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A Teachable Moment for Haitian Peasants

There is almost a generalized consensus that reviving the Haitian agriculture would be a pivotal factor in Haiti’s progress, as it tries to rebuild itself. Monsanto, one of the first foreign companies to make a symbolic gesture towards addressing the issue of food insecurity and agricultural ineptitude in Haiti, has been met with fierce opposition among some of Haiti’s most active peasants’ group.

In May of this year, Monsanto made public that they will donate 475 tons of hybridized seeds to Haitian peasants through an agreement and collaboration with the Haitian ministry of agriculture.

As expected, even before the first shipment of those seeds could be made, many activists were mobilizing their base to stand against the hybridized seeds. In the process, they made a lot of false claims about exactly what Monsanto was given to Haitian peasants.

It is true that Monsanto is a leader in hybridized and genetically modified seeds, but there are some very distinct differences between those two types of seeds.
Hybridization has been around for a very long time. One of the most famous geneticists, Gregor Mendel, made use of hybridization technique to explain many of the naturally occurred events in molecular biology, particularly to explain the law of inheritance, and genetic traits of specific species.
In Monsanto’s case, they make use of hybridization to allow crops to be more productive and resistant to various types of destructive insects. I would not say that hybridization is not a deviation from naturally occurred event, but so far it has not proven to be a danger to humanity.

On the other end, genetically modified seeds are something different. The advanced of our understanding of genetics, and newly invented methods have allowed for great progress in genetic manipulation. This practice, if well regulated, could benefit society, just as it could become a menace to our survival. Anytime we thinker with nature, we run the possible risks of causing unintended harms. So genetically modified seeds is still something to monitor.
The main difference in those two techniques is that one does not really change the naturally occurred seed, whereas the other one could definitely change the product of a seed. In hybridization, a carrot seed will always grow carrot, while with GM seeds, a carrot seed could be forced to produce new product that have little resemblance to carrot, not only in traits, but in taste, nutrient contents and so forth. With all that said, genetically modified seeds in themselves are not necessarily an evil thing to have.
Throughout the history of humanity, we have been obsessed with the search of knowledge. Whenever new techniques arise or new applications are found for old techniques, society often has a way to be skeptical. Right now, we have a right to be skeptical, but that should not give us a license to misguide those who could benefit from all of these.

Instead, it would have been wiser to use this moment as a teachable moment. It is a grave injustice to be telling the Haitian peasants that the hybridized seeds are bad for them, and that they should burn all of them. Those 475 tons of hybridized seeds are the equivalent of 4 million dollars, so in essence the activists are telling the Haitian peasants to burn 4 million dollars. I think this is one of the dumbest demonstrations I have ever encountered.
The hybridized seeds being donated by Monsanto with the proper approval of the Haitian government could serve many peasants well. There has not been one Haitian agronomist, who can come up with a solution for those peasants. Often times, we hear the excuses about how it is unbeneficial for the peasants to cultivate the land, when they have to compete with cheaply imported goods, such as imported rice from the United States. In the process, they failed to realize that the lack of ways to compete is because of the little yield that the Haitian peasants often get from their crops and the laxity of the government to protect the Haitian farmers.
There are times, when an entire year’s harvest could be lost to insects’ invasion or other agricultural disease on the crops. What Monsanto is offering to Haiti is not by any means the perfect solution, but it should be seen as a symbolic gesture that should get us started on ways to improve our agriculture and eventually the lives of the peasants.

Rejecting the donation outright is a crime against the peasants, who stand to gain the most out of the donation. On the contrary, the activists should have been riled about the lack of education that would accompany the donation. They should have demanded that Monsanto holds town-hall meetings with the peasant to explain all the pros and cons of using the hybridized seeds. They should have asked for the Haitian government to require Monsanto to sponsor the education of a few peasant agronomists through some sort of externship programs. They could have asked Monsanto to invest in an Agricultural institute for the peasants.

The list of things they could have asked is limitless, but instead they decided to declare war against a foreign company that was just trying to give a hand to a country in need. I am a nationalist, and a patriot. At the same time, I am a trained molecular biologist, and know a thing or two about the science of genetics. I could care less of Monsanto’s evil agenda, but their offering to Haiti, if we had people who were thinking of the benefit to the country, they could have used this moment to teach the Haitian peasants the science of agriculture, and what it would take to truly become a nation that can self-sustain its food needs.

What will happen after all the hybridized seeds are burnt? My guess is that the activists would not replace them with a better alternative. The peasants would still be unable to produce enough food for themselves. They would miss a chance to learn what the world has already known and accepted. In fact, they would remain in the dark and rely on the peasant leaders to speak for them. In this new Haiti, the goal is to empower every single individual to make decision that is best for them, and not what some leader think is best for all. Many of those activists are using the peasants’ lack of knowledge to remain relevant.

Whether hybridized seeds are a good thing or not, the demonstration against the donation proves how far people would go against collaboration. We cannot develop the country with this ill-conceived mentality. It is time we allow ourselves to think in the open, and let individuals make decisions that are best for them without coercion.

In conclusion, many opponents of the seeds’ donation often claimed that it would make the peasants dependent on Monsanto’s seeds for future harvest. This is laughable at best. Whether the peasants would buy Monsanto’s seeds or not, they would still need to buy seeds for the next harvest, and if Monsanto’s seeds would give greater yields, as promised, what is the problem in buying from them? It is amazing that none of the opponents to the donation are calling for the peasants to learn how to make their own hybridized seeds. The evil is not seed hybridization, but it is a lack of knowledge on how to use modern techniques to make the best out of agriculture in this modern era. And those activists seem to have no idea on how to transfer proper knowledge to the peasant’s communities.

Haitian Times

Haitian Times

The Haitian Times was founded in 1999 as a weekly English language newspaper based in Brooklyn, NY.The newspaper is widely regarded as the most authoritative voice for Haitian Diaspora.
Haitian Times
May. 05, 2012

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