Latin American Communities Fight to Protect Heirloom Seeds From Monsanto
In small Latin American countries, such as Guatemala, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, most farmers do not know the pros and cons of using genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). Many do not even know what GMO means. But Monsanto is changing all of this with an aggressive strategy to expand internationally, threatening many varieties of natural corn seed available throughout this region.
Local Costa Rican Governments say NO to GMO
The use of GMOs in our food supply is one of the most important health issues today because of the potential danger they pose to our health, the fact that they require the use and over-use of patented herbicides and pesticides, and they are giving a handful of corporations a global monopoly on seed and food. People around the world are learning about GMOs, and deciding if they will allow the growth of GMO crops on their lands, and demanding that foods containing GMOs are properly labeled.
Despite growing concern and questions from the global public, Monsanto, the largest global GMO seed supplier and agro-chemical company, continues the relentless expansion towards a global seed oligopoly. Monsanto’s first quarter 2013 profits nearly tripled due to the sales of its GMO corn seed in Latin America, as reported by the company.
Monsanto’s deep pockets easily sway government officials in its favor, although, most officials know nothing about GMO and their potential dangers. Unsuspecting farmers are sold on the promise that genetically-engineered crops produce higher yields and repel bugs, although, farmers in North America, where GMO crops have been grown for over 15 years, are questioning the validity of these promises. For example, one of the biggest problems reported in the US has been GM seed resistance developed by bugs, which have evolved to survive harsh GM crops and now require more pesticides than ever. (source)
Concerned citizens in Costa Rica, faced with the national government’s decision to allow Monsanto subsidiary, DPL Semillas, to grow GMO corn in the country for seed export, have spent the week of March 4-10 helping to educate the public about the importance of protecting natural heirloom seeds. Over the last couple of months, local communities have been voting on the GMO issue in their county governments – the municipalities – deciding whether to ban the growth of GMO corn in their counties. As of early March, 46 out of 81 municipalities in the country have banned the growth of GMO corn.
Due to the strong opposition from municipalities, as well as universities, Ministry of Culture, agricultural schools, indigenous tribes, and local farmers, the national decision to allow Monsanto to enter Costa Rica is currently suspended and awaits further debate to determine if such a decision is constitutional.
Why Are Heirloom Seeds Important?
In Costa Rica, heirloom seeds have been passed from generation to generation by farming families, particularly corn as it is a basic staple of the “Tico” diet. Many varieties of heirloom corn, called maíz criollo, are grown to support the production of common local foods, such as corn tortillas, chorriadas, empanadas, tamales, and other authentic dishes. The type of corn used is typically what gives each dish its unique flavor. GMO cross-pollination with heirloom corn varieties is a major threat to traditional Costa Rican foods, their flavor, as well as the varied nutrition they provide.
Costa Rica is peppered with local farms that feed their local communities. The ownership of unpatented seed ensures these farmers of their God-given right to grow food, however and wherever they wish. Farmers are concerned that the introduction of GMO corn seed into the country will contaminate natural corn varieties with patented GMOs, thus taking away natural agricultural freedom and giving control over the food supply to corporations. Although currently the debate is focused on GMO corn seed, many expect that this is just a way in the door for Monsanto. If corn is allowed, what’s to stop from other GMO crops to be grown in the country?
Selling local produce is a very common way to make a living, particularly in small Latin American communities. For example, in Costa Rica, you will often see a local citizen selling seasonal produce right in front of their house, going door-to-door, or pushing a cart down the street. Selling and trading fruits and vegetables is a simple way that many people supplement or create their income. Also common are seed exchanges, allowing people to exchange their seeds with other local farmers, a practice not possible with patented GMO seed.
Heirloom seeds give us many freedoms: freedom to pass on ancestral traditions; freedom to grow food without patent fees; freedom to nourish our bodies; and freedom to exchange seed without corporate oversight.
Read more articles by Anna Hunt.
About the Author
Anna Hunt is writer, yoga instructor, mother of three, and lover of healthy food. She’s the founder of Awareness Junkie, an online community paving the way for better health and personal transformation. She’s also the co-editor at Waking Times, where she writes about optimal health and wellness. Anna spent 6 years in Costa Rica as a teacher of Hatha and therapeutic yoga. She now teaches at Asheville Yoga Center and is pursuing her Yoga Therapy certification. During her free time, you’ll find her on the mat or in the kitchen, creating new kid-friendly superfood recipes.
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