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Taking a Stand for Seed Freedom in Puerto Rico

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our All About Organics page.

The Puerto Rico movement for organic farming and food sovereignty is barely getting off the ground as this Caribbean island nation has hardly any agriculture to speak of. Smaller than the US state of Connecticut, Puerto Rico is one of the most densely populated places in the world, and it imports at least 85% of the food its inhabitants consume.

But wait, it gets worse. The country's scarce farmlands are quickly falling like dominoes to urban sprawl, and more recently to "alternative" energy projects (more about that later). The vast majority of farming operations here are highly toxic, agrochemical-intensive, conventional monocultures. The island's southern plains, classified as prime agricultural lands, are dominated by half a dozen biotech corporations, including Monsanto, Syngenta and Dupont-Pioneer, which use them to produce genetically modified (GM) corn and soy seed for export.

And yet, Puerto Rico has a movement for organic agriculture and food sovereignty. The members of this fledgling and loosely organized movement do their modest, low key work in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and an outlook that could only cause cynicism and despair in most people. Writing for a number of independent media, I have documented the development of this movement for over a decade, even as I myself form part of it.

In October 2012 the movement's different fragments came together to participate in the Seed Freedom worldwide series of activities called for by Vandana Shiva between October 2, Gandhi's birthday, and October 16, world food sovereignty day. She and fellow organizers called for educational activities and direct actions during those two weeks all over the world in defense of seed, the basis of agricultural biodiversity, from the twin hazards of enclosure through patents and genetic contamination from GM varieties.

In Puerto Rico, Seed Freedom activities were coordinated by the Organización Boricuá de Agricultura Eco-Orgánica, a farmers' group that has been advocating for agroecological approaches since its founding in 1989. Several other groups chipped in, including the Puerto Rico Project on Biosafety and the Madre Tierra Organic Co-op. The activities kicked off with a talk by myself at the Madre Tierra Co-op's Sunday farmers' market, an institution that has been selling organic produce and educating consumers since its founding in 2001. In my presentation, which was very similar to the one I gave at the Occupy Monsanto activities in St. Louis the previous month I provided a political and historical context to the current global battle around GM crops and the patenting of seeds, basing myself on two of my most recent articles, "The Grand Botanical Chess Game" and "Seeds of Empire". As said before, this is part of a much broader research work on the geopolitics of seeds and genomes from a social ecology perspective.


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