June 25, 2009
A Kenyan woman who grew up on a sweet potato farm and went on to be a world expert in plant bio-technology is to receive an honorary degree from the University of Bath.
From the age of ten, Florence Muringi Wambugu together with her mother and nine siblings, ran the sweet potato farm while their father worked for white settlers.
Their efforts to produce food were often thwarted by pests and disease against which they had little defence.
Florence excelled in her village school and was selected to attend a girls’ boarding school 60 miles from the family home.
To fund this secondary education her mother sold the family’s prize possession: their only cow. Florence Wambugu went on to graduate from the University of Nairobi with a Bachelors Degree in Biological Sciences.
She then joined the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and took the first steps in a research career that has seen her gain world-wide recognition for harnessing the promise of plant biotechnology to fight hunger, malnutrition and poverty in Africa and beyond.
Florence went on to achieve a Masters degree in Plant Pathology at North Dakota State University. She then came to the University of Bath where she gained her PhD for research on ‘In vitro and epidemiological studies of sweet potato virus diseases in Kenya’.
On Thursday 2 July Florence receives the honorary Degree of Doctor of Science at Bath Abbey in the third ceremony of the day, at 3pm.
She said: “I am very excited to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Bath.
“My PhD at Bath focused on the control of the sweet potato virus. After completing my studies in 1991, the US Agency for International Development offered me a post doctoral fellowship.
“Given my background in virology and my interest in root or tuber crops, I chose to work on the sweet potato, which later became the first GM crop in sub-saharan Africa.
“I came back to Bath having seen the early benefits of what I learnt begin to benefit poor farmers in Africa.
“It is a particularly special time for me because my own country, Kenya, has passed a biotech law that allows scientists to use this technology to address the numerous agricultural challenges we confront.”
Florence Wambugu will also be delivering a public lecture at the University of Bath on Wednesday ( 1 July ) about the contribution of biotechnology, including GM crops, for improving the sustainable livelihoods of resource poor families in Africa.
The lecture is free and will be held in lecture theatre 4E 3.38 at the Claverton campus at 11.15am.