Florence Wambugu

Florence Wambugu is a Plant Pathologist known for championing the importance of biotechnology in securing a future devoid of starvation and poverty for Africa. She is the Founder Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International (AHBFI) known as Africa Harvest, which aims to improve food security and the welfare of African populations using the tools of agronomy and agricultural biotechnology.

Wambugu delved into the world of science when she went to the University of Nairobi to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Botany and Zoology, graduating in 1978. She then took the first steps that led to her long career in biotechnology when she began working at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) as a Senior Research Officer in Pathology and as Coordinator of Plant Biotechnology Research. Her work focused on tissue culture and disease control and she held this position from 1978 to 1991.

During this period, she obtained her Master of Science in Plant Pathology from North Dakota State University in 1984. She later furthered her academic career by graduating in 1991 from the University of Bath in England with a PhD in Plant Virology and Biotechnology. In 2009 she was awarded a Doctor of Science Honorary Degree from the University of Bath.

Wambugu believes that biotechnology holds the solution to a better future for Africa.

Wambugu’s long and illustrious career – spanning over 30 years in agricultural crop research – has distinguished her as an expert in her field. From 1991 to 1994, after her postgraduate degree, she was a postdoctoral research associate at Monsanto based in St. Louis in the USA.

She then came back to Kenya and established the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) – Afri-center in Nairobi. She served as the Director of this institution from 1994 to 2001, after which she left to establish Africa Harvest in 2002. She continues to serve in this capacity to date. Wambugu has published a book on biotechnology titled Modifying Africa: How biotechnology can benefit the poor and the hungry: A case study from Kenya.

Wambugu has received international recognition for her efforts as a woman in science. In 1981, she received an award from the Nigeria-based International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). She was named Outstanding Scientist of the Year in 1989 by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. She also received the Monsanto Outstanding Performance Award in 1992 and 1993. Wambugu was the first place medal winner at the Global Development Network Awards in 2000. In the same year she received the World Bank Global Development Network Award for successful introduction of the tissue-culture bananas in Kenya. She received the Yara Prize in 2008 from the Norway-based Yara Foundation for her significant contribution to fighting hunger and poverty in Africa.

Wambugu has served on several Boards, including the CGIAR Private Sector Committee and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Hunger Task Force. Currently, she serves as a Council Member of the Japan Science and Technology in Society (STS) Forum, a Steering Committee member of the European Action on Global Life Sciences (EAGLES), and a member of the Science Board of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenge in Global Health.

Wambugu believes that biotechnology holds the solution to a better future for Africa. From her position, she continues to urge Kenya and other African governments to embrace the role of this scientific field in achieving national development. In June 2015, Wambugu was named one of the world’s 100 most influencial people in biotechnology by Scientific American Worldview.


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