(Beyond Pesticides, September 1, 2011) In an exclusive Beyond Pesticides’ interview in Mirebalais, Haiti (in the central plateau region of the country) on August 26, 2011 with the head of Haiti’s Mouvman Peyizan Papay [MPP] (Peasant Movement of Papay), a 200,000 member strong organization of small farmers, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste calls for support of food sovereignty in his earthquake-torn country and an end to efforts by Monsanto and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to advance chemical-intensive agriculture in Haiti. Mr. Chavannes and his organization led a protest of 10,000 peasant farmers in 2010 during which they burned Monsanto seed that was donated and being distributed by USAID’s Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources (WINNER) Program.
At the time the seeds were being distributed in 2010, Mr. Jean-Baptiste said Monsanto’s donation is an effort to shift farmer dependence to more expensive hybrid varieties from traditional seeds and will harm the island-nation’s agriculture. He called the donation a new earthquake. Haitian farmers and small growers traditionally save seed from season to season or buy the seed they desire from traditional seed markets, and, as he points out, have been doing this for 200 years.
Monsanto says that it donated “more than $4 million worth of conventional corn and vegetable seeds to be made over the next 12 months [through 2010] in support of reconstruction efforts.” According to Monsanto, the donated seeds include corn, cabbage, carrot, eggplant, melon, onion, tomato, spinach and watermelon. The hybrid corn seeds are treated with the fungicide Maxim XL, which is comprised of fludioxonil and mefenoxam. Other vegetable seeds were treated with thiram, a neurological, reproductive and thyroid toxicant, mutagen and skin sensitizer. The USAID WINNER program was responsible for distributing the seeds through farmer association stores where they were then sold to farmers at a significantly reduced price. Mr. Jean-Baptiste said that the Ministry of Agriculture has been unwilling to share any information with him on specifics of the seed.
In the interview, Mr. Jean-Baptiste voiced concern that the efforts of Monsanto and USAID were undermining traditional, organic peasant agriculture, while advancing a form of industrial agriculture that relies on seeds that require synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. He identified farmers who had used the Monsanto seeds without the synthetic fertilizer that was provided. The yields and quality of the corn were diminished, according to the farmers interviewed.
Mr. Jean-Baptiste expresses a strong belief that peasant organic agriculture is the only form of agriculture that can feed Haiti and the world and fight global climate change. He points to university studies in Europe and the U.S. and the position of the United Nations as additional support for his position.
MPP was founded in 1973 and is Haiti’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to work toward social justice and improving the quality of life in the country. Among the organization’s goals are to improve the environment and soil so that Haiti can regain its food sovereignty and contribute to an efficient management of natural resources such as water, forests, and seeds. For more information or to donate to help the farmers of Haiti, go to mpphaiti.org.