micronutrients and vitamins for arid and semi arid tropics."

- Finance, Administration & Business Development Program: where the "lions share of all the resources the organization's allocations go to Communication and Technical Programs along with implementation, while "the remaining resources are distributed to capacity building, training &fellowships, administration and contingency."

Now, there are those who might say that Africa Harvest is "a wolf in sheep's clothing." And there are those who might say that Africa Harvest is merely a vehicle for chemical companies in the U.S. to get a foothold in Africa in order to market their genetically modified products.

One can read quite a few articles about Monsanto, Dupont, Africa Harvest and even Dr. Wambugu on web sites that express skepticism about the benefit of work in the area of genetically modified plants.

The non-profit organization "" posts an article entitled " Heartbreak in the Heartland: The True Cost of Genetically Engineered Crops " (Transcribed by Paul Goettlich / that might cause one to question Monsanto's motives in the work of genetically modified plants.

Additionally, has a web page captioned "Genetic Engineering 2005" that lists several dozen articles published in 2005 that deal with the issue of genetically modified plants and the organizations that promote them. There are also web pages for the years, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001 and 2000.

One article has posted confronting Dr. Wambugu specifically is " GM Sweet Potato: Wambugu Wambuzling Again: Says GM Sweet Potato a Resounding Success? ," another is: " How to WAMBUZLE the world - the life and times of Florence Wambugu " Both of these articles are found on's web page of 2004 articles.

It seems that there is a very real dispute here between the proponents of genetically modified crops and those who oppose them. And just as important - on both sides of the issue are non-profit organizations that claim to want to improve the quality of life for not just Africans, all people of the earth. It is an issue that must be decided by each individual for himself and herself. And the only way to make an informed decision is to educate yourself on the facts. There are many contradictory claims, and it may not be an easy matter to separate the truth statements from the untruthful statements, but the knowledge to be gained is worth the effort.

We have to look at statements by Africa Harvest where it says that it "is seen as a sincere and honest partner in the cause of poverty and hunger alleviation," and weigh such statements against other statements it published on its web site such as: "Poor people are the worst polluters, not GM technologies." The editing in the paragraph in which this latter statement is made makes it unclear as to whether this statement is being attributed to Dr. Wambugu or not, but it seemed to me, as a reader of Africa Harvest's web site that this was clearly a position of Africa Harvest.

My friends who live outside the U.S. and read this blog may not realize that in the United States many non-profit organizations are created to put forward an agenda that may bring financial reward to a profit-making venture. But this is the case more often than we would care to admit. I make no assertions about the motives of either Africa Harvest or, but I do encourage you to read the material provided by both organizations and decide for yourselves.

African Harvest can be found at:
Africa Harvest and can be found at

No comments: