On June 4th about ten thousand Haitian peasants marched to protest U.S.-based Monsanto Company’s ‘deadly gift’ of seed to the government of Haiti. The seven-kilometer march from Papaye to Hinche—in a rural area on the central plateau—was organized by several Haitian farmers’ organizations that are proposing a development model based on food and seed sovereignty instead of industrial agriculture. Slogans for the march included “long live native maize seed” and “Monsanto’s GMO & hybrid seed violates peasant agriculture.”
The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. About 65 percent of Haiti’s population lives in rural areas as subsistence farmers. On January 12 2010, a devastating earthquake leveled Haiti’s capital city Port au Prince, and 800,000 urban refugees migrated to rural areas. According to Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, coordinator of the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP) and a member of La Via Campesina’s international coordinating committee, “there is presently a shortage of seed in Haiti because many rural families used their maize seed to feed refugees.”
With sales of $11.7 billion in 2009, U.S.-based transnational corporation Monsanto Company is the world’s largest seed company, controlling one-fifth of the global proprietary seed market and 90 percent of seed patents from agricultural biotechnology. In May Monsanto announced that it had delivered 60 tons of hybrid seed maize and vegetables to Haiti, and over 400 tons of its seed (worth $4 million) will be delivered during 2010 to 10,000 farmers. The United Parcel Service is providing transport logistics, while Winner—a $127 million project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and focused on ”agricultural intensification’—is distributing the seed. Monsanto stated that it made the decision to donate seed to Haiti at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: “CEO Hugh Grant and Executive Vice President Jerry Steiner attended the event and had conversations with attendees about what could be done to help Haiti.” It is unclear whether any Haitians were included in the conversations in Davos.
Some have charged that the Monsanto representative in Haiti is Jean-Robert Estimé, who served as foreign minister during the brutal 29-year Duvalier family dictatorship. While Monsanto vehemently denies this claim, Estimé is included in an email exchange about the donation between Elizabeth Vancil, Director of Global Development Partnerships at Monsanto and Emmanuel Prophete, a Haitian agronomist working for the Minister of Agriculture. The domain for Estimé’s email address is Winner (www.winner.ht), which implies he works for the U.S. government.
The Haitian rural organizations consider Monsanto’s seed donation part of a broader strategy of U.S. economic and political imperialism. “The Haitian government is using the earthquake to sell the country to the multinationals,” stated Jean-Baptiste. Vancil stated that opening up Haitian markets to Monsanto’s products “would be good.”