Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Farmers wary of hybrid maize seed imports

By Tequila Minsky, Caribbean Life News

They marched from an agricultural training center in Papay that experiments with different methods of growing local food crops and trees. Their straw hats read: Aba Monsanto – down with Monsanto and Aba Preval – down with Preval as the 8,000 – 10,000 peasants walked four-plus miles on June 4 (the day before World Environment Day) claimingthat the government was misleading them with seed donations from U.S. multinational company, Monsanto.

Haiti’s agricultural sector is huge and in need of seeds, tools and agriculture infrastructure support, but is systematically ignored.

Monsanto is donating 475 tons of maize to Haitian farmers in cooperation with Project Winner, a USAID initiative, which aims to increase the country’s agricultural productivity, the Agriculture Ministry said.

The donated seeds are hybrid and farmers fear they are being given seeds that will threaten local varieties. In addition, the seeds require special handling due to their chemical treatment.

“We have to fight for our local seeds,” Chavannes Jean-Baptist told the crowd. “We have to defend our food sovereignty.”

Jean-Baptiste, coordinator of one of the leading Haitian peasant organizations, Mouvman Peyizan Papay-MPP, charged that the Haitian government is using the earthquake to sell the country to the multinationals.

The marchers stopped at an MPP farm along the route and planted 250 seedlings of orange, lemon and avocado trees and symbolically sowed about 10 pounds of maize seed.

Five peasant groups collaborated on the demonstration rallying under a hot sun in the Central Plateau town of Hinch.

Solidarity and support groups from Canada, Brazil, Dominican Republic, and the U.S. joined in the march, including retired organic farmer from Massachusetts,Samuel Smith, who came for the rally.

“This is not just about the seeds,” he said, “It’s about imposing on people a system that they can’t get out of.”

“If you let Monsanto seeds enter the country this is the same scenario that willhappen again, as the eradication of the creole pig that ruined the Haitian farmers in the ‘80s,” said David Millet, French agronomist working with MPP as a volunteer.

American expertise dictated killing the Haitian pig, a way for the introduction of the American pig — an unsuccessful program with pigs not adapted to the Haitian environment, Millet explained.

Monsanto however dismissed fears taht it was donating genetically modified seeds to the country.

“The seeds Monsanto is donating to Haiti are not genetically modified. They are conventional hybrid seeds that are already grown in the Dominican Republic,” a Monsanto spokesman in the United States told AFP.

Monsanto has donated $255,000 to Haiti for disaster relief and the company is committed to the success of Haitian farmers, Monsanto Executive Vice President Jerry Stein wrote in a letter to Agriculture Minister Joanas Gue.

The “gift of death,” which is actually being sold to the farmers is:an attack on peasant agriculture, on the farmers, on biodiversity, on native seeds, on what remains of our environment in Haiti, Jean-Baptiste says.

There was a symbolic burning of the seeds at the rally.

Many protestors leveled most of their anger against the government.Their banner read:Down with Industrial Agriculture/Agrofuels, Jatropha, and Coca Cola.

The banner also said: Monsanto means death to native seeds, peasant agriculture, and poison for the earth, water, air, people, and animals. Monsanto means destruction of biodiversity, dependence on food. Peasant seeds mean food sovereignty, agriculture that cools the plant, respect for mother earth, guarantee for health and life for coming generations.

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