In 1984, Irish singer-songwriter Bob Geldof gathered a few of his close and very famous friends to record “Do They Know It’s Christmas”—the grossly overplayed and widely politically incorrect song composed to raise awareness and money for Ethiopian famine relief. The catchy chorus pleads with listeners to “feed the world” and yet more than thirty years after it topped the pop charts, famine continues to be a major problem in Africa.
Today, the United Nations estimates that nearly 20 million people in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria are facing hunger and even starvation, making it the largest humanitarian crisis since the UN was created. Why this tragedy persists is complicated and involves a combination of factors--drought and crop failures as well as internal conflicts and wars.
Yet, there’s another factor that has contributed to the dogged food shortages in Africa and the reluctance of some of these nations to modernize their agricultural systems: radical green activists who relentlessly distort the truth about genetically modified (GM) crops and discourage agricultural progress—the very things that could actually help with the crisis.
GM crops have certainly helped other countries develop into agriculture powerhouses. For instance, in the 1940s, American plant scientist Norman Borlaug helped Mexico transform from a system of small-scale cultivation to a massive producer and exporter of wheat, maize, and other crops. How did this happen?
Borlaug, who is often called the father of the Green Revolution, developed a genetically modified high-yield, disease-resistant wheat variety, which was then adopted by many Mexican farmers, with the encouragement of the Mexican and American governments along with scientists and advocates working in Mexico. Soon, the same genetically modified crops were deployed to Pakistan and India, resulting in the transformation and modernization of those countries’ agricultural systems as well.
Borlaug is credited with preventing over a billion deaths from starvation and in 1970 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to increase the world’s food supply.
Sadly, Africa has largely missed out on this green revolution, mostly due to green activists agitating against GMOs. Instead of being encouraged to adopt genetically modified crops that are disease and drought resistant and which consistently produce high yields while using less chemicals and fewer acres of land, African farmers have been told by activists to view these newfangled seeds with fear and skepticism. Activists even lie about the technology to stoke fears in local farming communities.
Uganda is the second largest producer of bananas after India and is currently dealing with a pest problem that threatens to decimate the banana crop. Luckily, Ugandan scientists, supported by the Ugandan government, developed a genetically modified pest-resistant banana. Under any normal circumstances and certainly in Borlaug’s day, this would be welcome news. But in our current and growing culture of alarmism, this scientific breakthrough was met with fear. This is partly due to the hard work of anti-GMO activists who have suggested, with no scientific data to back up the claim, that the technology increases obesity, cancer and infertility rates. These activists even use pictures of deformed animals to imply GMOs are responsible.
This situation is repeated over and over again in Africa and in other developing regions as activists suggest a myriad of health problems are associated with consuming GMOs in order to sway public opinion against them. The cost of this cycle is high. In 2016, Zimbabwe was facing dangerous food shortages due to drought. Despite the desperate situation, Zimbabwe decided to reject food aid containing GMO ingredients after activists told government leaders that GMO food was dangerous.
These are the type of stories that motivated 100 Nobel laureates to sign a scornful letter accusing Greenpeace and other activist organizations of misleading vulnerable people. The open letter, published last year, stated: “Greenpeace initially, and then some of their allies deliberately went out of their way to scare people. It was a way for them to raise money for their cause.”
A line in Geldof’s song says, “there’s no need to be afraid.” That is no longer true for those facing famine in developing nations. These desperate people should be very afraid of the powerful and vocal activists seeking to prolong their suffering and increase the preventable death toll.
If those in Western nations are truly interested in Geldof’s dream of feeding the world, we all need work to modernize the agricultural systems of developing nations and reign in the green activists that spread lies about these life saving techniques.