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Haiti: Saying “No” to Monsanto

Monsanto has been a controversial company for some years now, mainly because it is a major producer of genetically modified seed (reportedly selling as much as 90% of the genetically engineered seed in the United States) and has a reputation for employing questionable methods (including powerful political lobbying, hard-nosed litigation and licensing agreements that are reportedly hurting small farmers) to ensure that it maintains its lead.

Enter Haiti. With an already tenuous economy sent reeling from the effects of the January 12 earthquake, the country has been struggling to come to grips with its new reality; a reliable food supply is obviously a major concern and Monsanto has been trying to get a foot in the door, via “a donation of conventional corn and vegetable seeds to farmers in Haiti, to help increase food production and aid long-term earthquake recovery.” The company's website acknowledges the ensuing outcry, dismissing it this way:

A small group, utilizing online media, protested. At first they claimed Monsanto was donating genetically modified seed. Then they backed off and attacked the donation of hybrid seed. Then they claimed it was some kind of effort to slip GM seed into the country.

Imaginative, yes. Accurate, no.

Our donation of hybrid seed to Haiti is about farmers, people and food.

Haiti’s farmers need good quality seed, because the better the seed, the better the chances for more food from the same land.

Haiti’s people need food — better quality food, more food and more nutritious food.

The site also posts other articles explaining how the management and distribution of the seed in Haiti would work. But that has done little to assuage the concerns of Monsanto's naysayers – or Haitian farmers, for that matter – who, at the beginning of June, staged a protest against the “donation” and burned more than 400 tons of Monsanto's hybrid corn and vegetable seeds. Haitians are about as receptive to these hybrid seeds flooding their local agriculture industry as they are to more aftershocks, bluntly referring to them as “a new earthquake”.

La Via Campesina (a website of a global confederation of farmers) reports:

According to Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, leader of the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP) and spokesperson for the National Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papaye (MPNKP), the entry of Monsanto seeds into Haiti is ‘a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds… and on what is left our environment in Haiti.’

While Monsanto is known for being among the world’s largest purveyors of genetically modified seeds, the corporation’s spokespeople have emphasized that this particular donation is of conventional hybrid seeds as opposed to GMO seeds. Yet for many of Haiti’s peasants, this distinction is of little comfort.

‘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,’ explains Bazelais Jean-Baptiste, an agronomist from the MPP who is currently directing the ‘Seeds for Haiti’ project in New York City.

‘Furthermore, these seeds require expensive inputs of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that Haiti’s farmers simply cannot afford. This creates a devastating level of dependency and is a complete departure from the reality of Haiti’s peasants. Haitian peasants already have locally adapted seeds that have been developed over generations. What we need is support for peasants to access the traditional seeds that are already available.’

Netizens overwhelmingly appear to be saying that Monsanto's donation to Haiti may come with strings attached, with this post categorically stating:

Haitian social movements’ concern is not just about the dangers of the chemicals and the possibility of future GMOs imports. They claim that the future of Haiti depends on local production with local food for local consumption, in what is called food sovereignty. Monsanto's arrival in Haiti, they say, is a further threat to this.

Around the time of the planned demonstration against Monsanto, Twitter was abuzz – @RAMHaiti was especially vocal:

Big Day: Haiti peasant org Demonstrates against Monsanto today!!

Movement Paysan Papay organizes demonstration against Monsanto today in Hinche

Monsanto, what I've heard; genetically modified seeds, toxic pesticides, patents & lawsuits come w/ seeds, price increases @sbois76.

Haitian Peasant org is raising their voices today against Monsanto. Haitian GOVT is working with Monsanto

Google Monsanto. It seems they develop dependencies, then raise prices and bring lawsuits,Toxic pesticides, etc @Saramouche

I'm hearing 10 thousand people at Haiti's anti Monsanto demonstration

Another Twitter user, @HaitiRewired, posted a link directing tweeple to “some really interesting and informed conversation about hybrid seeds in Haiti”.

Bloggers were also putting in their two cents’ worth. A Haitian woman, Elsie, who lives in Paris, comments on her blog:

Aux lendemains du tremblement de terre, toutes les stars y sont allées de leur petit chèque, un petit million par ci, deux par là, histoire de se donner bonne conscience et se faire une super promo aux yeux du monde. Puis, quelques jours plus tard, plus rien, tout le monde a oublié les habitants. A part peut-être la multinationale Monsanto, qui vient d’offrir 476 tonnes de semences aux agriculteurs haïtiens. Un geste solidaire et gratuit ? Vu le passé de l’entreprise, on se doute que non…

In the aftermath of the earthquake, all the stars have gone there [to Haiti] with their little check here and their little million there…just to keep a clear conscience and be a great promo in the eyes of the world. Then, a few days later, nothing, everyone has forgotten the people. Except perhaps the multinational Monsanto, which recently offered 476 tonnes of seeds to farmers in Haiti. A gesture of solidarity and free of charge? Considering the the company's history, we don't think so…

She goes one step further in this post, uploading a video and calling Monsanto's offer a “deadly gift”. Post demonstration, she congratulates the Haitian farmers on their resolve and applauds everyone who supported them [Fr]; The Haitian Blogger, meanwhile, publishes a fact sheet about Monsanto's donation in a post titled “Haitian farmers’ epic struggle for survival”.

Diaspora blogger Ezili Danto puts it quite simply:

Colonization of Haiti food and seeds is not earthquake relief.

@RAMHaiti echoes her position, saying in a recent tweet:

Were Haitian farmers at the table when someone decided to change the Haitian economy? Are they at the table now?

The discussion continues on Facebook.

16 comments

  • Sean

    We, too, should congratulate the Haitian farmers on their commitment to poverty and continued willing victimization at the hands of nature.

    • Dan

      Be victimised at the hands of the Monsanto Corporation rather than by nature? They’re between the devil and the deep blue sea I think.

  • […] AKTUALIZACJA (6.08.2010): kompilacja głosów dotyczących oporu Haitańczyków na GlobalVoicesOnline. […]

  • Haveityourway

    While the people of Haiti are suffering.. all this multinational company can think of doing is creating a modern day sharecropping system. Although they are impoverished now at least with the right direction, they can be ushered out of their poor state using their own resources (no matter how scant they are). Yet if monsanto corporation came in they’d steal away for what little market they had for God know’s long. In fact it would make them even poorer as they would have to not only invest in the seed but the pesticides that make it grow. I commend the Haitian people for protesting.

  • Sam (NZ)

    This is a fantastic story, it seems to confirm Klein’s “Shock Doctrine” (even though I’ve never read that book, I assume that’s the gist of it). There is a financial problem regarding the dependence on Monsanto products that Haiti’s farmers would apparently develop if they accepted the seeds, however it’s more than possible that that was an oversight by Monsanto. I do believe that big companies sometimes do want to do the “right thing”. I’ve yet to see any negative effects of GM food, I’ve only seen benefits. A lot of people don’t seem to realise that the exogenous genes placed into the main organism are themselves organic, and not genes created in some dystopian laboratory by evil people. However, it’s Haiti’s land and if they don’t want it then that’s their prerogative.

  • […] Полный вариант статьи на английском языке здесь […]

  • Nye

    I’ve been following the Monsanto debacle in the United States, and it is truly a very sad state of affairs. Farmers have become dependent on Monsanto seed, they are extremely strict about NOT letting the farmers save seed for the following season, etc.

    Monsanto was NOT intending any “help” for the Haitian people. I think it is disgusting and insulting that they would try to take advantage of them.

    I am so proud of Haiti for having the good sense not to go for the immediate reward, and avoiding putting the invisible shackles on their own wrists.

  • Kay

    Good for Haiti. I am so proud of you. Lessons should be learnt from the peasant farmers in India who were victims of the terminator gene in Monsanto’s genetically enginered cotton which left the farmers in millions of rupees in debt that many committed suicide as a means of escape. Vandana Shiva has well documented this in her documentaries and books India divided and stolen harvest. Or what about the Canadian Percy Schmiser and the destruction of his livelihood when he refused to submit to Monsanto’s bullying as to his refusal to use their genetically modified canola. The empirical evidence is clear that all Monsanto has to offer is exploitation, hardship and dependency masquerading as altruism.

  • seeds that do not produce seeds? a nightmare. monsanto is an evil corporation.

  • Sam

    Really? If that’s the case then the farmers are right not to buy it. You can’t call Monsanto an evil corporation though. It might not look good, but the people who work for Monsanto aren’t bad people. They’re in the business of profit-maximisaton. If want people to be mad at then be mad at self-serving bureaucrats, instead of a corporation that’s pursuing good business opportunities. Won’t be hard to find some.

  • “profit maximization” is patriarchy-speak for exploiting Mother Earth and her people.

    • Sam

      Come on Lynn, you must be joking. Yes, companies have and are destroying the environment and this needs to be stopped. But these companies and their goods/services (and they are their resources because they have the capital and capital goods to extract them) have actually been for the benefit of people lucky enough to live developing countries. Poor nations are poor due to lack of investment and benefits from these big companies, not because of big companies themselves. Basic economic theory can’t be excluded from the environmental debate.

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