What has happened since the "poorest country in the Western Hemisphere" experienced its debilitating January 2010 earthquake? A quarter of a million Haitians perished, and survivors have experienced widespread devastation and damage. The infrastructure necessary to respond to the disaster was severely damaged or destroyed; including hospitals and air, sea, land transport facilities and communication systems. Over 250,000 homes and 30,000 commercial buildings had to be demolished and half Haiti's schools and university systems were affected.
As an independent Black nation Haiti has had a history of adversity. Earthquakes are common on Hispaniola, the island Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic. Haiti has ranked low - 149th of 182 countries on the Human Development Index – for years. Haiti has long been considered "economically vulnerable."
But, maybe it's more "foreign intervention" than Haitian incompetence that has caused Haiti's inability to feed itself. Thirty years ago, Haitians grow all the rice they needed. These days, half the population suffers from malnutrition, three-quarters survive on less than $2 a day and 60 percent of their food is being imported. Haiti's farmers suffer from cheap and free foreign food aid - especially from the United States. There is not enough to eat there because of: limited local access to good quality seeds, high levels of environmental degradation and poor soil quality that results from heavy deforestation and poor watershed management. Rehabilitation of the agricultural sector is a major priority for the Haitian government. It has drawn up a $700 million investment plan which includes: request for 2,000 tons of seeds and rehabilitation of feeder roads and irrigation channels, reforestation and protection of watersheds.
Some among America's "largess industry" are aghast that agricultural sector leaders in Haiti are biting hands seeking to feed them. Since U.S. agriculture giant Monsanto Co. said it would donate $4 million worth of seeds, leaders among Haitian social movements have been actively opposing agribusinesses' imports of seeds and food saying the practice "undermines local production and local seed stocks." They express special concern about importing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Peasant farmer leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste calls entry of Monsanto seeds "a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds..., and on what is left of our environment."
"Food" is a growing and controversial issue for Haitians. The country does not have a regulatory system and Monsanto representatives said GMO seeds will not be included; so Haiti's agriculture ministry approved Monsanto's donation. Players in the scheme are: the U.S. Agency for International Development program which distributes the seeds, and UPS and Switzerland-based Kuehne and Nagel who are assisting with shipping and logistics. Monsanto is making farmers buy the seeds in order to "avoid flooding the local economy with free goods." Monsanto also stipulates that the seeds have to be purchased and planted every year.
Because of our own habits many Americans may miss the Haiti farmers' point because 70 percent of the processed foods we consume comes from genetically engineered seeds - genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Together with Syngenta, Dupont and Bayer, Monsanto controls more than half of the world's seeds. Therefore, it is reasonable to question this American 'benevolence', and understand that the Haitians' concern is based on simple capitalistic principles. It's not just about the dangers of the chemicals and possibilities of future GMO imports that causes the Haitians concern; it is that Haiti's future depends on locals producing food for Haiti's peoples' consumption. Jean-Baptiste and his farmers are against America's "largess paradigm" and say Monsanto represents a threat to their development: "People in the U.S. need to help us produce, not give us food and seeds. They're ruining our chance to support ourselves." Jean-Baptiste says "Fighting hybrid and GMO seeds is critical to save our diversity and our agriculture. We can make our lands produce enough to feed the whole population and even to export certain products. The policy and practices we need for this to happen is to grow first for the family and then for local market, to grow healthy food in a way which respects the environment."
William Reed – www.BlackPressInternational.com