by: Beverly Bell, t r u t h o u t | Report
Jonas Deronzil from Verrettes has been farming since 1974. Like small
producers throughout Haiti, his meager income from corn, rice and
beans is threatened by new competition from Monsanto.
“A new earthquake” is what peasant farmer leader Chavannes Jean-
Baptiste of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) called the news that
Monsanto will be donating 60,000 seed sacks (475 tons) of hybrid corn
seeds and vegetable seeds, some of them treated with highly toxic
pesticides. The MPP has committed to burning Monsanto’s seeds, and has
called for a march to protest the corporation’s presence in Haiti on
June 4, for World Environment Day.
In an open letter sent May 14, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the executive
director of MPP and the spokesperson for the National Peasant Movement
of the Congress of Papay (MPNKP), called the entry of Monsanto seeds
into Haiti “a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on
biodiversity, on Creole seeds … and on what is left our environment
in Haiti.”(1) Haitian social movements have been vocal in their
opposition to agribusiness imports of seeds and food, which undermines
local production with local seed stocks. They have expressed special
concern about the import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
For now, without a law regulating the use of GMOs in Haiti, the
Ministry of Agriculture rejected Monsanto’s offer of Roundup Ready
GMOs seeds. In an email exchange, a Monsanto representative assured
the Ministry of Agriculture that the seeds being donated are not GMOs.
Elizabeth Vancil, Monsanto’s director of development initiatives,
called the news that the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture approved the
donation “a fabulous Easter gift” in an April email.(2) Monsanto is
known for aggressively pushing seeds, especially GMOs seeds, in both
the global North and South, including through highly restrictive
technology agreements with farmers who are not always made fully aware
of what they are signing. According to interviews by this writer with
representatives of Mexican small farmer organizations, they then find
themselves forced to buy Monsanto seeds each year, under conditions
they find onerous and at costs they sometimes cannot afford.
The hybrid corn seeds Monsanto has donated to Haiti are treated with
the fungicide Maxim XO, and the calypso tomato seeds are treated with
thiram.(3) Thiram belongs to a highly toxic class of chemicals called
ethylene bisdithiocarbamates (EBDCs). Results of tests of EBDCs on
mice and rats caused concern to the US Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA), which then ordered a special review. The EPA determined that
EBDC-treated plants are so dangerous to agricultural workers that they
must wear special protective clothing when handling them. Pesticides
containing thiram must contain a special warning label, the EPA ruled.
The EPA also barred marketing of the chemicals for many home garden
products, because it assumes that most gardeners do not have
adequately protective clothing.(4) Monsanto’s passing mention of
thiram to Ministry of Agriculture officials in an email contained no
explanation of the dangers, nor any offer of special clothing or
training for those who will be farming with the toxic seeds.
Haitian social movements’ concern is not just about the dangers of the
chemicals and the possibility of future GMOs imports. They claim that
the future of Haiti depends on local production with local food for
local consumption, in what is called food sovereignty. Monsanto’s
arrival in Haiti, they say, is a further threat to this.
“People in the US need to help us produce, not give us food and seeds.
They’re ruining our chance to support ourselves,” said farmer Jonas
Deronzil of a peasant cooperative in the rural region of Verrettes.(5)
Monsanto’s history has long drawn ire from environmentalists, health
advocates and small farmers, going back to its production of Agent
Orange during the Vietnam war. Exposure to Agent Orange has caused
cancer in an untold number of US veterans, and the Vietnamese
government claims that 400,000 Vietnamese people were killed or
disabled by Agent Orange, and 500,000 children were born with birth
defects as a result of their exposure.(6)
Monsanto’s former motto, “Without chemicals, life itself would be
impossible,” has been replaced by “Imagine.” Its web site home page
claims it “helps farmers around the world produce more while
conserving more. We help farmers grow yield sustainably so they can be
successful, produce healthier foods … while also reducing
agriculture’s impact on our environment.”(7) The corporation’s record
does not support the claims.
Together with Syngenta, Dupont and Bayer, Monsanto controls more than
half of the world’s seeds.(8) The company holds almost 650 seed
patents, most of them for cotton, corn and soy, and almost 30 percent
of the share of all biotech research and development. Monsanto came to
own such a vast supply by buying major seed companies to stifle
competition, patenting genetic modifications to plant varieties and
suing small farmers. Monsanto is also one of the leading manufacturers
As of 2007, Monsanto had filed 112 lawsuits against US farmers for
alleged technology contract violations of GMOs patents, involving 372
farmers and 49 small agricultural businesses in 27 different states.
From these, Monsanto has won more than $21.5 million in judgments.
The multinational appears to investigate 500 farmers a year, in
estimates based on Monsanto’s own documents and media reports.(9)
“Farmers have been sued after their field was contaminated by pollen
or seed from someone else’s genetically engineered crop [or] when
genetically engineered seed from a previous year’s crop has sprouted,
or ‘volunteered,’ in fields planted with non-genetically engineered
varieties the following year,” said Andrew Kimbrell and Joseph
Mendelson of the Center for Food Safety.(10)
In Colombia, Monsanto has received upwards of $25 million from the US
government for providing Roundup Ultra in the antidrug fumigation
efforts of Plan Colombia. Roundup Ultra is a highly concentrated
version of Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicide, with additional
ingredients to increase its lethality. Colombian communities and human
rights organizations have charged that the herbicide has destroyed
food crops, water sources and protected areas, and has led to
increased incidents of birth defects and cancers.
V’a Campesina, the world’s largest confederation of farmers with
member organizations in more than 60 countries, has called Monsanto
one of the “principal enemies of peasant sustainable agriculture and
food sovereignty for all peoples.”(11) They claim that as Monsanto and
other multinationals control an ever larger share of land and
agriculture, they force small farmers out of their land and jobs. They
also claim that the agribusiness giants contribute to climate change
and other environmental disasters, an outgrowth of industrial
The V’a Campesina coalition launched a global campaign against
Monsanto last October 16, on International World Food Day, with
protests, land occupations and hunger strikes in more than 20
countries. They carried out a second global day of action against
Monsanto on April 17 of this year, in honor of Earth Day.
Nongovernmental organizations in the US are challenging Monsanto’s
practices, too. The Organic Consumers Association has spearheaded the
campaign “Millions Against Monsanto,” calling on the company to stop
intimidating small family farmers, stop marketing untested and
unlabeled genetically engineered foods to consumers and stop using
billions of dollars of US taypayers’ money to subsidize GMOs crops.(13)
The Center for Food Safety has led a four-year legal challenge to
Monsanto that has just made it to the US Supreme Court. After
successful litigation against Monsanto and the US Department of
Agriculture for illegal promotion of Roundup Ready Alfalfa, the court
heard the Center for Food Safety’s case on April 27. A decision on
this first-ever Supreme Court case about GMOs is now pending.(14)
“Fighting hybrid and GMO seeds is critical to save our diversity and
our agriculture,” Jean-Baptiste said in an interview in February. “We
have the potential to make our lands produce enough to feed the whole
population and even to export certain products. The policy we need for
this to happen is food sovereignty, where the county has a right to
define it own agricultural policies, to grow first for the family and
then for local market, to grow healthy food in a way which respects
the environment and Mother Earth.”
Many thanks to Moira Birss for her assistance with research and writing.
1. Group email from Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, May 14, 2010.
2. Email from Elizabeth Vancil to Emmanuel Prophete, director of seeds
at the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture, and others; released by the
Haitian Ministry of Agriculture, date unavailable.
4. 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
5. Jonas Deronzil’s comments are from an interview in April. He was
not specifically discussing Monsanto.
6. “MSNBC,” January 23, 2004. “Study Finds Link Between Agent Orange,
Cancer.” The Globe and Mail, June 12, 2008. “Last Ghost of the Vietnam
8. La V’a Campesina, “La V’a Campesina carries out Global Day of
Action against Monsanto,” October 16, 2009.
9. Center for Food Safety, “Monsanto vs. US Farmers,” November 2007.
10. Andrew Kimbrell and Joseph Mendelson, Center for Food Safety,
“Monsanto vs. US Farmers,” 2005.
11. La V’a Campesina, October 16, 2009, Op. Cit.
12. La V’a Campesina, “La V’a Campesina Call to Action 17 April 2010 –
Join the International Day of Peasant Struggle,” February 23, 2010.
13. Organic Consumers Association, “Taxpayers Forced to Fund
Monsanto’s Poisoning of Third World,” Finland, Minnesota.
14. Center for Food Security, “Update: CFS Fighting Monsanto in the
Supreme Court,” May 11, 2010.
Five Questions Monsanto Needs to Answer about its Seed Donation to Haiti
May 17th, 2010 By Timi Gerson
Monsanto has donated $4 million in seeds to Haiti, sending 60 tons of
conventional hybrid corn and vegetable seed, followed by 70 more tons
of corn seed last week with an additional 345 tons of corn seed to
come during the next year. Yet the number one recommendation of a
recent report by Catholic Relief Services on post-earthquake Haiti is
to focus on local seed fairs and not to introduce new or ‘improved’
varieties at this time.
Some tough questions need to be asked and answered before we’ll know
whether or not Monsanto’s donation will help or hurt long-term efforts
to rebuild food sufficiency and sovereignty in Haiti. Here are five of
What do Haitians think? Do rural organizations representing Haiti’s
farmers actually want these seeds from Monsanto or not? We know at
least one spokesperson for Haitian farmers isn’t interested. Chavannes
Jean-Baptiste of the Peasant Movement of Papay and the National
Peasant Movement of the Papay Congress said in a recent article
published by Grassroots International that “if people start sending
hybrid, NGO seeds, that’s the end of Haitian agriculture.”
Will Haitian farmers be able to use existing farming methods with
these seeds or do they require a completely different set of
techniques – for example, is it possible for these seeds to be banked
year to year for use in more than one planting cycle? Hybrid seeds
don’t have a great track record for re-planting, which means that
farmers typically must buy new seeds every year.
Does cultivation of these seeds require expensive new inputs and/or
chemicals that may negatively impact the environment and soil over the
long-term? Hybrids typically require a lot of fertilizers, pesticides,
etc. and according to the press release, these will be provided
through the USAID’s 5-year WINNER program. When the WINNER program is done, will farmers find themselves reliant on external inputs they
can’t afford or access? What will the inputs leave behind in terms of
the soil’s condition?
Will the rest of the Monsanto seeds sent to Haiti over the next
year be conventional or genetically modified (GM)? GM seeds are as
controversial in Haiti as they are here at home. It is critical that
Haitians themselves are in charge of the decision to plant or not
plant GM; they first need to know what is being offered to them in the
Will the Monsanto seeds (whether conventional or GM) affect
indigenous seed diversity by mixing with them and contaminating
existing seed strains? Large influxes of non-native seeds have touched
off controversy and alarmed environmental activists and peasant
farmers from Mexico to Malaysia to Mali.
Agricultural development is critical for Haiti and was even before the
earthquake. Lambi Fund of Haiti, a partner organization of American
Jewish World Service (AJWS), has been working with rural communities
to create indigenous seed banks, building expertise in farming
techniques and using environmentally-friendly methods to renew
depleted Haitian soil.
Advocates for common sense food aid, including AJWS, are asking
Congress to spend the $150 million dollars requested by the Obama
Administration for Food Aid to Haiti on resources that will help Haiti
feed itself for the long-term. You can make your voice heard by
signing this petition.
Monsanto’s donation just like the US government’s in-kind food aid
donations – should empower rather than dis-empower the rural
communities working to grow food for their country over the long term.
More to the point, the communities most affected by these donations
should decide whether they want this aid at all and if so, what they
want and when they want it. It?s unclear in this case if Monsanto or
anyone else has asked them.
Timi Gerson is Director of Advocacy for American Jewish World Service.
Gerson started her career organizing legislative campaigns for fair
U.S. trade policy as field director for Public Citizen?s Global Trade
Watch. A fluent Spanish speaker, Gerson has lived and worked with
women’s and human rights groups in Colombia and Costa Rica.
Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator
Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN)
Collaborative Campaigning for Food Sovereignty and Environmental Justice
431 Gilmour Street, Second Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K2P 0R5
Phone: 613 241 2267 ext.6
Fax: 613 241 2506
Take action to Stop “Envriopig?”: No GM Animals http://www.cban.ca/enviropig
Donate Today http://www.cban.ca/donate
Subscribe to the CBAN News and Action Listserve http://www.cban.ca/About/CBAN-e-News