It’s been four months since the ground shook in Haiti. A few weeks after that catastrophic event, the World Economic Forum was held in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss a variety of global issues, including the outlook for agriculture. Monsanto 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. Monsanto had already donated money, but it was clear that a donation of our products—corn and vegetable seeds—could really make a difference in the lives of Haitians.
Simple directive, but complex in execution. First, Monsanto had to identify seed from its inventory that would be well-suited to Haitian growing climates. That was perhaps the simplest part. The seeds include corn (field, not sweet), cabbage, carrot, eggplant, melon, onion, tomato, spinach and watermelon. Contrary to some online reports (sparked by this erroneous blog posting), these seeds are not derived from biotechnology (GMO). They are conventionally bred, hybrid seeds. Also, Monsanto is not donating herbicide or fertilizer, as those reports falsely state.
Though hybrid seeds were widely grown 30 years ago in Haiti, we were sensitive to the fact that hybrid seeds are not widely used in Haiti today. Hybrids have been in use for decades in other countries, including the Dominican Republic. Given the choice, farmers generally select hybrid seeds because they generate more food and grain per acre or hectare. Monsanto personnel consulted with the Ministry of Agriculture in Haiti and heard very clearly the ministry sees the opportunity for increased yields that hybrid seed creates for Haitian farmers.
A similar donation of hybrid seed to Malawi a few years ago produced a five-fold yield increase—enough food to feed a million people for a year. It was the first time many of those farmers had planted hybrid seed. See a diagram below on how hybrid seeds work.
What took the longest amount of time in this process was finding partners who could 1) help deliver the seeds and 2) ensure that once the seeds arrived, they would get into the hands of Haitian farmers. Additionally, we wanted to ensure there were resources on the ground in Haiti to distribute the seeds and provide necessary agronomic support. UPS brought the vegetable seeds in via air freight. Kuehne + Nagel delivered the corn seed via boat.
The USAID-funded WINNER program will manage seed distribution and support in Haiti. That support will include educational resources to explain how to best use the seed and plan for this year and next. Although Monsanto is providing the seed free of charge, farmers will pay for the seed. Providing an outright donation of seed would undercut one of the basic pieces of Haiti’s agricultural and economic infrastructure. WINNER will distribute the seeds through stores that are owned and managed by farmer associations. The seeds will be sold at a significantly reduced price, and the revenue will be reinvested in local agriculture by the farmer associations.
The WINNER program estimates the seed donation could help 10,000 farmers on the island.
When a national disaster occurs, the immediate focus for relief needs are food, water and shelter. The impact on the agriculture planting season is not lost on us. As the U.S. State Department noted this year on its blog, getting the agriculture sector back on track is critical for Haiti’s food security. There are already a number of efforts to help, and we’re proud to offer what we can as part of a holistic approach.
View the slide show of the seed delivery as well as learn about Haitian agriculture by the numbers on Monsanto.com