Thousands of farmers marched in central Haiti on Friday claiming the government was misleading them with seed donations from US multinational Monsanto.
The region was spared the worst of the January quake which leveled much of the capital Port-au-Prince, but with a dire shortage of seeds in the Caribbean farmers are struggling to get the supplies they need to work their land.
In light of this situation, Monsanto announced it would donate around 475 tonnes of maize to Haitian farmers in cooperation with Project Winner, a US Agency for International Development initiative, which aims to increase the country’s agricultural productivity, the agriculture ministry said.
Rather than welcoming the donation, farmers fear they are being given seeds that could threaten local varieties.
“The Haitian government is using the earthquake to sell the country to the multinationals,” said Jean Baptiste Chavannes, coordinator of the Mouvman Peyizan Papay (MPP), a farming cooperative and one of the leading organizations in Haiti’s peasant movement.
Sporting red shirts and straw hats sprayed in signs against Haitian President Rene Preval and Monsanto, people rallied under a hot sun in the town of Hinche.
Demonstrators chanted “Down with Preval,” “Keep Monsanto Out of Haiti” and the occasional “Down with the Occupation.”
Kettly Alexandre, an organizer with the MPP said they estimated the number of protestors at between 8,000 and 12,000.
There was no immediate confirmation from police.
“We have to fight for our local seeds,” Chavannes told the crowd.
“We have to defend our food sovereignty,” said.
“This is not just about the seeds” said 74-year-old Samuel Smith, an organic farmer and long-time supporter of local agriculture, who traveled all the way from Massachusetts to attend the rally.
“It’s about imposing on people a system that they can’t get out of,” he said.
Monsanto, however, dismissed fears it was donating genetically modified seeds to the country.
“The seeds Monsanto is donating to Haiti are not genetically modified. They are conventional hybrid seeds that are already grown in the Dominican Republic,” a Monsanto spokesman in the US said.
Monsanto has donated US$255,000 to Haiti for disaster relief and the company is committed to the success of Haitian farmers, Monsanto Executive Vice President Jerry Stein wrote in a letter to Haitian Agriculture Minister Joanas Gue.
GIFT OF DEATH
However, Chevannes slammed the donation as “a gift of death.”
“It’s an attack on peasant agriculture, on the farmers, on biodiversity, on native seeds, on what remains of our environment in Haiti,” he said.
Many protestors directed their anger against the Haitian government.
“I’m here because I’m angry with Preval,” said Pierre Charite, a 61-year-old farmer from Haiti’s central plateau, where he grows maize, plantains, sugarcane and pistachios.
“He accepted corn that is bad, that will kill Haitian corn. I won’t use that,” he said.
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