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Haitian farmers reject Monsanto’s seeds of destruction

Published Jun 17, 2010 8:23 PM

Agribusiness giant Monsanto’s profits have been slipping recently, so it saw the recent earthquake in Haiti as a chance to expand its market for the seed-fertilizer-herbicide package it sells.

Hundreds of thousands of people — no precise figures are available — fled the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, after the Jan. 12 earthquake to take shelter with friends and family, mainly small farmers and peasants, in rural areas of Haiti. Farmers had a hard choice — feed their families the grain they had saved for the next planting, or see their families starve.

Now, when the time has come to plant for the next harvest, they are short of seeds. Monsanto offered to donate 475 tons of corn seed and two tons of seeds from a variety of vegetables. This “gift” was made under the framework of the WINNER project (Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources), an operation the United States Agency for International Development set up after the hurricanes in 2009 to “improve” the productivity of Haitian agriculture.

Monsanto denied that its corn seeds were genetically modified, claiming that they were just a hybrid produced for tropical climates. Haiti’s minister of agriculture said genetically modified organisms are not against the law in Haiti because the country has no laws concerning them.

Jean-Yves Urfié, a former professor of chemistry at the Collège Saint Martial in Port-au-Prince, claims that Monsanto has already distributed seeds in the Haitian areas of Gonaïves, Kenscoff, Pétionville, Cabaret, Arcahaie and Croix-des-Bouquets et Mirebalais. He and others have pointed out that the Monsanto seeds require Monsanto herbicides and fertilizers as well as well-prepared fields. (www.labreche.ch)

Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the leader of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP), told Via Campesina, “It is a new earthquake, more dangerous in the long term than the one that took place Jan. 12. ... It is a strong attack against our agriculture, peasants, biodiversity and Creole seeds, which we are defending and which must remain our environment.” Jean-Baptiste accused the Haitian government of profiting from the earthquake to sell the country to imperialism and transnational companies.

On June 4 more than 10,000 peasants gathered in Hinche, a small city in central Haiti, and burned Monsanto seeds at a rally called by the MPP. The Haitian Times reported that demonstrators chanted, “Down with [Haitian President René] Préval!” “Keep Monsanto out of Haiti!” and occasionally “Down with the occupation!”

Monsanto made its reputation producing Agent Orange, which poisoned hundreds of thousands of people in Vietnam. According to the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in 400,000 deaths and disabilities and birth defects among 500,000 children.

Monsanto’s representative in Haiti is Jean-Robert Estimé, who is also the in-country director of the WINNER project. He was Haiti’s foreign minister under Jean-Claude Duvalier in the 1980s, when USAID “convinced” the Haitian government to wipe out the Creole pigs indigenous to Haiti because they might be infected with the swine flu virus, which could spread to the U.S.

The replacement pigs from Iowa were ecologically and economically unviable — they got sunburned and required expensive feed and clean water. According to exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s book, “Eyes of the Heart,” the campaign cost Haitian peasants $600 million and led to a 30 percent drop in enrollment in rural schools, since parents could no longer sell pigs to pay school fees.