Haitian Farmers Fight Back Against Monsanto
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PÉTIONVILLE, Jun 21, 2010 (IPS) - Haitian farmers are worried that giant transnational corporations like Monsanto are attempting to gain a larger foothold in the local economy under the guise of earthquake relief and rebuilding.
"Seeds represent a kind of right to life," peasant leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste told IPS. "That's why we have a problem today with Monsanto and all the multinationals who sell seeds. Seeds and water are the common patrimony of humanity."
Earlier this month, in the central square of Hinche, an agricultural town in Haiti's Plateau Central region, a mass of small farmers wearing red shirts and straw hats burned a symbolic quantity of hybrid corn seed donated to Haiti by the U.S. agricultural-technology giant.
They called on farmers to burn any Monsanto seeds already distributed, and demanded that the government reject further shipments.
The actions in Hinche (pronounced "ansh") were spearheaded by the Mouvman Peyizan Papay, a regional peasant movement that claims 50,000 members, and the national coalition of some 200,000 members to which it belongs. Despite divisions among Haitian peasant organisations, several of the most important groups joined together to participate.
Haitian agronomist Bazelais Jean-Baptiste sees the issue differently: "The foundation for Haiti's food sovereignty is the ability of peasants to save seeds from one growing season to the next. The hybrid crops that Monsanto is introducing do not produce seeds that can be saved for the next season, therefore peasants who use them would be forced to somehow buy more seeds each season."
"Our primary goal is to defend peasant agriculture," he said, "an organic agriculture that respects the environment and fights against its degradation. We defend native seeds and the rights of peasants on their land."
The international peasant movement advocates for "food sovereignty", Jean-Baptiste emphasised, the right of each country to define its agricultural policy, of communities to decide what to produce, and of consumers to know that the products they consume are healthy.
"We work with indigenous groups as well, and with them we believe that the earth has rights that we must respect, just as people have rights," he said.
The actions against Monsanto also were targeted "against the policies of the government that don't help peasants, but rather accept products that poison the environment, kill biodiversity and destroy family, peasant agriculture," he contended.
According to Monsanto, 130 tonnes of hybrid corn and vegetable seed out of a promised 475 tonnes have been sent so far, with the first shipment arriving in Haiti during the first week of May. The remaining 345 tonnes, which will be hybrid corn seed, are to be delivered over the coming 12 months.
The company stressed in a news release that the seeds are not genetically modified, as some early reports stated, but acknowledged that some seeds are coated with fungicides and pesticides.
Monsanto consulted with the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture on what seeds would be acceptable to Haitian farmers and well-suited for Haitian conditions, Darren Wallis, a spokesman for the firm, told IPS in an e-mail.
A programme of the U.S. government's Agency for International Development, the Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources, and the non-profit Earth Institute will distribute the seeds along with inputs such as fertilisers and provide technical support, Monsanto said.
WINNER describes itself as "a 127-million-dollar project … which aims to improve the living conditions of the rural populations in Haïti".
But speakers at the Jun. 4 rally saw the project in a different light, accusing President René Préval of "collusion with imperialism" and "selling off the national patrimony".