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Monsanto Donates Corn and Vegetable Seed to Haiti

A building in Haiti almost 4 months after the initial earthquake.

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.

By understanding the laws of heredity, plant breeders can cross a large yellow pepper and a small red pepper to create a hybrid that is large and red. In this case, the traits for size and red color are dominant (yellow is a recessive trait).

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

26 Responses to "Monsanto Donates Corn and Vegetable Seed to Haiti"

  1. 1/ Can you please confirm if the seeds derived from plants in this donation, are fertile, and can they be used to plant next year?

    If the seeds from these hybrid plants are infertile, what will the farmers do next planting season?

    2/ Can you also confirm if farmers can use “traditional” fertilizers and herbicides for these hybrid plants?


    • Peter – Yes, the seeds are fertile. However, farmers generally do not replant hybrid seeds the following year because the offspring are not true replicate copies of the parent seeds (Based on the way they are produced: see the diagram above that explains how two parent plants are cross-pollinated to produce the hybrid).

      When farmers choose to start planting hybrids, they usually also make the decision to begin purchasing new seeds each year because they want the quality hybrid. However, the seed isn’t sterile so yes they can replant.

      The WINNER program – referenced above – will be working with Haitian farmers to determine whether the hybrids are right for them, and what they will do next season if they choose to plant the hybrids this season. WINNER will also advise on how to plant the seeds and what types of methods for weed control and insect control are appropriate for Haiti. That could include fertilizer and/or herbicide, but I don’t know what they are using today. This part of the donation is not at our direction, but that of WINNER and on-the-ground experts in Haiti.

      • Mica,
        You say,”When farmers choose to start planting hybrids, they usually also make the decision to begin purchasing new seeds each year because they want the quality hybrid. However, the seed isn’t sterile so yes they can replant.” You are skating on very thin ice. Everyone knows that each subsequent generation of hybrid seeds degenerates. Open pollinated “pure bred” corn seeds which do not degenerate are yielding 15 tons per hectare in Mexico. Commercial seed breeders deliberately refrain from continuing the breeding process and stop at the “hybrid” phase specifically so that they can resell new seeds each year.
        The handing out hybrids to resource poor farmers and then claiming that they have increased their yields seven fold is unethical. This was done in Malawi. The farmers there are now forced to buy seeds each year because they have lost their ‘area specific pen pollinated heritage seeds’ which consistently out performed commercial hybrids on dryland during seasons of drought.
        These farmers were not informed of the consequences of hybrids and were therefore not able to make the important decision you describe above. Just as most educated farmers failed to plant refuges which has resulted in the corn stem borer resistance to GM (Bt) corn in irrigated fields throughout Southern Africa.

  2. Oh Dear,

    What did the poor people of Haiti do to deserve donations of seeds from Monsanto? It was bad enough to suffer from an earthquake, and now to receive your GM seeds is andding insult to injury.

  3. Can these seeds produce plants from which fertile seeds can be saved and planted in future years?
    It seems to me that if these farmers are faced with an option to buy seed at a much lower price than their regular seed, which can be saved year after year, they may just do that given their current circumstances with money being tighter than ever – but will not serve them well when they have to pay full price for seed again next year. I just don’t see it as a help at all if they can’t save seed and replant. Money would be the best donation in that case.

      • Trevor – not sure exactly what you’re asking anyone to compare there, you have one article linking to a piece about the sequencing of the B73 maize genome, which shows the obvious superiority of the B73xMo17 ear as copared to either inbred line, and then another which admittedly shows an awesome corn ear, but doesnt really offer any real way to compare the goliath corn with modern hybrids – what’s the yield per acre look like? I’m having a little trouble finding anything concrete, but the first link I hit doesn’t really paint a pretty picture in terms of a favorable comparison


        States that

        “Hybrid Goliath matures about five days earlier and yields around 127 to 175 bushels of grain per acre–nearly twice the yield of open-pollinated Goliath.”

        Which would suggest that massive eared Goliath open pollinated corn on average yields 63.5-87.5 Bu/Ac – presumably under pretty ideal agronomic conditions – whereas conventional hybrids in the US are pushing the 300 Bu/Ac mark and can hit the mid 150’s without ideal agronomic conditions.

        A picture may be worth a thousand words, but good solid data sure beats a picture any day of the week.

        Given the choice I can’t see why the business savvy farmer would choose an open pollinated variety rather than a hybrid, particularly when the yield is ~50% what you’d expect from the hybrid – unless the cost of seed was at, or above 50% of your expected income from the field (which at a difference of 70 Bu/Ac and a corn price of say $4/Bu would equate to a seed cost of $280/Ac – with smartstax corn costing $130 an acre last year (which I’d guesstimate would be the most expensive seed on the market as it’s the most advanced seed available) I don’t really forsee anyone shelling out $280/Ac on plain old (non transgenic) hybrid seeds – obviously in situations where you can’t sell excess grain open pollinated rather than hybrids is likely going to be a better choice, but that’d have to be assessed on a case by case basis – I’d be interested to see actual followup on the Malawi donation and the state of Malawian Ag, and on Haiti and Haitian Ag rather than unsourced conjecture before drawing any conclusions (I’d also be interested to see the sourcing for the open pollinated varieties performing so well in Mexico – 15 T/Ha is about 230-240Bu/Ac if I’m doing the math right, which would be a pretty impressive yield in a mid-western farm setting nevermind in Mexico – I’m thinking 230-240Bu/Ac probably amounts to 2x the average yield in Mexico at least, so you’ll hopefully forgive a little skepticism)

  4. Karie, that’s a good question – the Monsanto rep will have to confirm this but I am pretty sure that since the seeds are not patented, the seeds that make sense to be saved (certain vegetable seeds) can be saved.

    The theory – posited by others, Karie, not you – that Monsanto is giving seed to Haiti to get farmers “hooked” on the seeds is typical conspiracy babble from people who aren’t moved by facts.

    • Yes, that is correct, Karie and Gen. These seeds can be saved. Unfortunately, a lot of people do want to take something that can be beneficial for a country in need and make it a negative. Also Kerie, we donated money to the Red Cross for Haiti when the earthquake initially occurred.

  5. When I first saw this I thought ‘I can tell someone is going to complain about this’ either because Monsanto is involved or because the seeds are hybrids (as opposed to heirlooms or something), or both. I didn’t want to be too pessimistic, but lo and behold, apparently someone out there, for some reason well beyond my comprehension, wants to burn the seeds. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/beverly-bell/haitian-farmers-commit-to_b_578807.html

    Unbelievable. This guy is calling Monsanto’s donation a ‘new earthquake.’If this does come to pass, I hope they still have enough food even without Monsanto’s donation.

  6. Two questions:

    1. Will these farmers be contractually obligated to Monsanto like American farmers are?

    2. What are they supposed to do with “field corn”? If you’re going to give them something, why not give them a food they can actually eat, not one that, in the US, is used as and additive for cheap unhealthy food or to fatten up meat animals?

    • Gina – No, there are no contracts involved with Monsanto in the purchase of this seed since this is a donation. Once the seed arrives in Haiti, the WINNER project and the Earth Institute will handle distribution. There will be no business transactions between Monsanto and Haitian farmers as part of this donation.

      Again, the distributors and the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture will help the Haitian farmers determine uses for these seeds. One use for field corn could be to provide feed for poultry. For example, in 2008, Haiti imported 30 million of the 31 million eggs Haitians ate monthly.

      When we made this donation, we discussed with the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture what seeds we had available in our portfolio and asked what they saw use in and what they would take. The final donation is a result of what the Ministry said they wanted.

      • Mica – is there any way you could break down what the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture requested, and their rationale?

        Another criticism of the Monsanto seed donation that I have seen came over at the ag biodiversity weblog – essentially saying that there isn’t a shortage of seed in Haiti, just a shortage of resources for farmers to buy the seed, and a pressure to grow crops that have a shorter growing duration to get harvests fast, and that a shift away from locally adapted varieties may not be a good thing – my assumptuion is that the HMA request at least covers some of this, although a detailed explanation of the various factors involved, from Monsanto’s perspective, would be awesome also.

      • Mica,
        Why weren’t green beans included in the seeds? They grow quickly — harvest in about 55 days or so.

  7. Mica,
    Would you please address GregH concern about the folling ….


    The hybrid corn seeds Monsanto has donated to Haiti are treated with the fungicide Maxim XO, and the calypso tomato seeds are treated with thiram.[3] Thiram belongs to a highly toxic class of chemicals called ethylene bisdithiocarbamates (EBDCs). Results of tests of EBDCs on mice and rats caused concern to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which then ordered a special review. The EPA determined that EBDC-treated plants are so dangerous to agricultural workers that they must wear special protective clothing when handling them. Pesticides containing thiram must contain a special warning label, the EPA ruled. The EPA also barred marketing of the chemicals for many home garden products, because it assumes that most gardeners do not have adequately protective clothing.[4] Monsanto’s passing mention of thiram to Ministry of Agriculture officials in an email contained no explanation of the dangers, nor any offer of special clothing or training for those who will be farming with the toxic seeds.

    Is this true???

    • Mike – The corn seeds were treated with Maxim XL, which is a Syngenta product. According to Syngenta, approximately 90 percent of U.S. corn seeds are treated with Maxim XL. Here’s more on Syngenta’s site. http://www.syngentacropprotection.com/prodrender/index.aspx?prodid=685 It’s also used in Western Europe and Latin America.

      Thiram, a Bayer Crop Science product, was used to treat the vegetable seeds. Thiram has been registered for use in the U.S. for more than 60 years and is used to treat approximately 1.3 billion pounds of seed annually. (Source: U.S. EPA) Here is the Thiram product page on Bayer’s site: http://www.bayercropscienceus.com/products_and_seeds/seed_treatments/thiram.html

      The Huffington Post article incorrectly identifies Thiram as a member of the EBDC class of chemicals. This is incorrect. The current classification is (dimethyl dithiocarbamate) DMDC. Source: Oregon State University, 1996.

      We asked the Haitian Ministry of Ag about both of these treatments during discussions on the donation, and there response was that “the products listed are used everyday in Haitian agriculture and should pose no problem.” I address this in the follow up “Five Answers to Monsanto’s Seed Donation” post here: http://www.monsantoblog.com/2010/05/20/five-answers-monsanto-haiti/

  8. Thanks for the great information Mica and Kathleen. I think it’s a surprise to a lot of us how complicated the science of agriculture really is. Hybrid seeds have been used for decades all over the world by all types of farmers, yet some of us don’t really know what they are. It’s also great how so many stakeholders, including the government of Haiti, USAID – WINNER, the Earth Institute, shipping companies and Monsanto, partnered together on this project. It shows how much good can come from working together on common goals, as opposed to the inaction that results from divisiveness. I personally witnessed several Monsanto employees put their heart and soul into this project to help the people of Haiti and am very proud to work with them.

    • Cecelia – No, we did not donate green beans. The vegetable seeds donated included corn, cabbage, carrot, eggplant, melon, onion, tomato, spinach and watermelon. Those were the vegetables we had available in our inventory that were also suited to Haiti’s growing conditions.

      I can’t say definitively whether green beans are or aren’t grown in Haiti. The FAO doesn’t list green beans as one of Haiti’s top 20 crops, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t.

      • Mica, thanks for your reply.

        Of the veggies on your list,only spinach has a shorter time than green beans from planting to harvest. Green beans are easy to grow but not invasive. Bush beans would not require fencing. Bush or pole beans will produce for months.

        My request of Monsanto — Will you please donate 25 pounds of either variety of green bean so that I can bring the seeds next week when I fly from Miami to Port au Prince then to Port au Paix and then to Bassin Bleu. It’s a start. People are hungry

        I live in Indiana but am a New Orleans native and my family (siblings) went through Katrina.

        Cecelia K. Hemphill, J.D., M.P.A.

  9. Gina,
    There’s really no difference between “field corn” and “food corn”. It’s the same corn and you decide whether to give it to animals or eat it yourself. Most of the “field corn” the U.S. donates to Haiti every year is milled and consumed by the Haitian people.
    Manuel Rivas

  10. I know this web site gives quality depending articles or reviews and additional material, is there any other web page which gives these stuff in quality?



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