The U.S. recently tried to blackmail El Salvador by telling the country they would limit an aid package if they did not accept the stipulations provided within it—stipulations which would have indirectly required them to purchase Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds. But El Salvador is fighting back.
Most farmers, including 45-year-old Juan Joaquin Luna Vides, prefer to source their seeds locally, and aren’t interested in Monsanto’s GM seed. Vides, who heads the Diversified Production program at the Mangrove Association, a community development organization that works in the Bajo Lempa region of El Salvador, states:
“Transnational companies have been known to provide expired seeds that they weren’t able to distribute elsewhere. We would like the US embassy and the misinformed media outlets [that are pressuring the Salvadoran government to change their procurement procedure] to know more about the reality of national producers and recognize the food sovereignty of the country.”
The US government’s method of persuasion is via the second Millennium Challenge Compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a US foreign aid agency created during the presidency of George W. Bush.
The U.S. has not specifically requested that the country purchase Monsanto’s suicide seeds, but through regulatory and political maneuvering, El Salvador as well as other countries are essentially forced to bow to Monsanto and other biotech’s seed monopolies. El Salvador, like other countries which have banned Monsanto’s seed, realize that their entire food system is in danger by relying on GM crops.
The MCC document was based upon a condition that the Salvadoran government purchase GM seeds. The corporation behind this document says its role in El Salvador is positive, even though it puts the nation’s self reliance in jeopardy.
“MCC is fueling economic growth in El Salvador’s Northern Zone through technical assistance, rehabilitation of roads, credit, and investments in people, including vocational education, better water and sanitation services and an improved energy supply,” according to the agency’s website.
That’s odd since the US government threatened to yank $277 million in aid funding that was to be filtered through the MCC if GM seeds were not part of the agricultural program.
“Before, small producers didn’t have the opportunity to participate in government seed procurement processes,” said Vides, who farms coffee and vegetables, and raises cattle. “The program has generated employment and income for communities, inhabitants and cooperatives of the area, while producers have also greatly developed their capacity to produce certified seed. Catering to transnational companies could hurt these gains that the program has created.”
GMO Seeds Reign Supreme, Apparently
Vides and other farmers have successfully used indigenous seed, and have never needed to rely on biotech for a viable seed source. Indigenous seeds make sense not only economically, but environmentally, as well.
As usual though, the US government works with biotech’s monopolizing multinational companies to push their GM campaign on the world. Food & Water Watch, a Washington DC-based watchdog group, has issued a report that details how the US State Department issues directives to US embassies to promote biotech products.
“Between 2007 and 2009, the State Department sent annual cables to ‘encourage the use of agricultural biotechnology,’ directing every diplomatic post worldwide to ‘pursue an active biotech agenda’ that promotes agricultural biotechnology, encourages the export of biotech crops and foods and advocates for pro-biotech policies and laws,” the report said.
“The State Department views its heavy-handed promotion of biotech agriculture as ‘science diplomacy,’ but it is closer to corporate diplomacy on behalf of the biotechnology industry,” the watchdog group added.
Time to Fight Back
El Salvador isn’t the only country fighting back, though. Brazilian farmers are suing Monsanto for $2.2 billion for collecting unfair royalties on their patented seeds. This is among hundreds of other lawsuits that are cropping up again to fight Monsanto, and other biotech interests.
Farmers like Manuel Cortez are working to keep seeds indigenous in El Salvador. He owns and manages over 940 hectares of farm and pastureland in the Lower Lempa region. He also is part of a cooperative that, with five other farming groups which comprise of over 45% of El Slavador’s corn farmers, are fighting Monsanto’s forced GM seed.
“We have heard that the United States would prefer that El Salvador purchase seeds from transnational sources, which would limit local seed producers like us,” Cortez told Truthout. “We have lived with these inferior transnational seeds that previous governments have promoted, and our market was saturated with them. It seems as if the United States doesn’t support local production of seed.”
Cortez explained that his coop and those he works with receive credit at the national bank, which relies on government contracts as collateral.
“With the United States inserting uncertainty in the legal future of El Salvador’s seed contracting,” he said, “we are worried that we won’t be able to pay off our debt if the law changes to prefer transnational seed suppliers.”
More farmers are realizing that relying on a single source for seed is suicide. In fact, record corn yields have been realized in the past year sourcing seeds locally in El Salvador. This has also led to a record outreach in national farming programs, and an injection of nearly $25 million total into the rural economy.
The Confederation of Federations of Salvadoran Agrarian Reform (CONFRAS) is a confederation that represents 131 farming coops in the country, which account for over 5,911 rural farmers throughout El Salvador. The group recently released a press statement that addressed the US government’s pressure on El Salvador to purchase Monsanto GM corn seed, noting:
“We are threatened because the US is pressuring the government of El Salvador so that its seed is not purchased from local families struggling to escape poverty, but transnational businesses.”
Due to the counter-pressure from Salvadoran farmers, it looks like the US government might be reversing its stance. The GM seed requirement looks like it will be left out of the $277 million aid deal.