News / Americas

Hungry Haitian Farmers Urged to Burn Donated US Seeds

Peasant group resists ties to multinational corporation

Farmers near Petit Guave, Haiti prepare the soil for planting.
Farmers near Petit Guave, Haiti prepare the soil for planting.

Multimedia

Audio

Haiti's farmers are being urged to burn seeds donated by U.S. agriculture giant Monsanto.

The American company donated $4 million worth of seeds to Haiti to help the country rebuild after January's devastating earthquake. The seeds promise to help farmers in the hungry nation increase the amount of food they can grow.

But the powerful Haitian peasant group that's telling farmers to burn the donations says the seeds will change the way most Haitian peasants farm, tying them to multinational corporations and threatening the environment.

It's the latest example of the worldwide ideological struggle over how to feed a hungry planet.

Even before the earthquake, more than half Haiti's population was undernourished. The earthquake forced hundreds of thousands of people out of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and into the rural areas. They arrived with nothing but their appetites, the Haitian saying goes, putting extra strain on rural farmers.

"The right thing to do"

"Monsanto made this donation, simply put, because it's the right thing to do," said company spokesman Darren Wallis. "The needs in Haiti are significant and we have seeds that could help farmers not only grow food for themselves but, with an ample harvest, significantly impact the food security of other Haitian citizens."

So it may come as a suprise that Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the head of Haiti's Peasant Movement of Papaye (abbreviated MPP in Creole), wants the seeds destroyed.

"We consider introducing poisonous seeds in our country as a major attack," he says. "We want to say clearly to Monsanto, the American government who supports the idea, as well as the Haitian government. We want them to hear the voice of the peasants who say no."

Not GMOs

Monsanto is perhaps best known for creating genetically modified crops, which draw fire from some environmental groups wherever they are introduced.

But the donated seeds are not genetically modified, says Christopher Abrams with the US Agency for International Development, which is helping to distribute them.

"The immediate association with genetically modified organisms versus what we were doing was unfortunately incorrect," he says. "But since then, it's created many, many opinions out there on what this means."

What it means, according to MPP chief Jean-Baptiste, is that, "Our farmers will stop being independent and rely on a multinational like Monsanto or any other multinationals that sell seeds."

Saving seeds vs. buying better seeds

Since the dawn of agriculture, farmers have saved seeds from the previous season to start the next crop.

That began to change in the early 20th century. Researchers developed new techniques to select crop varieties that produce especially large harvests, resistance to diseases or drought, or other valuable traits.  

The downside, however, is that the offspring of these varieties don't perform as well as their parents. So farmers have to buy new seeds every season.

It's a matter of weighing the pros and cons, says USAID's Abrams.

"If you have a good hybrid seed that works in Haiti that produces a good yield but it costs you a bit more on the front end, that becomes an economic choice that the farmer makes."

"Monsanto should have known"

While Abrams was surprised by the MPP's reaction, Robert Paarlberg, an agricultural policy expert at Wellesley College, was not.

"Monsanto probably should have known in advance that any gift of its hybrid seeds…would encounter resistance in Haiti, where activist leaders of this local peasant movement view Monsanto as an evil, alien multinational corporation," says Paarlberg.

He notes that the MPP is one of several grassroots organizations worldwide that opposes efforts encouraging farmers to use hybrid seeds and the nitrogen fertilizer that helps them perform at their peak.

He acknowledges that excessive fertilizer use has contributed to water pollution and other environmental problems in many parts of the world. But, he says, "Wherever farmers have refused to use hybrid seeds, their crop yields have remained much lower, and their income has remained much lower, and their access to food has remained much lower."

A matter of choice

"The trick is to make sure that farmers have a choice of either using their traditional varieties or, if they wish, using hybrid seed varieties," he adds.

Monsanto and USAID are offering that choice by making the seeds available through stores operated by Haitian farmers' associations. The stores sell the donated seeds at a discount and use the proceeds to buy supplies for the next season.

So farmers would have to buy the seeds before they could burn them in protest. Asked if he knew of any farmers who were burning Monsanto's donated seeds, the MPP's Jean-Baptiste said no, but he wishes they would.

You May Like

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Hurricane Cristobal Kills Four, Moves Toward Bermuda

Storm is not expected to threaten US, but could cause deadly surf and rip currents from Florida to North Carolina
More

Peru's Congress Narrowly OKs Humala's New Cabinet on 3rd Vote

Lawmakers ratify president's embattled cabinet after ruling party offers to suspend rule requiring independent workers to pay into a pension program
More

Brazil's Deadly Prison Riot Ends

Officials say two inmates were beheaded during the Cascavel riot; two others were thrown to their deaths from the roof, and police are investigating how a fifth inmate died
More

Amid Slowdown, Chileans Adjust to New Economic Reality

Most economists now predict overall growth in country's economy of between 2.0 and 2.5 percent this year, down from 4.1 percent in 2013
More

Video Yiddish Tango Reflects Jewish Life in Argentina

Jewish people from Europe, Russia who have emigrated to Argentina for hundreds of years have fused klezmer and Argentine tango, creating Yiddish tango
More

Magnitude 6.9 Earthquake Hits Peru

Peru's civil defense institute said there were no immediate reports of injuries or serious damage
More