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Does Kenya Need GMO Cassava? Ask the World Food Prize-Winner Who Saved Africa’s Cassava

When I read the news in June that Kenya was ready to allow field trials of genetically modified cassava, I called Dr. Hans Herren. Herren won the World Food Prize in 1995 for using biological controls to halt a mealybug infestation that threatened to destroy cassava crops across Africa. With cassava serving as the staple food for much of the continent, the effort saved as many as 20 million lives, by one estimate.

I’d been with Herren at the World Food Prize events in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2013. That was the year the World Food Prize Committee, from its elegant Hall of Laureates building recently renovated with a donation from Monsanto, awarded the prizes to three pioneers in GMO technology. We ate a lot of GM food at the World Food Prize festivities, and we heard a lot about cassava. The crop was again threatened, this time by the brown streak virus, and the industry had the antidote: a GM variety that could prevent the disease.