As the first black republic, and the second nation to have gained its independence in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti’s sovereignty is mired in a heady mix of pride, occupation at various levels, and struggle. Although Haitians around the world celebrated the Haitian flag’s 210th anniversary on May 18, 2013, what the flag stands for—unity, sovereignty, and shared destiny—have been elusive. Since the flag’s creation, Haiti’s sovereignty has been contested militarily through two U.S. occupations and a current multinational peacekeeping operation, which is viewed by Haitians as another iteration of foreign occupation. Additionally, according to Haitian peasant organizations and their allies, Haiti’s sovereignty is further compromised by its dependence on food imports.
In the past six months Grassroots International partners the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP) and Tet Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen (Tet Kole) each held organizational assemblies. These gatherings of members and allies offer an opportunity for the groups to reflect and plan the movements’ trajectory. The obstacles to food sovereignty were at the core of both gatherings along with homegrown solutions on how to remove these obstacles. For both organizations, local control of the country’s food system begins with seeds.
Haitian peasant movements speak of seed sovereignty by way of creole seeds. That is, native seeds that are:
- adapted to the local environment;
- not genetically modified or hybridized; and
- capable of self-regeneration.
These organizations decry the commercialization of nature, which they predict will result in the death of biodiversity. By way of illustration, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste of the MPP explained, “In the old days, Haitian peasants never sold seeds; seeds were for sharing and exchanging. In fact, in those days the older generation believed selling seeds would result in a poor harvest. Now, multinationals are engaged in genetic resource and seed grabs in pursuit of profit. And they are eliminating local seeds and replacing them with hybrids and GMOs that can’t reproduce.”
Because Haitian peasant movements believe Haiti’s sovereignty begins on small farms across the country, they are fighting against adoption of GMO and hybridized seeds by educating farmers on the real costs of losing creole seeds—loss of independence. GMO and hybrid seeds must be purchased every season, along with the chemical fertilizers and pesticides they require. In contrast, Haitian peasant organizations are building creole seed banks with the understanding that “seeds are the common patrimony of all humanity; a common good that must be shared and exchanged,” explains Jean-Baptiste. They are also teaching their members how to store and conserve creole seeds, and organic farming techniques. Studies have shown that such organic techniques out-produce chemically intensive agriculture, and at far less cost to the farmers and the soil they depend on.
Our partners in Haiti, who have framed Haiti’s present-day struggle within the framework of food sovereignty, understand creole seeds as being integral to Haiti’s second independence. During a workshop entitled “Haiti Reconstruction Efforts and Challenges for Sustainable Agriculture” at this year’s Ecumenical Advocacy Days, Michel Mulaire of the MPP stated, “a Haiti dependent on imports for its basic sustenance cannot be free, and certainly cannot consider itself independent.” It’s within this context seed sovereignty offers a path toward achieving full sovereignty through local control of food production. For Rosnel Jean-Baptiste of Tet Kole it’s simple: “Haitians must control what we produce, what we eat. If we can’t control such a basic thing, what can we control? “