Monsanto, aid and politics

the world according to Monsanto

Two years ago, I published a post about "The World According to Monsanto - The Horror of Commercial GM Crops" which also included a link to a must-see documentary. The documentary showed clearly how Monsanto was encroaching on the seed (and thus food-) markets in developing countries in a pretty straightforward way: they buy up as many seed distributors as possible. Through this network, they offer their GMO seeds - which need their own pesticides to be productive - at a price far lower than traditional seeds. Once the traditional seeds are competed off the market, they will stay off the market, as no new traditional crops are grown to generate traditional seeds.
Once Monsanto has the monopoly of the country's seed market, the prices are increased.

Monsanto has not been sitting still in developing countries. They steadily moved into the aid world, including strengthening their ties with the Gates Foundation. Their common projects came under fire as having too close links to large-scale industrial agriculture and consequently, they were accused of pushing the use of genetically modified crops. A move which was fully compliant with the US foreign policy, it seems.

Earlier this year, Monsanto announced the donation of hybrid seeds to Haitian farmers, under the auspices of USAid, in what I would call an obvious mix of politics, aid and commerce.
That donation spurred a lot of criticism from within the aid community, and the Haitian farmers themselves.

Strangely enough (or not?), a recently completed assessment of seed availability in Haiti found that plenty of seeds for traditional crops exist within the country. The report recommended seeds from outside of the country not to be introduced.
Interestingly enough, the report was funded partially by USAid, the backers of the Monsanto-Haiti deal. Would USAid therefor admit the Monsanto deal was an error? Maybe they should, if you read the report's main findings:

  1. Emergency seed aid should be used only to address emergency problems, and those in which seed security is a problem. Note that current farmer projections for August/September 2010 suggest that farmers can access the seed they need.
  2. Any seeds made available to farmers through aid interventions have to be shown to a) be adapted to local conditions, b) fit well with farmers preferences, and c) be of a quality ‘at least as good’ as what farmers normally use. One should never introduce varieties in an emergency context which have not been tested in the given agro-ecological site and under farmers’ management conditions. (..)
  3. Direct Seed Distribution (DSD) is best used when there are problems of seed availability.(Several agro-dealers in Léogâne indicated they had substantial supplies of maize seed unsold while free seed aid was being delivered. Business was being compromised at the critical moment it needed to be strengthened. While Léogâne is somewhat unique in currently having an input dealer network, such outlets will likely become more numerous in near future: these should be supported, rather than undermined). (...)
  4. Novel improved varieties should generally not be introduced to a broad population in the context of an emergency distribution. (...)

Once again: when commercial interests and foreign politics get mixed up in aid, you get a poisoned blend where the interest of the poor is no longer core. To say the least.
Will anything change? Hardly. It looks like after the war on terror, the wars for oil, the next wars will be for food. Whoever dominates the food market, has the power. In that scenario, Monsanto will even become a stronger ally of US foreign policy.

Picture courtesy Ethical Consumer


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