The US Agency for International Development unveiled the “WINNER” Program¹ in October of 2009, 3 months before the earthquake. The plan was ecological in focus: WINNER would enhance watershed management and conservation, and promote reforestation.
The goals of WINNER shifted, however, in the post-earthquake contractor “gold rush.” With an agenda dominated by Monsanto and DC contractors, the revised WINNER program sold out Haiti’s agriculture. The new focus was on providing hybrid Monsanto seed to Haitian farmers to address a non-existent seed emergency. The following discussion highlights why WINNER is ill-conceived, poorly managed, and likely to hurt Haitian farmers.
WINNER’s Corporate Makeover: Wrong Contractor, Wrong Focus, Wrong Process
USAID hired the notorious firm Chemonics International to implement WINNER
- USAID last tapped Chemonics in 2006 to work in Afghanistan. USAID’s own Inspector General found that Chemonics didn’t uphold its contract in Afghanistan (PDF), failing to meet any of its 8 goals. One wonders why USAID would hire them again…
- USAID’s own assessments show that in Haiti, Chemonics is again failing to meet objectives.
By focusing on subsidized seeds, USAID acted irresponsibly, willfully ignored Haiti’s Needs
- The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (ICTA) published a study in Oct. 2010, which found that seed access was not a problem (PDF) in post-earthquake Haiti. The report recommended that all seed donations halt immediately, predicting adverse consequences otherwise.
- The report noted that “emergency” seeds should never be distributed in an untested environment.
- Haitian grassroots groups organized to burn the donated seeds.
WINNER Bypassed Haitian Government
An Unhealthy, Unsustainable Program
Chemically-treated seeds are bad for farmers, environment
- Monsanto’s seeds are treated with extremely dangerous chemicals. Most notable is Thiram, which belongs to a highly toxic class of chemicals called ethylene bisdithiocarbamates (EBDCs). The US Environmental Protection Agency found that EBDCs are so toxic that they can’t be handled by farmers without protective gear.
- Because of this, Monsanto and Chemonics have a moral responsibility to educate farmers about health precautions. Yet they not only failed to do so, they even distributed seeds in unmarked bags – thus endangering people and the environment without their knowledge.
Ironically, Monsanto’s donation is setting the stage for a seed crisis in 4 years
- WINNER will break Haitian seed distribution networks, leaving Haiti dependent long after the program ends. Here’s how:
Farmers are enticed to buy Monsanto seeds because they’re offered at a 10% the market seed price. Yet, farmers can’t breed and save Monsanto’s hybrid seeds as they do with local varieties. Thus, WINNER disrupts local seed distribution networks as seed suppliers become Monsanto buyers. When WINNER expires in 4 years, Haitian farmers will no longer have subsidized hybrid seeds, but they also won’t have seeds saved up for local markets. The result? A genuine seed crisis.
Why is USAID doing this? Final word goes to ICTA’s head researcher, Louise Sperling: “humanitarian actors… see delivering seed aid as easy and they welcome the overhead [i.e. low administrative costs] – even if their actions may hurt poor farmers.“
¹ The terribly cumbersome, seldom used full name is: Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources.
by Nathan Yaffe