(Photo: Beverly Bell)
"We're for seeds that have never been touched by multinationals. In our advocacy, we say that seeds are the patrimony of humanity. No one can control them," said Doudou Pierre, national coordinating committee member of the National Haitian Network for Food Sovereignty and Food Security (RENHASSA), in a recent interview. "We reject Monsanto and their GMOs. GMOs would be the extermination of our people."
A march held in Haiti June 4 for World Environment Day was called by at least four major national peasant organizations and one international one. The march's purpose was to protest the new arrival of Monsanto seeds. The day's slogans included, "Long live native seeds" and "Down with Monsanto. Down with GMO and hybrid seeds."
Several US organizations planned simultaneous events to protest the entry of the controversial multinational in Haiti.
Last month, Haitian citizens learned the news that the giant agribusiness Monsanto will be "donating" 60,000 seed sacks (475 tons) of hybrid corn seeds and vegetable seeds. While the seeds are free this year, peasant organizations see a Trojan horse, with Monsanto seeking to gain a foothold in the Haitian market. Hybrid seeds typically do not regenerate, so that farmers would have to buy them again each year, and they generally require large quantities of fertilizer and pesticides (two products that also fill Monsanto's annual coffers). And while the Ministry of Agriculture rejected Monsanto's offer of genetically modified (GMO) seeds this year because Haiti does not have a law regulating their use, there may follow a push to get GMOs approved, in which case Monsanto would be well-positioned. Moreover, the Calypso tomato seeds contain the pesticide Thiram, the chemical ingredient of which is so toxic that the Environmental Protection Agency has banned it for home use in the US. (For more information, see "Haitian Farmers Commit to Burning Monsanto Hybrid Seeds.")
Monsanto representative Kathleen Manning commented in The Huffington Post on May 20, "It's disappointing to see people encouraging Haitian farmers to 'burn Monsanto seeds,' especially when the ones hurt by that action will be Haitian farmers and the Haitian people - not those of us watching on the sidelines."
Yet, the call to burn the seeds is based on a strong commitment of the Haitian peasant movement to food and seed sovereignty, which is the ability of local farmers to support themselves with local seeds for local consumption. Among the thousands of peasant organizations which exist among millions of peasant farmers, from village-level groups to national networks, food and seed sovereignty is a key principle. It has formed the basis of their national advocacy since the catastrophic January 12 earthquake. The linchpin of the reconstruction model that small farmers and many other sectors advocate is developing the country's agricultural potential. This would provide stable employment for the 60 percent to 80 percent of the population who are small farmers. It would improve prospects for food security, with an increase in consumption of domestic crops replacing the current dependence on imports, which now compose 57 percent of food consumed. Critical elements in strengthening peasant production include: government investment in agriculture, including technical support; the procurement of local food by USAID and other international agencies' food aid programs, instead of the products of foreign agribusiness; and restriction on the dumping of foreign food and seeds.
Pierre said, "If Haiti isn't sovereign with its food, if the government doesn't promote national production, we'll just always be opening our mouths to seeds and food aid so multinationals can make money off of us. We're for family agriculture which respects the environment." The coalition which Pierre co-coordinates represents 54 organizations from different sectors and regions throughout Haiti.
Below are some of the US-based events which protested the Monsanto seeds June 4. Also below are a few of numerous US initiatives, which are helping Haitian farmers get organic, Creole seeds.
AGRA Watch in Seattle planed a march June 4, ending outside the Gates Foundation office. AGRA stands for A Green Revolution in Africa, which is a multinational corporation-driven, GMO-driven program now being launched in Africa. The Gates Foundation has been a key promoter of AGRA. The group says, "The dumping of toxic seeds in Haiti is the latest in a series of unsustainable solutions that Monsanto has pushed on farmers around the world. If the Gates Foundation wants to support a truly sustainable agricultural system in Africa, they must divorce themselves from Monsanto. Haitian farmers and African farmers have said NO! to corporate control of their food systems. The Gates Foundation and AGRA must say no to Monsanto."
Rising in Solidarity with Ayiti in Chicago urged, "From Haiti to Chicago, reclaim our right to control our food and sovereignty!" June 4 a group of urban farmers and community members joined in a rally to burn GMO seeds in protest of Monsanto's "donation" to Haiti. Participants in the event also planted organic and heirloom seeds, and signed letters to USAID to protest the distribution of Monsanto's seeds in Haiti. The event also featured testimonials about the lack of access to food security, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables, in neighborhoods in Chicago, and how this connects to the right to food sovereignty in Haiti.
Community Action for Justice in the Americas, Africa, Asia, in Missoula, hosted a protest, asking: "Bring posters, signs, or just come. Wear black /white, or lab coats, dust masks, goggles or Tyvek suits or creative costume! Bring drums, pots & pans ..." A personal email from a member of the group said, "The people in Missoula, Montana are paying attention and taking action for farmers in Haiti."
The Organic Consumers Association's network sent more than 10,000 emails to USAID and President Obama. Two dozen members have donated to the Seeds for Haiti project.
A coalition of US churches and foundations are supporting Foundation FONDAMA, a Haitian federation of farmers and local NGOs. The coalition has sent down several million dollars to purchase 86,000 kilos of local corn seed and 59,000 kilos of local pea seeds. (Seeds are available in Haiti, but small farmers have not had the money to buy them.) All of the farmers who belong to member organizations in Foundation FONDAMA have gotten seeds, allowing them to proceed with planting their spring crop. The donations have also purchased 13,300 machetes and 9,200 hoes. The US coalition has, moreover, sent a Massachusetts farmer to the village of Papay for the march, and hosted the leader of the Peasant Movement of Papay in New York and Washington for public, media, and Congressional meetings this week.
Like numerous other supportive groups in the US, Groundswell International's approach to seed sovereignty in Haiti pre-dates Monsanto's announcement. Through its Haitian partner Partnership for Local Development, Groundswell is strengthening the capacity of peasant organizations in Haiti to sustainably improve their agricultural production, income generation, food security, health and natural resources management. A Groundswell staff member wrote, "A key thing we'll be working on is trying to promote the alternative, which is Haitian production of 100 percent of their seeds so they don't need imports."
1. Extension Toxicology Network, Pesticide Information Project of the Cooperative Extension Offices of Cornell University, Michigan State University, Oregon State University, and University of California at Davis . Monsanto denies that Thiram contains the toxic chemical ethylene bisdithiocarbamates (EBDCs).