sábado, junio 04, 2011

El Salvador rejects GMO's


In the Interest of Food Sovereignty, El Salvador Rejects GMO Seeds

Local diversified farms in El Salvador. (Chalatenango)

On May 6, El Salvador’s president, Mauricio Funes, visited an agricultural cooperative in the municipality of Jiquilisquo in the department of Usulutan to speak about the government’s investments in the country’s agricultural producers and its efforts to achieve food sovereignty. His speech was timed with the start of the growing season, and Mr. Funes spoke of how his administration plans to change the so-called agricultural investment patterns of the past twenty years (aka: the ARENA party’s patterns) to one that truly supports farmers and improves rural livelihoods. While he said that the current practice of distributing seed packets would continue, low-interest loans would be available from the country’s two state-owned development banks for up to $3,000 to invest in farming equipment or other agricultural necessities. Funes also promised more technical assistance to improve agricultural practices, and that the government plans on buying a percentage of the corn and bean harvest to distribute to small businesses in the most depressed regions of the country, allowing those businesses to be able to sell those staples at lower than average prices – but he did not elaborate on how much money the government would be investing in these programs. Ironically, while the president was having his picture taken sowing corn seeds into a freshly tilled plot of land, other regions of the country found chaos erupting because agricultural producers were having troubles accessing the seed packets the government was promising. (The seed packets are a seed-fertilizer combo deal.)

During his speech, President Funes repeatedly alluded to “food sovereignty.” Food sovereignty refers to the rights of the farmers and people of each country and region to choose their own food and agricultural systems instead of succumbing to pressures by international corporations and governments. Funes said that by 2014, his vision was that 100% of the seeds farmers sow in their fields were seeds from El Salvador. No more seed importation. And while he did not directly say so, what this implies is that by 2014, El Salvador hopes to no longer buy genetically modified seeds from Monsanto (primarily from its local subsidiary, Semillas Cristiani Burkard). Let’s look at some figures: El Salvador imports 95% of fresh fruits and vegetables sold, 40% of the corn, and 30% of the beans. Of the basic grains cultivated domestically, 70% are primarily for home consumption – they never reach the market. These figures imply that El Salvador is not very food secure at all. One way to encourage more planting it to make seeds more accessible and cheaper. Buying imported seeds that are genetically modified each year is a significant expense for many farmers. The Mangrove Association is working on improving the quality and quantity of locally grown seeds. They currently work with farmers to implement sustainable agriculture practices, and help promote diversified crops. They have plans in the works to convert large tracts of sugar cane into corn fields – corn to be used for seeds. The benefits of using seeds that have been adapted to the particular climate and soil of a region are numerous. All other factors being equal, local seeds have been shown to have increased resistance to diseases and pests, require less fertilizer and even water because the plants have become acclimatized to El Salvador, and El Salvador is where they will grow the best. I personally hope that local seed production increases significantly; I have been unable to find any local seeds for the aquaponics system I’m working with! No lettuce, tomato, melon, cucumbers – only from Semillas Christiani or another company based in Guatemala. If the Mangrove Association succeeds, and other groups step in, this could be a boon to all agricultural producers in El Salvador.

*Information taken from articles of the May 6 editions of el Diario de Hoy and La Prensa Grafica, and an article from AlterNet by C. Martinez on May 26.*

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