Since announcing Monsanto’s $4 million seed donation to Haitian farmers on May 13, there have been some questions and some inaccuracies regarding details of the gift. We covered some of the answers in this initial blog post, which primarily addressed how the donation came about and noted the seeds were hybrids not biotech (GMO).
- Monsanto contacted the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture and offered specific non-GMO seed varieties and quantities suited for Haiti’s growing conditions. The Ministry reviewed the offer and asked some questions, including whether we intended to include GMO seed because Haiti does not have the legal framework in place to approve or use biotech seeds today. We clarified that Monsanto’s offer was only for conventionally bred hybrids. The Ministry let us know what crop seeds would be acceptable to their farmers. In a letter to Monsanto, the Ministry said:
“Thank you for Monsanto’s generous offer to donate Vegetable seeds and Hybrid maize seeds to benefit the Haitian farmers. The vegetable seeds have been tested in Haiti previously and are well accepted by the farmers. They will definitely contribute to an increase in vegetable production in Haiti.”
- Monsanto informed the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture that certain seeds would have a fungicidal treatment on them. Fungicidal seed treatments are often applied to seeds prior to planting to protect them from fungal diseases that arise in the soil and hamper the plant’s ability to germinate and grow. The treatments also provide protection against diseases the seed might pick up in transfer between countries. Seed treatments are commonly used in agriculture worldwide.
Monsanto notified the Ministry that the donated seeds would have fungicide treatments. The Ministry continued to be supportive, offering the following:
“Let me also thank you for the information about the seed treatments for the Monsanto Hybrids. The products listed are used everyday in Haitian agriculture and should pose no problem.”
- Some of the vegetable seed products Monsanto donated were already grown in Haiti. That, coupled with our consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture, gave us confidence that farmers would welcome and benefit from the donation.
- There are no contractual obligations between Haitian farmers and Monsanto since this is a donation. In fact, there are no business transactions at all between Monsanto and Haitian farmers in regards to these seeds. Monsanto is earning no revenue from this donation.
- Monsanto noted that hybrids are not commonly grown in Haiti today. We have received questions about how much this hybrid seed donation will change current farming practices. Will farmers need additional inputs? What additional education/resources are needed for this to be successful?
These are all good questions, and ones that we considered prior to making the donation. This is partly why the donation took so long to make – we wanted to ensure that farmers would have the necessary tools and support since our involvement ends once the seed hits the ground in Haiti. We felt it would be irresponsible and ineffective to simply send the seed without a plan.
We sought on-the-ground support in Haiti and again consulted with the Haitian Ministry. The USAID-funded WINNER project and The Earth Institute will handle distribution and will support farmers with recommendations and resources. That support includes helping farmers decide whether to use additional inputs (including fertilizer and herbicides) and deciding how to handle next year’s planting season.
For some farmers, those may be new techniques, and for others it may not. A seed is a seed. And technically, it can be planted without any additional inputs. Fertilizer and herbicides increase the output of the crop. But again, the decision on whether to use those will be left to the individual farmer.
It’s disheartening 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. Fortunately, we have not received reports that that is actually occurring.