Letter to Monsanto about its “Gift” to Haitian Farmers

American journalist Peter Costantini, who has followed Haitian history for years, has written a letter to the multinational company Monsanto to revisit their gift of chemically and genetically modified seeds to Haiti, which has raised objections from Haitian farmers. In an open letter to the CEO of Monsanto, Hugh Grant, Seattle Times journalist invites the industry to take steps to understand that this gift does not correspond to the needs of Haiti’s farmers and agricultural development. See excerpts with a link to the full letter (published by The Huffington Post) below:

As you are no doubt aware, your offer to donate hybrid corn and vegetable seeds has stirred up quite a controversy in Haiti. I’d like to call your attention to an article I wrote on this issue recently for Inter Press Service.

[. . .] During my time in Haiti, I encountered large, sophisticated organizations of peasant farmers there that were very happy to talk to me. And there are plenty of smart, experienced Haitian agronomists and economists who are in intimate contact with realities in the fields. [Here, Constantini provides information on important groups such as Mouvman Peyizan Papay (MPP – Peasant Movement of Papaye) and Plateforme Haïtienne de Plaidoyer pour un Développement Alternatif (PAPDA – H-aitian Platform to Argue for Alternative Development) and provides documents crucial to understanding Haiti’s experiences with agricultural policies, such as Haiti’s Piggy Bank, A Future for Agriculture, a Future for Haiti, Aiding Haiti: Let’s get it right this time and A Rapid Seed Assessment in the Southern Department of Haiti.]

[. . .] Bill Clinton recently apologized before the U.S. Senate for the U.S. trade and aid policies that led to the destruction of Haiti’s capacity to feed itself. Monsanto is a charter member of the industrial-agricultural complex that has long driven those policies in the U.S. government and international institutions, exploiting every opening to break down local agriculture and open the floodgates for subsidized U.S. products and technologies. The large-scale export agriculture model imposed on Haiti then seems to be exactly what you are promoting with the donation of hybrid seeds. Or can you propose a way Haitian farmers could use them that would not ultimately end up costing most of them more than they can afford and driving them off the land?

Unfortunately, Monsanto’s own corporate history doesn’t inspire a lot of trust, and Haitian farmers are not alone in their skepticism of your model and embrace of alternatives. Beginning with its production of the carcinogenic defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, Monsanto has been a lightning rod for criticisms by environmental, agricultural and public-health groups. In a more recent example, your company reportedly provided the potent herbicide Roundup Ultra to the U.S. government for anti-drug fumigation efforts in Colombia, drawing criticism from community and human rights groups there that the chemical destroys their food crops, poisons their water, and has led to increases in cancer and birth defects.

Your lawsuits against small farmers who protest that their fields have been contaminated by neighboring Roundup Ready GMO crops have not made you a lot of friends. Monsanto’s genetically modified alfalfa has been challenged all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, with mixed results, and will no doubt face further opposition.

Perhaps you’d like to put all this behind you. So would small farmers around the world, who can’t afford to forget that history because it frequently comes back to bite them.

The peasant organizations at the demonstration in Hinche weren’t simply rejecting your model of agriculture: they are proposing an integrated one of their own. After burning the batch of Monsanto seeds, they handed out native Creole seeds to the farmers there. Haitian small farmers have centuries of experience breeding and saving seeds that grow well in the Haitian climate and their own local ecosystems. To measure their value, you have to take into account the environmental, economic and social externalities that imported hybrid seeds, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides often introduce. To increase their productivity, Haitian farmers need virtually everything except imported seeds: hand tools, locally produced fertilizer, machinery, livestock, irrigation, storage and processing facilities, roads to get their products to market, and reforestation to reduce flooding. From a macroeconomic point of view, Haiti desperately needs to grow its domestic markets and suppliers, not import new products, such as your seeds, that they previously produced themselves.

[. . .] If Bill Clinton can apologize for his role in destroying the capacity of Haiti to feed itself, can you take a cue from him and reverse your course in Haiti before Monsanto compounds the damage?

For full letter, see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/crossover-dreams/an-open-letter-on-haitian_b_635751.html

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