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Peasant Farming Can Cool Down the Earth

posted Feb 15, 2012, 7:11 PM by Dianne James
An interview with Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, Executive Director of Mouvement Paysan de Papaye, an Haitian member of La Via Campesina, in Durban South Africa, December 2011, just after the closing of COP17.

JC: What are you doing here Durban during United Nations COP17?

Chavannes Jean-Baptiste: I am here with the Via Campesina delegation in Durban. La Via Campesina is promoting food sovereignty as the way not only to resolve the food crisis, but also the climate crisis. There are a lot of studies to show that peasant agriculture, agro-ecological production, can cool down the earth. Around the world, La Via Campesina is fighting against industrial food production, which is responsible for more than 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. We are fighting against agrofuel production, and agribusiness consortiums like Monsanto that are destroying the soil, and the biodiversity with pesticides and GMOs, and killing native seeds in developing countries. A lot of peasant organizations and NGOs came to Durban to say no to REDD, no to agriculture in the negotiations, and no to the carbon market.

JC: What is the struggle of peasant farmers in Haiti?

CJB: In Haiti we are fighting against agrofuel production, jatropha plantations, and GMO seeds. It’s a big struggle because industrial agriculture wants to kill peasant agriculture, to kill our native forests with REDD, REDD+, the carbon market, and other false solutions. Now a Brazilian company is planting jatropha to produce agrodiesel. We see this as a big land grab, and we’re fighting it.

Haiti is a very small country, and about eighty percent of Haitians are peasants. After independence we had about thirty percent of our native forests left, and now we have less than two percent. Climate change in Haiti is a major problem – the environment is in very bad shape. We can go six months without rain, and then we have flash floods, where we lose crops, animals, houses… We have between one and three hurricanes every year; in 2008 we had three hurricanes in three months, destroying everything.

Haiti used to be sovereign in food production. Now we produce only 40 percent of our food. Every day we depend on food from the Dominican Republic, and from the USA, where farmers receive a lot of subsidies, and are dumping a lot of their cheap food on us. Haiti was self-sufficient in rice, and now we import eighty percent of our rice. With rice flooding in from the U.S., small farmers in Haiti can’t afford to produce.

Right now our big fight is to defend native seeds. For more than 200 years, peasants in Haiti have produced seeds to plant; now we are working to select and preserve seeds. We are using natural pesticides, we have seed banks, we use organic methods to produce food. We are doing a lot of work with soil conservation, water management, reforestation, and now we have a program to help families produce enough food around the home, to have food for the family and put the rest into the local market.

But the problem now is that the government, after the earthquake, has a plan to give a lot of land to a big corporation from Asia, to make an Export Processing Zone, to produce goods for export. The point is to use the labor of our workers; the Export Zone agreement pays very low wages, and the workers can’t defend themselves, because no laws apply.