In a recent tour of East Africa, B4FA Media Fellow Isaac Khisa (Uganda) took the opportunity to interview former anti-GM activist Mark Lynas
about his 180 degree turnaround to become ‘pro-choice’ and why GM crops matter to Africa.
According to Lynas, GM crops are not the answer to food security in Africa, but they must not be ruled out due to scare stories from those who fear GM crops. Moreover, the majority of research on African crops – banana, cassava and others – is being conducted by African researchers to address local and regional concerns, such as bacteria and viruses that can devastate a farmer’s crop. He notes that many of the concerns about GM crops in Africa are ‘imported’ from Europe, where GM crops have struggled to overcome political and regulatory barriers and there have been strong networks of anti-GM crop activists. In contrast, in most other world regions, GM crops have been accepted without controversy.
In response to the assumption that Africa is not ready for such technology, he replies, “Africa very quickly adopted mobile phones and the internet, so the idea that places like Uganda are not “ready” for modern technology in agriculture is I think reactionary and patronising.”
Lynas is a former anti-GM activist who participated in GM crop destruction in the 1990s and claims to be one of the first to destroy GM plants. He was the founder of OneWorld.net
, which he left in 2000 to focus on climate change issues. He was also involved with EarthFirst! and viewed himself as an anti-capitalist, participating in a London anti-poverty protest that became a riot. As recently as 2008, Mr. Lynas wrote anti-GM commentary
in widely-read publications such as the Guardian
In his interview with Khisa, he states “my change of heart came about because I wanted to be a better science communicator and a better environmentalist – and you do not achieve that by fighting against scientific facts.”
Conversion: He has noted that one of the comments on his 2008 Guardian article led him to re-think his position on genetic modification and that a review of the science has informed his shift. In the 2010 UK Channel 4 documentary “What the Green Movement Got Wrong” and in his third book, The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans, Lynas has been openly apologetic about his anti-GM stance (this documentary also included Patrick Moore and Stewart Brand). This stance recently culminated in a recent media blitz based on his public apology at the Oxford Farming Conference. He previously experienced a similar conversion regarding nuclear energy.