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Haitian Peasants March Against Monsanto Company for Food and Seed Sovereignty

On June 4th about ten thousand Haitian peasants marched to protest US-based Monsanto Company's 'deadly gift' of seed to the government of Haiti. The march was seven kilometers from Papaye to Hinche, in a rural area on the central plateau, and was organized by several Haitian rural social movements that are proposing a development model based on food and seed sovereignty instead of industrial agriculture. Slogans for the march included "long live native maize seed" and "Monsanto's GMO & hybrid seed violate peasant agriculture."

The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. About 65 percent of Haiti's population lives in rural areas and are subsistence farmers. On January 12 2010, a devastating earthquake leveled Haiti's capital city Port au Prince, and 800,000 urban refugees migrated to rural areas. According to Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, coordinator of the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP) and a member of La Via Campesina's international coordinating committee, "there is presently a shortage of seed in Haiti because many rural families used their maizeseed to feed refugees."

With sales of $11.7 billion in 2009, US-based transnational corporation (TNC) Monsanto Company is the world's largest seed company, controlling one-fifth of the global proprietary seed market and 90 percent of seed patents from agricultural biotechnology. In May Monsanto announced that it had delivered 60 tons of hybrid seed maizeand vegetables to Haiti, and over 400 tons of its seed (worth $4 million) will be delivered during 2010 to 10,000 farmers. The TNC United Parcel Service is providing transport logistics, While Winner, a $127 million project funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and focused on "agricultural intensification", is distributing the seed.1 According to Monsanto, the decision to donate seed to Haiti was decided at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: "CEO Hugh Grant and Executive Vice President Jerry Steiner attended the event and had conversations with attendees about what could be done to help Haiti."2 It is unclear whether any Haitians were included in the conversations in Davos.

Some have charged that the Monsanto representative in Haiti is Jean-Robert Estimé, who served as foreign minister during the brutal 29-year Duvalier family dictatorship.3 While Monsanto vehemently denies this claim4, Estimé is included in an email exchange about the donation between Elizabeth Vancil, Director of Global Development Partnerships at Monsanto and Emmanuel Prophete, a Haitian agronomist working for the Minister of Agriculture.5 The domain for Estimé's email address is for Winner (www.winner.ht).6

Many Haitians consider Monsanto's seed donation to be part of a broader strategy of US economic and political imperialism. "The Haitian government is using the earthquake to sell the country to the multinationals," stated Jean-Baptiste. Vancil stated that opening up Haitian markets to Monsanto's products "would be good."7

Monsanto is emphasizing that the donated seed is hybrid and not genetically-modified (GM)8. However, hybrid seed will not increase Haitian farmers' food sovereignty or self-reliance; Monsanto acknowledges that they will be unable to save seed to plant in the future9, and that although the seed is being provided free of charge, farmers will pay for it. "Providing an outright donation of seed would undercut one of the basic pieces of Haiti's agricultural and economic infrastructure," says Monsanto10, which is donating the seed to the government to sell to farmers. Winner is distributing the seed through farmer association stores, which will use the revenue to reinvest in other inputs, and help "farmers decide whether to use additional inputs (including fertilizer and herbicides) and how to handle next year's planting season." 11

Haiti's agricultural sector has already been decimated by US interference. In 1991, Jean Bertrande Aristide, Haiti's first democratically-elected president, was removed in a US-supported military coup. As a condition for his return, the US, IMF and World Bank required that Aristide open up Haiti to free trade. Tariffs on rice (Haiti's staple grain) were reduced from 35% to 3%, government funding was diverted away from agricultural development to the nation's foreign debt, and subsidized rice from Arkansas (it was the Clinton administration) flooded the Haitian market. Haitian rice farmers were decimated12, and today almost all of the rice consumed in Haiti is imported. Sacks marked 'US Rice' are everywhere in the markets and neighborhood stores, on peoples' heads and the backs of mules.

The US is now undermining Haiti's food system from the ground. A letter from the Haitian Minister of Agriculture to Monsanto implies that GM seed may have been offered in addition to hybrid. "In the absence of a law regulating the use of genetically-modified organisms (GMO) in Haiti, I am not at liberty to authorize the use of Roundup Ready seed or any other GMO material," stated Juanas Gue, Haitian Minister of Agriculture, in a letter to Monsanto13, which has already proven the length it will go to open new markets in developing countries for its GM seed and toxic chemicals. In 2005, Monsanto was found guilty by the US government of bribing high-level Indonesian officials to legalize GM cotton. Evidence indicates that in Brazil in 2004, Monsanto sold a farm to a senator for one-third of its value in exchange for his work to legalize glyphosate, the world's most widely used herbicide (sold by the corporation as Roundup).14

According to Paulo Almeida, 31, a member of the Brazilian Movement of Landless Rural Workers who has been in Haiti since 2009 on a solidarity brigade organized by Via Campesina-Brasil, Monsanto also encouraged Brazilian farmers to illegally plant Roundup Ready soybeans. "They want to implant the technological package of the Green Revolution, which isn't possible here in Haiti. There is no way to survive with monoculture here."