Jul 212010

Source: Bassin Zim Educational Development Fund

Mr .Hugh Grant
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer
Monsanto Corporation
Dear Mr. Grant,

In mid May of 2010, it was announced in Haiti that your company, Monsanto Corporation, decided to give 475 tons of seeds to Haiti. In fact, 60 tons had already been distributed in some areas. Perhaps you have been surprised at the criticism of this donation and at the protests against your company and the Haitian government for accepting what many people call a “poisonous gift.” On behalf of thousands of local farmers in Haiti, we demand that you halt further shipments of hybrid seeds to Haiti.

There are three compelling reasons for this request:

1.    Most Haitian farmers cannot afford to purchase your seeds. Plants grown from hybrid seeds don’t produce seeds that can be planted the next season. As you said in your blog, “When farmers choose to start planting hybrids, they usually also make the decision to begin purchasing new seeds each year because they want the quality hybrid.” Your hybrid seeds will cost them about ten times more than the local seeds, but where will the Haitian farmers find that money? They do not get subsidies from their government. These economics make your “donation” look more like a promotion than a gift.

2.    Hybrid seeds don’t always produce better yields. Most people don’t know that hybrid seeds require conditions that farmers in your part of the world take for granted: good soil, ample fertilizer, adequate humidity, and pesticides to protect the crop from insects. In most areas in Haiti, farmers do not use fertilizers or pesticides at any stage of production. Most do not have irrigation systems and are at the mercy of the weather. The local seeds are more resistant to the harsh conditions in Haiti than imported ones. Increase in agriculture production is never as simple as improving just one element. The farmer must consider and improve the whole package—seeds, soil chemistry and humidity, protection against insects and diseases, etc. Focusing on seeds and not understanding Haitian soil, weather, and insects may have a negative result.

3.    The toxicity of the products used to treat the donated seeds raises serious health risks for Haitian farmers. You may feel that your company is not responsible for educating the Haitian peasants about the toxicity of the products; that task would fall on the Haitian government. But the truth is no education is being done. It is recommended that masks be worn while handling the seeds, but there are pictures and videos showing that not only are the Haitian farmers not wearing masks, they are barefoot and handling the seeds with bare hands. Can you imagine that, as we are writing this sentence, some of those seeds may be being consumed directly? It is common practice amongst the poor to wash treated seeds to feed themselves and their children. Plus chickens on Haitian farms roam free, finding their own food. Some of the Monsanto chemicals will end up in the stomachs of the poultry and eventually in human stomachs. Any government or corporation that cares about the health of people should not allow a highly toxic product to get in the hands of these uninformed people. There are less harmful alternatives that could be used to treat seeds.

We appreciate Monsanto’s intention to “make a difference in the lives of Haitians.” And we agree that “agriculture is key in the long-term recovery of Haiti.” What the Haitian farmers need is real support and solidarity to develop seed-production centers, to build silos and seed banks where farmers could find native Creole seeds at reasonable prices. We ask you to cease your donation and support Haitian farmers in a healthier way where all benefit.

Seeds for Haiti is a program of Bassin Zim Education and Development Fund, www.bassinzim.org, email info@bassinzim.org Tel 917-378-2192

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