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Haitian Farmers Will Burn Monsanto Seeds

by: Jill Richardson

Wed May 19, 2010 at 10:38:32 AM PDT

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In the past few days since I've returned from the Land of No Internet, there's been much buzz about Monsanto's "generous" donation of hybrid seeds to Haitian farmers. I have just witnessed agricultural success in Haiti's nearest neighbor - Cuba - and I saw firsthand that in most cases, farmers use open-pollinated (not hybrid) seeds, and they save their own seeds from one season to the next. I'd imagine it may be different on large sugarcane or tobacco operations, but those places would be growing crops for export. The places I saw grew food to feed their communities, which will be of the utmost importance in Haiti.

I must admit I'm quite pleased to see this headline: "Haitian Farmers Commit to Burning Monsanto Hybrid Seeds. Hybrid seeds cannot be saved, and saved seeds have a limited shelflife, particularly in a humid, tropical environment. Thus, a donation of hybrid seeds can be like a donation of an addictive drug from a drug dealer. You get your first bit for free, and then you're hooked. You need to buy the next batch yourself. Of course, Haitians can accept the donation and then buy open-pollinated seeds the next year, but that doesn't negate the fact that hybrid seeds are a very short term gift because they don't produce seeds you can save.

Here's the key paragraph from the HuffPo piece, which tells of Haiti's rejection of genetically engineered seeds but acceptance of hybrid seeds treated with rather potent pesticides:

Haitian social movements' concern is not just about the dangers of the chemicals and the possibility of future GMO imports. They claim that the future of Haiti depends on local production with local food for local consumption, in what is called food sovereignty. Monsanto's arrival in Haiti, they say, is a further threat to this.

"People in the U.S. need to help us produce, not give us food and seeds. They're ruining our chance to support ourselves," said farmer Jonas Deronzil of a peasant cooperative in the rural region of Verrettes.

Thus, Haiti's Peasant Movement of Papay has called on Haitian farmers to burn Monsanto's seeds and march in opposition to Monsanto on June 4, World Environment Day. All I can say (besides hallelujah!) is that I hope Haiti's next door neighbor Cuba comes through with agricultural help, both open pollinated seeds adapted to the local climate and technical expertise. Haiti is truly lucky to be located next door to one of the world's best example of food sovereignty in the making.

Jill Richardson :: Haitian Farmers Will Burn Monsanto Seeds
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Botanically, hybrid seeds can be saved (4.00 / 3)
Strictly speaking, there is no botanical reason that hybrid seeds can't be saved.  A hybrid tomato seed will make a tomato.  But since the plant resulting from a hybrid will produce fruit/grain/vegetables with different characteristics than its parent, there are plenty of economic, nutritional and culinary reasons that they can't be saved. The product might taste terrible, or be tiny, and so forth.  In the case of Monsanto and other big seed companies, there might be intellectual property reasons that prevent saving (i.e., the seed license prohibits it).  There was an interesting discussion on this subject in the comments of a post about the Backyard Seed Vault project over at the Ethicurean.

That said, in a place that is at the edge of hunger like Haiti, hybrid seeds are exactly like what you describe, a free sample from a drug dealer, giving a reliable source of food for one year, but who knows what will happen the next. Assistance from other tropical seed experts would be far more useful, including seeds that can be saved and produce reliable crops from year to year, instead of one good crop and then a crap shoot.

Hybrid plants (4.00 / 3)
Last year I put some cherry tomato starts in my garden that said they were hybrids. I had some volunteers from that plant come up this year. I took one of the volunteers and put it into one of those topsy turvey hanging basket things. The plant is still relatively young, but it is doing well and has put some blooms out. Does this mean the fruit is gonna taste like crap or some other type of defect?

"To be honest with you, if someone says they're being honest with you, you should probably be skeptical" My Dad

[ Parent ]
remember mendelian genetics from biology class? (4.00 / 3)
Gregor Mendel looked at pea plants that were either yellow or green. A pea with 2 green genes was green. A pea with 2 yellows was yellow. And a pea with one of each gene was whichever color the dominant gene was. That's a hybrid. But if two hybrids produce offspring, you'll get 25% with 2 green genes, 25% with 2 yellow genes, and 50% with one of each. 75% will have the dominant trait, and only the 25% with the two recessive genes will have the recessive trait. So in the offspring of your hybrid, the traits you see won't necessarily be awful but they'll be unpredictable. Typically after a few generations you lose the "hybrid vigor" - the benefits derived from planting hybrids. So you plant might not be bad this year or next year, but in general if you're a farmer growing tomatoes on a large scale and you want a predictable result, you wouldn't plant the offspring of your hybrids.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
Ah yes the punnet square (4.00 / 3)
I guess I'll just have to wait and see. No big deal that was just a bonus plant as far as I'm concerned.

"To be honest with you, if someone says they're being honest with you, you should probably be skeptical" My Dad

[ Parent ]
Punnett square (4.00 / 3)
I had to look it up, never heard the term before.

Punnett square

[ Parent ]
agreed (4.00 / 2)
I'd also add that often seeds sold by large corporations are made to do well in a large variety of climates but they aren't specialized to one particular climate. Haitian farmers might get better results from seeds that are produced specifically for their climate (which wouldn't be so profitable for a corporation because they wouldn't be able to sell them to customers worldwide or nationwide).

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
True (4.00 / 1)
about the climate/environment issue. That's the great thing about landrace varieties of plants, and even landrace breeds of animals. They're already adapted to the environment they were developed in.

As far as hybrids go, it would be easier to predict what the offspring would be if a person knew what the parent stock was, but in seeds you really don't know.

Hybridizing in animals is easier to determine what the offspring are if you know the different breeds of animals for the species you're working from. Goats, cattle, horses, sheep, pigs are all fairly easy to tell what the parent breeds were if you're familiar with the common breeds in those species. For instance, it's fairly easy to tell a first gen Quarab (Quarterhorse/Arabian), Morab (Morgan/Arabian), etc. Then if you take that animal and cross it on another breed, or even back to another cross, you can have a fairly good idea of what you'll get.

But with plants, there are so many different varieties and cultivars that can be used to produce an F1 offspring, who knows what you'd get. For someone interested in developing new varieties it's interesting to do, but for most people it's just not worth the effort to keep seed from an F1 hybrid.

Normal people scare me.... But not as much as I scare them.

[ Parent ]
Haiti discussion (4.00 / 1)
To what extent was the Haiti situation discussed during your Cuba sojourn? Did you speak with Emilio about it, for example? Was it a topic at the conference?

Haiti hearing (4.00 / 1)
Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing

May 19, 2010
Haiti Earthquake Relief Efforts
2.5 hours

This sounds pretty bad. (4.00 / 1)
I've only listened to an hour so far, but at this point it seems that maybe USAID's main goal right now is to work with a very ineffective Haitian government to decide which piles of rubble to remove first. The earthquake was more than four months ago, correct?

Maybe the next 90 minutes will be better.

[ Parent ]
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