International Day of Farmers’ Struggles: What Haitian Farmers Organizations are Fighting For

By  |  20 / April / 2014

haitiThe farmer is intimately connected to the land, and in farming the land to produce food that feeds millions of people. He has a deep relationship with seeds–he considers himself their historical guardian. Seeds are a sacred heritage of farmers and indigenous people, and they were created to serve humanity to grow food, to ensure biodiversity and reproduction of life.

Today, all around the world, multinational corporations are grabbing the land and seeds, seeking to eliminate small-scale agriculture, and therefore farmers and their families. April 17 was dedicated as the International Day of Peasant’s Struggle in memory of a massacre of members of the Landless Farmers’ Movement in Brazil. Around the world, farmers’ leaders are persecuted, murdered, and demonized. We need to work in solidarity. We must resist.

Each year, farmers’ organizations are taking different actions around April 17. This year, La Via Campesina launched a worldwide mobilization to promote farmers’ seeds that are endangered by genetically-modified seeds (GMOs). One of the worst problems in recent years is the technique developed by Monsanto and other big corporations to produce “terminator” seeds, seeds that are modified to produce sterile plants, and thus lead to the total elimination of the autonomy of farmers’ families to maintain and sow their seeds. Monsanto is lobbying some governments and parliaments to pass laws to allow the use of terminator seeds.

Land grabbing is increasing worldwide with particular emphasis in Africa and Latin America. Haiti is not spared. Huge areas of land are grabbed to establish free zones, produce agrofuels or set up giant tourism projects. This falls within the “Green Economy” adopted in the Rio + 20 Conference in 2012 by developed countries supposedly to deal with various crises facing the world: climate crisis, energy crisis, environmental crisis, food crisis, etc.

The Green Economy project is more and more leaning toward the transformation of all natural resources into commodities. We are talking about the commodification of the planet. This is a project that first threatens farmers in the Southern Hemisphere where the vast majority (2.4 billion) of farmers and indigenous peoples live. Farmers’ organizations in the South and the North, social movements and other aware sectors of society are mobilizing to fight to block this deadly project.

The Struggles of Farmers’ Organizations in Haiti

With a population of over 10 million people, the vast majority (65%) of Haitians are farmers. Since independence in 1804, farmers have always been marginalized and exploited to the point that rural areas are called the “Outside country.” The “Outside country” does not benefit from the services of the State, and farmers are left to themselves. Land in Haiti belongs to the State, churches, and big landowners, most of whom live in North America or Europe. The majority of farmers’ families do not own land or have a plot allowing them to produce enough to meet their needs. They are either sharecroppers, farmers, migrant farm workers or owners. It happens often that those having parcels of land have no title, or the titles they have are difficult to uphold. This blocks the development of agricultural production in the country.

Until the 1970s, Haiti enjoyed food sovereignty. Now, the country produces only 40% of its food needs. We depend heavily on food imports from the Dominican Republic and the United States. The forest cover was 80% at the time of independence, but is now less than 2%. The country is facing an alarming environmental crisis. We’re moving toward the total desertification if nothing is done to rebuild and protect the environment.

In 2009, 11 farmers’ organizations came together and created FONDAMA, a network of grassroots communities and organizations working together on food sovereignty and environmental issues. A year later, after a very destructive earthquake had killed tens of thousands of people, the country received a very “special” gift from Monsanto: 475 tons of seeds with pesticides and fertilizers. Between 8,000 to 12,000 farmers associated with FONDAMA and other organizations in the country marched in Haiti to express their disagreement with the government’s decision to accept the seeds offered by Monsanto. As they had always been able to produce and reproduce their own seeds, they were afraid of being “integrated into a market in which they do not control the quality and price of seeds, and to be turned into assistants instead of producers.[1]” During the demonstration, farmers burned many of Monsanto’s donated seeds.

FONDAMA is currently involved in a campaign for agrarian reform, with the goal of passing a law that will give farmers ownership of the land they use. Member organizations of FONDAMA opted for family and small-scale agriculture based on agro-ecological methods. In this sense, we organize trainings on agroecology, select and preserve native seeds, work for soil conservation and reforestation, develop comprehensive water management, etc. We organize debates, mobilize around issues such as around land reform, environmental crises, food, energy affecting the country in general, farmers’ families in particular. We advocate what we call Jaden Prekay, gardens around houses. It is a program that produces vegetables, fruit, food, and meat around the house to feed families with healthy products and to put the surplus in local markets that represent a pillar of food sovereignty.

Haitian farmers struggle every day for the land. They retain native seeds to use the next season. They work together in what they call konbit, a form of solidarity in the activities of production and processing of agricultural products. They want to live a simple life, a supportive living in a healthy environment. That is why they are organizing to defend their human rights. FONDAMA accompanies them in the struggle for survival and a better life.

[1] “The future of Haiti’s agriculture according to the American Monsanto,” Rue 89, May 28, 2010.

By Chavannes Jean Baptiste, Coordinator of Farmer’s Movement of Papaye (MPP), Haiti. This article was first published by the Presbyterian Mission Agency. The Americas Program thanks its partner, the Presbyterian Hunger Program, for its support for our Program and for its global work on the issues of hunger and food sovereignty.

For information on how to get involved:

http://www.presbyterianmission.org/site_media/media/uploads/joininghands/pdfs/seed-related_recommendations_and_resources.pdf

Resources

  1. Actions to Take for Seed Freedom
  2. The untold life of the 21st-century farmer by Andrew Kang Bartlett
  3. Reflection on Seeds by activist Laura Valencia
  4. Farmer Suicides in India by Vandana Shiva
  5. Seeds of Death: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUd9rRSLY4A
  6. Seeds of Freedom:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-bK8X2s1kI
  7. The World According to Monsanto http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VEZYQF9WlE
  8. The Jakarta Call- A new documentary from Via Campesina about seeds. See the trailer here

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