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Groups Around the U.S. Join Haitian Farmers in Protesting “Donation” of Monsanto Seeds

Publicado el: Viernes, 4 de junio del 2010

Article published in Amauta with permission from the author

Read below, “We are at the Crossroads”: Yannick Etienne on Sweatshops as Development Model, also from the author

These farmers belong to one of the organizations sponsoring today's demonstration against the arrival of Monsanto seeds in Haiti. Peasant organizations are adamant that their production involve only local, organic seeds. (Photo: Salena Tramel, Grassroots International)

by Beverly Bell

“We’re for seeds that have never been touched by multinationals. In our advocacy, we say that seeds are the patrimony of humanity. No one can control them,” said Doudou Pierre, national coordinating committee member of the National Haitian Network for Food Sovereignty and Food Security (RENHASSA), in a recent interview. “We reject Monsanto and their GMOs.  GMOs would be the extermination of our people.”

A march is being held in Haiti today for World Environment Day, called by at least four major national peasant organizations and one international one. The march’s purpose is to protest the new arrival of Monsanto seeds. The day’s slogans include, “Long live native seeds” and “Down with Monsanto. Down with GMO and hybrid seeds.”

Several U.S. organizations are planning simultaneous events to protest the entry of the controversial multinational in Haiti.

Last month, Haitian citizens learned the news that the giant agribusiness Monsanto will be “donating” 60,000 seed sacks (475 tons) of hybrid corn seeds and vegetable seeds. While the seeds are free this year, peasant organizations see a Trojan horse, with Monsanto seeking to gain a foothold in the Haitian market.  Hybrid seeds typically do not regenerate, so that farmers would have to buy them again each year, and they generally require large quantities of fertilizer and pesticides (two products that also fill Monsanto’s annual coffers). And while the Ministry of Agriculture rejected Monsanto’s offer of genetically modified [GMO] seeds this year because Haiti does not have a law regulating their use, there may follow a push to get GMOs approved, in which case Monsanto would be well-positioned.  Moreover, the Calypso tomato seeds contain the pesticide Thiram, whose chemical ingredient is so toxic that the Environmental Protection Agency has banned it for home use in the U.S.[1] (For more information, see “Haitian Farmers Commit to Burning Monsanto Hybrid Seeds.)

Monsanto representative Kathleen Manning commented on Huffington Post on May 20, “It’s disappointing to see people encouraging Haitian farmers to ‘burn Monsanto seeds,’ especially when the ones hurt by that action will be Haitian farmers and the Haitian people—not those of us watching on the sidelines.”

Yet the call to burn the seeds is based on a strong commitment of the Haitian peasant movement to food and seed sovereignty, which is the ability of local farmers to support themselves with local seeds for local consumption. Amongst the thousands of peasant organizations which exist among millions of peasant farmers, from village-level groups to national networks, food and seed sovereignty is a key principle. It has formed the basis of their national advocacy since the catastrophic January 12 earthquake. The lynchpin of the reconstruction model that small farmers and many other sectors advocate is developing the country’s agricultural potential. This would provide stable employment for the 60% to 80% of the population who are small farmers. It would improve prospects for food security, with an increase in consumption of domestic crops replacing the current dependence on imports, which now compose 57% of food consumed. Critical elements in strengthening peasant production include: government investment in agriculture, including technical support; the procurement of local food by USAID and other international agencies’ food aid programs, instead of the products of foreign agribusiness; and restriction on the dumping of foreign food and seeds.

Doudou Pierre said, “If Haiti isn’t sovereign with its food, if the government doesn’t promote national production, we’ll just always be opening our mouths to seeds and food aid so multinationals can make money off of us. We’re for family agriculture which respects the environment.” The coalition which Doudou Pierre co-coordinates represents 54 organizations from different sectors and regions throughout Haiti.

Below are some of the U.S.-based events which will protest the Monsanto seeds today. Also below are a few of numerous U.S. initiatives which are helping Haitian farmers get organic, creole seeds.

AGRA Watch
in Seattle plans a march today which will end outside the Gates Foundation office. AGRA stands for A Green Revolution in Africa, which is a multinational corporation-driven, GMO-driven program now being launched in Africa. The Gates Foundation has been a key promoter of AGRA. The group says, “The dumping of toxic seeds in Haiti is the latest in a series of unsustainable solutions that Monsanto has pushed on farmers around the world. If the Gates Foundation wants to support a truly sustainable agricultural system in Africa, they must divorce themselves from Monsanto. Haitian farmers and African farmers have said NO! to corporate control of their food systems. The Gates Foundation and AGRA must say no to Monsanto.”

Rising in Solidarity with Ayiti in Chicago urges, “From Haiti to Chicago, reclaim our right to control our food and sovereignty!” Today a group of urban farmers and community members will join in a rally to burn GMO seeds in protest of Monsanto’s “donation” to Haiti. Participants in the event will also plant organic and heirloom seeds, and sign letters to USAID to protest the distribution of Monsanto’s seeds in Haiti. The event will also feature testimonials about the lack of access to food security, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables, in neighborhoods in Chicago, and how this connects to the right to food sovereignty in Haiti.

Community Action for Justice in the Americas, Africa, Asia, in Missoula, is hosting a protest this evening. “Bring posters, signs, or just come.  Wear black /white, or lab coats, dust masks, goggles or Tyvek suits or creative costume!  Bring drums, pots & pans…” A personal email from a member of the group says, “The people in Missoula, Montana are paying attention and taking action for farmers in Haiti.”

The Organic Consumers Association‘s network sent more than 10,000 emails to USAID and President Obama. Two dozen members have donated to the Seeds for Haiti project.

A coalition of U.S. churches and foundations are supporting Fondation FONDAMA, a Haitian federation of farmers and local NGOs. The coalition has sent down several million dollars to purchase 86,000 kilos of local corn seed and 59,000 kilos of local pea seeds. (Seeds are available in Haiti, but small farmers have not had the money to buy them.) All of the farmers who belong to member organizations in Foundation FONDAMA have gotten seeds, allowing them to proceed with planting their spring crop. The donations have also purchased 13,300 machetes and 9,200 hoes. The U.S. coalition has, moreover, sent a Massachusetts farmer to the village of Papay for today’s march, and will host the leader of the Peasant Movement of Papay in New York and Washington for public, media, and Congressional meetings next week.

Like numerous other supportive groups in the U.S., Groundswell International’s approach to seed sovereignty in Haiti pre-dates Monsanto’s announcement. Through its Haitian partner Partnership for Local Development, Groundswell is strengthening the capacity of peasant organizations in Haiti to sustainably improve their agricultural production, income generation, food security, health, and natural resources management. A Groundswell staffperson writes, “A key thing we’ll be working on is trying to promote the alternative, which is Haitian production of 100% of their seeds so they don’t need imports.”


[1] 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 Davis, http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/extoxnet/pyrethrins-ziram/thiram-ext.html. Monsanto denies that Thiram contains the toxic chemical ethylene bisdithiocarbamates (EBDCs).

Beverly Bell has worked with Haitian social movements for over 30 years.  She is also author of the book Walking on Fire: Haitian Women’s Stories of Survival and Resistance.  She coordinates Other Worlds, www.otherworldsarepossible.org, which promotes social and economic alternatives. She is also associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.

"People in the factories are sweating hard and working hard and they don't get anything, " says labor rights organizer Yannick Etienne. (Photo: Charlie Kernaghan, National Labor Committee)

“We are at the Crossroads”: Yannick Etienne on Sweatshops as Development Model

Article published in Amauta with permission from the author

by Beverly Bell

The U.S. and U.N. have based their plan for Haiti’s redevelopment on the expansion of the assembly industry.  Toward this end, the U.S. Congress passed legislation last month which would expand benefits and income for U.S. investors yet again. Haitian workers will continue to earn $3.09 a day.

Worker rights groups and other sectors of Haiti’s social justice movements are adamant that a sweatshop-based development model cannot advance either the country or its workers. First, the investments are unstable, and companies can and do pull out at a moment’s notice. Second, the work does not offer a living wage, benefits, possibilities for advancement, or skills training. Third, with the primary products and the machinery imported and the finished products exported, assembly does not stimulate Haiti’s economy.

Here Yannick Etienne, an organizer with the labor rights group Batay Ouvriyè (Worker’s Struggle), talks about the assembly sector and why it is neither a sustainable nor humane development model. Alternative models of development exist, ones that are not premised on the exploitation of some for the profits of others. Yannick talks about Batay Ouvriyè’s work to help Haitians participate in determining what redevelopment after the earthquake should look like. (Many articles in this series discuss some economically just options; see www.otherworldsarepossible.org/alternatives/another-haiti-possible.)

We are at the crossroads.  What happened January 12 was we put the traditional way of doing things under the debris of the earthquake. Haiti has to move from where it is, as the poorest country of the hemisphere with people feeling sorry for us.

This earthquake was one of the worst things that could have happened, but we have to turn it into something positive. We have to make sure that people are agents of change and right now this is a good opportunity, positive in a political sense. There are so many things that can be done to shake up the traditional way things have always worked here.

HOPE II [Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act of 2008; which removes tariffs on importing certain types and quantities of Haitian-assembled garments into the U.S.] is supposed to help Haiti in the assembly industry. Actually, what you have is U.S. companies benefiting by getting stuff assembled at a very low price for the U.S. market without paying taxes or customs. They’re saying, “More people will get jobs because of preferential trade access,” but the workers who are making those factories’ profits are not getting anything. No ones even remembers them.

People in the factories are sweating hard and working hard and they don’t get anything. They have to have union rights. They need other forms of social support and social insurance. They need meals in the factories and funds for when there are problems.

The legal minimum wage for assembly plants that manufacture for export is 125 gourdes ($3.09) per day. If you are earning by piece rate [paid per unit, such as a sleeve, instead of for the amount of time worked], they often set a minimum that you have to meet that day, but sometimes it’s higher than what a worker can do in eight hours. Then the workers have to work longer but [instead of paying overtime] the bosses say, “No, they’re just finishing their work.”

Most of the piece rate quotas have gone up since minimum wage increase [in 2009], and again since January 12. They have different gimmicks to make sure that salary isn’t paid. Now some factories are rushing people, raising the piece rate quota [so people have to work faster or longer to make minimum wage]. I’ve heard of factories where they say they can’t pay the minimum wage because they have problems. Some factory owners are saying, “If you don’t want to stay with less pay, we have 50 people to replace you.” People need the jobs; most of them have lost their homes and are living in refugee camps.

Another problem is that many of the workers never got their salaries for the first two weeks of January [payday should have come shortly after the earthquake].  Some workers have been going back and forth to get their money but the factories say, “The banks were closed, we lost everything,” all kinds of excuses not to pay them.

As for rights and benefits: The law says you get 45 minutes of break a day, but that’s not always respected. If you go to a doctor for a work-related injury, they’ll reimburse you, but workers don’t always have the money to pay up front.  Otherwise there’s no health care. You get a little retirement money if you reach 65, but no one can stay working in factory conditions that long.  There are no other social benefits. There has to be political processes to push this government to do things.

We understand that it’s a process to get rid of the assembly plants, but they have to be organized a different way, they have to be more than decent work. We need better jobs, not more sweatshops. Workers should participate in designing their working conditions and salaries and the whole environment. The people will have to say, “This is what we want,” and things should be upgraded according to what they say.

People have to fight back against those anti-change forces who were ruling the country before January 12.  This is an opportunity because some of the people didn’t want to get involved in any political or social action before because they were so busy taking care of their children.

Some people say Haiti has not been built, now it has to be built. We have to understand what happened in the past and change things radically, including the people who are at the top. We have to build not only awareness but also mobilize people to action. We need to shake the state, to make sure that the people really take things into their hands and get a state that will really work in the interests of the masses. The people have to be able to make decisions democratically that are in the interest of the masses.

We have found camps that have many factory workers, people who used to live in shantytowns. So some members of Batay Ouvriyè and other groups in the camps have started organizing to raise the political awareness of the situation, to make sure that things are dealt with democratically, to have discussions and debates to see what should be done to change this country and to allow people to better their lives. People can’t just work to get the food and water they need; they also need to see about the future. This is our job right now: to raise consciousness to make workers believe in their ability to change things.

In places like Ouanamenthe [a town which hosts a free trade zone and several factories], we are gathering ideas for regular citizens to say what kind of political structures and redevelopment they want. We’re getting different sectors – university students, teachers, professionals, street vendors – together. Our first question is, “If you are a worker in the factory, if you are a doctor, a teacher, an engineer, what are the things you don’t like?” Then we say, “Okay, you don’t like this, how do you want to change it?” We’re having workshops and social forums.

Haiti is a very small country. As Haiti alone, we can’t get to the radical solutions that Haiti needs. It has to be a worldwide movement, in America, Europe, and Africa; this is why solidarity is so important.  You have countries like Venezuela that want to bring their support to the Haitian people. One hand has to give to the other.

We are a people that resists what we don’t like; this is one of our trademarks. We fought against one of the biggest powers [in the late 1790s and early 1800s] and got rid of the French colonists and had an anti-slavery revolution. We have that experience as an example. We can use it and see how far we can go.

Beverly Bell has worked with Haitian social movements for over 30 years.  She is also author of the book Walking on Fire: Haitian Women’s Stories of Survival and Resistance.  She coordinates Other Worlds, www.otherworldsarepossible.org, which promotes social and economic alternatives. She is also associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.



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