Small Farmers Pushed to Plant GM Seed
By Kristin Palitza
Inter Press Service, July 21, 2008
DURBAN, Jul 21 (IPS) - Baphethile Mntambo has been farming organically for the past five years because she knows that avoiding chemicals will in the long-term benefit her yield. She decided not to plant genetically modified seeds because she has heard that they cannot be saved for the next season and will eventually deplete her soil. But she is not entirely sure how and why.
"I have heard about GMO, but I don't understand what it is exactly," she says. "The only thing I know is that it will cost a lot of money to buy the seeds, the fertiliser and the pesticides."
Mntambo is one of 50 small-scale farmers in the Valley of a Thousand Hills in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province who have been taught how to farm organically by non-governmental organisation Valley Trust. The farmers learn to plant seasonal crops that will provide their families both with food security and an opportunity to generate income by selling their produce at local markets.
"We decided to promote organic farming to create sustainability for small-scale farmers. We believe it is the only way to give them food sovereignty and stability," explains Valley Trust food security facilitator Nhlanhla Vezi.
The Valley Trust used to cooperate with the Department of Agriculture, according to Vezi, but the collaboration ceased when the department started to put pressure on small-scale farmers to form cooperatives if they wanted its support. "The Department makes very attractive offers to provide farming equipment, water piping and seeds, but then uses this as a strategy to push GMO because of agreements they have signed with multinational GM seed patent holders," says Vezi.
Rural farmers are often lured into planting GM seeds by the Department of Agriculture by promises of substantial bank loans and the prospect of huge earnings, agrees Lesley Liddell, director of Biowatch, an NGO promoting alternatives to GMO farming by encouraging farmers to inter-crop, use natural fertilisers and non-chemical crops. "But in the end, most farmers end up in huge debt, because they can't save seeds and are obliged to buy the matching GM fertilisers and pesticides."
Yet, small-scale farmers are often so desperate for financial support that they consider planting GMO crops against better knowledge if they are offered the seeds for free. "I know that GMO is not good in the long run, but if someone gave me these seeds I would still plant them," says Tholani Bhengu, another small-scale farmer who works with the Valley Trust. "For me, the most important thing is to bring food on the table every week. I can't afford to think now about what will happen next year."
Article continues at Organic Consumers Association.