Haitian Farmers Raise Cane over Monsato

Chavanne Jean-Baptiste, of the Peasant Movement of Papay

Organic food.  Does the phrase conjure images of high-priced specialty items being served to privileged suburbanites?  For some reason, this is the image purveyed in the media.  The idea is that you would have to be both rich and out of touch to dream of the luxury of food grown without toxic chemicals.  Except this is how most of the world has always done it, and many are now fighting like mad to keep doing it that way.

Truthout.org recently ran an article about Haitian farmers planning to burn “aid” in the form of Monsato seeds. Some of these seeds carry chemical coatings so toxic that in this country, the EPA requires workers who handle them to wear special protective clothing.   Sam Smith, a 74-year-old farmer from Massachusetts visited Haiti, observed the seed-burning, and shared his thoughts on a blog devoted to Haitian issues.  Since Monsanto has been pushing for market share in Haiti for years, and since seed supply was not impacted by the earthquake, Smith says farmers are asking:

“What was the purpose and meaning the gift at this time? Did not Monsanto know that we had a sufficient supply of our own seed for the coming planting season, seed that is our cherished inheritance as well as appropriate – unlike Monsanto’s foreign, hybrid cultivars –to our diverse soil habitats and subsistence, agricultural infrastructure? And, if indeed, we were to plant the hybrid seeds, what would we do with our own indigenous seeds – the seeds that we saved from the previous harvest – other than sell them for food or let them rot?”

Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, of the Peasant Movement of Papay, notes that, “To impact climate change, we have to change the mode of agricultural production. Peasants around the world are very vigilant about this. In Haiti, we have an advantage, which is that the majority of peasants grow only organically….. All our public positions are clearly against genetically modified seeds and against agro-fuels. We’re in a heated battle against the introduction of GM [genetically modified] seeds.”

Why, among all the issues facing Haiti, is the question of seeds so important?  Jean-Baptiste explains:

What we need is for us, the peasant organizations, to manage the food question. Our agenda is agricultural production that includes cattle raising, integrated water management, production of organic insecticides and fertilizer. We will continue with these but we will have to make some changes in our immediate priorities because right now we’re dealing with an exodus from the city, people we need to feed and take care of.

We need to establish seed banks and have silos where we can store our Creole seeds. Local, organic seeds is part of our base of food sovereignty. We have a danger today from countries in the Americas, especially the U.S., Brazil, and Argentina where Monsanto has already developed big farms to produce genetically modified seeds. If they start sending these seeds into Haiti, that  is the death of peasants, who since independence more than 200 years ago have protected their seeds. It’s urgent that Haitians buy local seeds.

Haitians recognize that in the earthquake-hit regions, there is a persistent and urgent need for food aid, and that perhaps not all of it can be immediately locally purchased. Yet, they are fighting for their lives to keep Monsato and other opportunistic big-business models out of their agriculture. To develop genuine food sovereignty–the right not just to eat but to control what they eat and the means of getting it. This is a good model for us all to be working for.

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