Thanks, Monsanto (I Think)

Thanks, Monsanto (I Think)

In May 2010, in response to the earthquake in Haiti, Monsanto announced a $4 million hybrid-seed donation in coordination with the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture. As reported on Monsanto’s website, the multinational corporation offered “specific non-GMO seed varieties and quantities suited for Haiti’s growing conditions.” Monsanto also acknowledged that the “donated seeds would have fungicide treatments,” and that it will coordinate with USAID and the Earth Institute for distribution and to help “farmers decide whether to use additional inputs (including fertilizer and herbicides) and … how to handle next year’s planting season.” The list of donated seeds included corn, cabbage, carrot, eggplant, melon, onion, tomato, spinach, and watermelon.

Shortly after the donation was announced, several thousand farmers took to the streets in the town of Hinche to protest. Spokesman Chavannes Jean-Baptiste told the Inter Press Service that the farmers were defending “native seeds and the rights of peasants on their land. … Fighting hybrid and GMO seeds is critical to save our diversity and our agriculture.” Monsanto responded with a news release to clarify that no GMO seed varieties were part of the donation and to document how closely they worked with Haiti’s Ministry of Agriculture.

There is no doubt, in the short term, Haitian farmers have benefitted from Monsanto’s generosity. Hunger is a pervasive problem, and hybrid varieties of seeds have vastly increased crop yields around the world. (In 2006, Monsanto made a similar donation of hybrids to Malawi, and the country now registers grain surpluses of 500,000 to 800,000 tons.)

The problem is that hybrid seeds are designed to degenerate after each season, so farmers who accept Monsanto’s gift won’t be able to save seeds after harvest and will soon be forced to buy additional seeds, and perhaps fertilizers and herbicides from the company every year. There are no real gift seeds from Monsanto, only marketing promotions. It’s devilish. Once you accept, they own your soil.

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