"We're for seeds that have never been touched by multinationals. In our advocacy, we say that seeds are the patrimony of humanity. No one can control them," said Doudou Pierre, national coordinating committee member of the National Haitian Network for Food Sovereignty and Food Security (RENHASSA), in a recent interview. "We reject Monsanto and their GMOs. GMOs would be the extermination of our people."
A march is being held in Haiti today for World Environment Day, called by at least four major national peasant organizations and one international one. The march's purpose is to protest the new arrival of Monsanto seeds. The day's slogans include, "Long live native seeds" and "Down with Monsanto. Down with GMO and hybrid seeds."
Several U.S. organizations are planning simultaneous events to protest the entry of the controversial multinational in Haiti.
Last month, Haitian citizens learned the news that the giant agribusiness Monsanto will be "donating" 60,000 seed sacks (475 tons) of hybrid corn seeds and vegetable seeds. While the seeds are free this year, peasant organizations see a Trojan horse, with Monsanto seeking to gain a foothold in the Haitian market. Hybrid seeds typically do not regenerate, so that farmers would have to buy them again each year, and they generally require large quantities of fertilizer and pesticides (two products that also fill Monsanto's annual coffers). And while the Ministry of Agriculture rejected Monsanto's offer of genetically modified [GMO] seeds this year because Haiti does not have a law regulating their use, there may follow a push to get GMOs approved, in which case Monsanto would be well-positioned. Moreover, the Calypso tomato seeds contain the pesticide Thiram, whose chemical ingredient is so toxic that the Environmental Protection Agency has banned it for home use in the U.S. (For more information, see "Haitian Farmers Commit to Burning Monsanto Hybrid Seeds.")
Monsanto representative Kathleen Manning commented on Huffington Post on May 20, "It's disappointing to see people encouraging Haitian farmers to 'burn Monsanto seeds,' especially when the ones hurt by that action will be Haitian farmers and the Haitian people--not those of us watching on the sidelines."
Yet the call to burn the seeds is based on a strong commitment of the Haitian peasant movement to food and seed sovereignty, which is the ability of local farmers to support themselves with local seeds for local consumption. Amongst the thousands of peasant organizations which exist among millions of peasant farmers, from village-level groups to national networks, food and seed sovereignty is a key principle. It has formed the basis of their national advocacy since the catastrophic January 12 earthquake. The lynchpin of the reconstruction model that small farmers and many other sectors advocate is developing the country's agricultural potential. This would provide stable employment for the 60% to 80% of the population who are small farmers. It would improve prospects for food security, with an increase in consumption of domestic crops replacing the current dependence on imports, which now compose 57% of food consumed. Critical elements in strengthening peasant production include: government investment in agriculture, including technical support; the procurement of local food by USAID and other international agencies' food aid programs, instead of the products of foreign agribusiness; and restriction on the dumping of foreign food and seeds.
Doudou Pierre said, "If Haiti isn't sovereign with its food, if the government doesn't promote national production, we'll just always be opening our mouths to seeds and food aid so multinationals can make money off of us. We're for family agriculture which respects the environment." The coalition which Doudou Pierre co-coordinates represents 54 organizations from different sectors and regions throughout Haiti.
Below are some of the U.S.-based events which will protest the Monsanto seeds today. Also below are a few of numerous U.S. initiatives which are helping Haitian farmers get organic, creole seeds.
AGRA Watch in Seattle plans a march today which will end outside the Gates Foundation office. AGRA stands for A Green Revolution in Africa, which is a multinational corporation-driven, GMO-driven program now being launched in Africa. The Gates Foundation has been a key promoter of AGRA. The group says, "The dumping of toxic seeds in Haiti is the latest in a series of unsustainable solutions that Monsanto has pushed on farmers around the world. If the Gates Foundation wants to support a truly sustainable agricultural system in Africa, they must divorce themselves from Monsanto. Haitian farmers and African farmers have said NO! to corporate control of their food systems. The Gates Foundation and AGRA must say no to Monsanto."
Rising in Solidarity with Ayiti in Chicago urges, "From Haiti to Chicago, reclaim our right to control our food and sovereignty!" Today a group of urban farmers and community members will join in a rally to burn GMO seeds in protest of Monsanto's "donation" to Haiti. Participants in the event will also plant organic and heirloom seeds, and sign letters to USAID to protest the distribution of Monsanto's seeds in Haiti. The event will also feature testimonials about the lack of access to food security, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables, in neighborhoods in Chicago, and how this connects to the right to food sovereignty in Haiti.
Community Action for Justice in the Americas, Africa, Asia, in Missoula, is hosting a protest this evening. "Bring posters, signs, or just come. Wear black /white, or lab coats, dust masks, goggles or Tyvek suits or creative costume! Bring drums, pots & pans..." A personal email from a member of the group says, "The people in Missoula, Montana are paying attention and taking action for farmers in Haiti."
The Organic Consumers Association's network sent more than 10,000 emails to USAID and President Obama. Two dozen members have donated to the Seeds for Haiti project.
A coalition of U.S. churches and foundations are supporting Fondation FONDAMA, a Haitian federation of farmers and local NGOs. The coalition has sent down several million dollars to purchase 86,000 kilos of local corn seed and 59,000 kilos of local pea seeds. (Seeds are available in Haiti, but small farmers have not had the money to buy them.) All of the farmers who belong to member organizations in Foundation FONDAMA have gotten seeds, allowing them to proceed with planting their spring crop. The donations have also purchased 13,300 machetes and 9,200 hoes. The U.S. coalition has, moreover, sent a Massachusetts farmer to the village of Papay for today's march, and will host the leader of the Peasant Movement of Papay in New York and Washington for public, media, and Congressional meetings next week.
Like numerous other supportive groups in the U.S., Groundswell International's approach to seed sovereignty in Haiti pre-dates Monsanto's announcement. Through its Haitian partner Partnership for Local Development, Groundswell is strengthening the capacity of peasant organizations in Haiti to sustainably improve their agricultural production, income generation, food security, health, and natural resources management. A Groundswell staffperson writes, "A key thing we'll be working on is trying to promote the alternative, which is Haitian production of 100% of their seeds so they don't need imports."
 Extension Toxicology Network, Pesticide Information Project of the Cooperative Extension Offices of Cornell University, Michigan State University, Oregon State University, and University of California at Davis, http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/extoxnet/pyrethrins-ziram/thiram-ext.html. Monsanto denies that Thiram contains the toxic chemical ethylene bisdithiocarbamates (EBDCs).
Beverly Bell has worked with Haitian social movements for over 30 years. She is also author of the book Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance. She coordinates Other Worlds, www.otherworldsarepossible.org, which promotes social and economic alternatives. She is also associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.