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article imageHaitian farmers reject Monsanto donation of hybrid seeds

By Stephanie Dearing     Jun 4, 2010 in Food
The Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP), Haiti, is urging farmers to reject donated seed stock from Monsanto, and farmers have responded saying they will burn the gift.
Monsanto jumped into Haitian reconstruction efforts, along with the rest of the world, committing to provide over $4 million worth of product to Haitian farmers over 2010. Monsanto announced the donation saying "... Following the disaster, Monsanto donated money to the recovery, but it was clear a donation of our products – quality corn and vegetable seeds – could really make a difference in the lives of Haitians.
We believe agriculture is key in the long-term recovery of Haiti. That’s why we’ve donated more than $4 million worth of conventional corn and vegetable seeds to be made over the next 12 months in support of reconstruction efforts. The donated seeds include corn, cabbage, carrot, eggplant, melon, onion, tomato, spinach and watermelon.
The Haitian Ministry of Agriculture approved our donation and ensured the seed selected was appropriate for the growing conditions and farmer practices in Haiti."
WINNER is a five-year project in Haiti backed by the United States. The project, in the words of WINNER, "... is a multidisciplinary program that ... aims to improve the livelihoods of the rural populations of Haiti and to reduce the risks posed by environmental degradation in the catchment of Plaine du Cul-de-Sac and Gonaïves through agricultural intensification, rehabilitation of rural infrastructure, good governance of natural resources, collective awareness and public-private-peasant partnership ... centered on farmers and aimed at reversing the course of economic and environmental decline in targeted watersheds. We will help farmers acquire the resources and the capacity to become more productive and generate higher incomes in a sustainable manner that protect the environment."
The donation will not go directly to farmers, but instead will go to farming association stores in Haiti, where the seeds will be sold to up to 10,000 Haitian farmers. Monsanto anticipates those buying farmers who buy the seed will be able to grow themselves food as well as "... provide them additional economic opportunities."
But do Haitians want the seed? A letter circulated the web via email in May from Haiti's Chavannes Jean-Baptiste. Jean-Baptiste is the Executive Director of MPP, and he characterized the donation from Monsanto as "a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds..., and on what is left our environment in Haiti," reported the Huffington Post. A press release from the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) said Jean-Baptiste called the donation "a new earthquake."
Jean-Baptiste has organized two protest marches for Haiti. Canadian sympathizers have planned a solidarity protest in Montreal, outside of the Haitian Consulate. The Canadian protest is a joint action organized by Union Paysanne, Action SOS Haiti, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, HAITI: One Seed One Land, and Greenpeace. It starts at 10 am Friday.
The growing farmer rejection of Monsanto's donation has raised the old issue of whether those living in poverty have the right to determine what is best for them. Most comfortably-fed pundits, such as Margaret Wente, feel that hungry Haitian farmers have no right except to accept the Monsanto gift.
Jean-Baptiste has been active opposing agricultural crops that threaten the livelihoods of Haitian farmers. Last year, he presented a petition to the Haitian government that called for an end to producing bio-fuels, saying the industry meant the "extermination" of small farmers.
The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) wrote in 2000 that some 70% of Haitians relied on local agriculture, which it characterized as mainly small scale subsistence farming. In 2007, FAO issued a document called Good Practices for Hazard Risk Management in Agriculture, which describes Haiti as "... an agro-based economy whose general livelihood systems have been seriously affected by recurrent onslaught of weather-related disasters resulting in 18,441 killed, 4,708 injured and 131,968 homeless, 6,376,536 affected and economic damages for 4.6 billion US $ over the 21st century. Particular physiographic characteristics - semiarid tropical climate, rough and mountainous terrain - and the combined interplay of environmental degradation with extreme socio-economic conditions in the form of poverty, illiteracy, inefficient land use systems and governance problems, have made the country increasingly vulnerable."
Chavannes Jean-Baptiste is an agronomist who founded the MPP. He has been training Haitian farmers in sustainable agriculture practices for the past 30 years, and was awarded in 2005 with the Goldman Environmental Prize for his work.
More about Haiti farmers, Monsanto, Peasant movement papay, Cban
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