The Peasant Movement of Papay, a group of Haitian farmers, has committed to burning 60,000 seed sacks (475 tons) of hybrid corn and vegetable seeds donated by Monsanto in the wake of the devastating earthquake earlier this year.
Peasant Movement of Papay leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste called Monsanto’s donation “a new earthquake” and called for a march to protest the corporation’s presence in Haiti for World Environment Day.
The National Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papay sent an open letter on May 14 signed by Jean-Baptiste. The letter called Monsanto’s presence in Haiti, “a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds…, and on what is left of our environment in Haiti.”
In addition to MPNKP and MPP, other Haitian social movements have advocated in opposition to agribusiness imports of seeds and food. The groups have expressed strong concern regarding the importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as they undermine local production of local seed stocks.
Haitian law does not prohibit the use of GMOs within the country, but the Ministry of Agriculture rejected Monsanto’s offer to donate Roundup Ready seeds. As a result of these actions, a representative from Monsanto responded to the Ministry of Agriculture via email to assure that donated seeds would not be GMO.
Monsanto is internationally known for aggressively pushing its seed products, specifically GMO seeds. The use of seeds also usually includes highly restrictive technology agreements between the company and farmers, who groups opposed to the use of GMOs claim are not always fully made aware of what they are signing. GMO-opposed groups claim that by signing these agreements, small farmers are forced to buy Monsanto seeds each year under conditions they often find onerous and at high costs that they cannot afford.
The corn seed product Monsanto donated to Haiti has been treated with the fungicide Maxim XO, while the calypso tomato seeds were treated with thiram. Thiram is a highly toxic chemical belonging to the ethylene bisdithiocarbamates (EBDCs) class. Upon U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tests on the EBDC’s, the EPA deemed any EBDC-treated plants so dangerous to agricultural workers, that they are now mandated to wear protective clothing when handling them.
The EPA ruled that pesticides that contain thiram must have a special warning label. In addition, the EPA also banned marketing of aforementioned chemicals for home garden products as it is assumed that most home gardeners do not own adequately protective clothing.
Social movements in Haiti consider the offer from Monsanto detrimental to the local economy. “People in the U.S. need to help us produce, not give us food and seeds. They’re ruining our chance to support ourselves,” said farmer Jonas Deronzil of a peasant cooperative in the rural region of Verrettes.
Monsanto has been criticized for its role in environmental, health, and farming ills. The company’s Agent Orange caused cancer in a large number of U.S. Veterans. The Vietnamese government claims that 400,000 of their citizens were either killed or disabled as a result of Agent Orange, while 500,000 children were born with birth defects as a result of exposure.
Seed giants Syngenta, Dupont and Bayer, and Monsanto control more than half of the world’s seed patents. Monsanto retains almost 650 seed patents, most of which are for cotton, corn, and soy. The company also owns almost 30 percent of the share of all biotechnology research and development.
“Fighting hybrid and GMO seeds is critical to save our diversity and our agriculture,” Jean-Baptiste said in an interview in February. “We have the potential to make our lands produce enough to feed the whole population and even to export certain products. The policy we need for this to happen is food sovereignty, where the county has a right to define it own agricultural policies, to grow first for the family and then for local market, to grow healthy food in a way which respects the environment and Mother Earth.”