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

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms 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.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month
More

Pope's Relatives Killed in Argentina Car Crash

Family of pontiff's nephew killed after car plows into truck
More

Ex-Guatemalan Drug Kingpin Pleads Guilty to US Charges

Waldemar Lorenzana Lima, linked by authorities to Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel, pleaded guilty to conspiring to import more than 450 kilograms of Colombian cocaine into US
More

Landmark Brazil Poll Brings Good News for Rousseff

Facing tough road to re-election, Rousseff has seen sharp recovery in approval ratings, voter support
More

Video Mexico Opens Energy Sector, but Investors May Hesitate

Mexican President Pena Nieto has signed into law changes designed to open it to private investment, though foreign companies are taking cautious approach
More

Video Obama Expected to Take Executive Action on Undocumented Immigrants

Congress has adjourned for a five-week recess without boosting federal funds to house and process child migrants - or reforming US immigration law
More