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.’
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.
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…
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: