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

Anti-Terror Drills Highlight China’s Push Into Central Asia

China, Russia, several central Asian countries wrap up massive anti terrorism military drills in Inner Mongolia More

Erdogan’s First Step: Secure More Power in New Role in Turkey

Erdogan was sworn in as Turkey's first popularly elected president on Thursday; he picked former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu as PM More

Pakistan Army Fails to Break Political Deadlock

PM Sharif claims he didn't ask army to defuse crisis; military rejects claim 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.
Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assaulti
X
Daniel Schearf
August 29, 2014 9:30 PM
After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Shortage-weary Venezuelans Scoff at Fingerprinting Plan for Food Sales

Proposal sparks backlash ranging from violent street protests to social media campaigns ridiculing the idea
More

Rescuers Contact 20 Miners Trapped in Nicaragua Gold Mine

Two miners have been rescued, others are believed to be alive
More

Brazil Enters Recession in Pre-election Blow to Rousseff

Experts say left-leaning policies have dented consumer and business confidence and caused heavy losses for financial investors
More

Peru Drug Bust Seizes Record 6.5 Tons of Cocaine

Police arrest 7 Peruvians, 2 Mexicans suspected of trying to smuggle load to Europe as coal
More

New Brazil Poll Shows Silva Beating Rousseff in Runoff

Outcome seemed unimaginable just a few weeks ago; would put an end to 12 years of Workers' Party rule
More

Argentina Desires Deal Grouping All Holdout Investors Together

A deal is now not seen likely before next year's October presidential election, in which Fernandez cannot run
More