Uprooting GM Crops with Creole Seeds

NOTE: This is a guest post from Saulo Araujo, Program Coordinator for Latin America at Grassroots International.

In rural areas like Seu Lazaro’s community in the state of Goiás, Brazil, vendors of genetically modified seeds used to drop by with wide smiles and black suitcases full of samples and colorful catalogues. Their dusty cars, parked in the middle of the road, are a map of their sales route across miles of unpaved, bumpy roads. According to Seu Lazaro, these vendors (often trained agronomists) go from house to house trying to convince peasant farmers to buy seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides by promising lush crops and a good return in the investment.

Those promises convinced Seu Lazaro’s father to use GM seeds, who then convinced him.

Seu Lazaro is 51 years old. He lives in a small house with his wife and daughter. He inherited the land that sustains them from his father.  Seu Lazaro confesses. “I remember my father telling me about a corn variety that could hold up well in rain or wind. After that, like other families, we stopped planting our seeds to plant the new seeds.” And, like other famers, he paid year after year for GM seeds and expensive fertilizers to help them grow.

That was before Seu Lozaro participated with other farmers in an experiment with Creole seeds organized by the Popular Peasant Movement (MCP), a Grassroots International partner. Through participatory research, the experiment utilized a small area of farmland to evaluate which local seeds performed best for the type of soil and climate of his local community. Seu Lazaro and other farmers in his group were impressed by what they saw, particularly when they, collectively, harvested the area and weighed how much each variety yielded.

Seu Lazaro says that the GM seed vendors’ sweet talk doesn’t convince him anymore.

In reality, the production costs required by the farming techniques sold by the vendors are exceptionally high and outweigh the promised productivity levels. Peasant farmers know that farming is survival, not just a business. With the prices of corn, beans and rice in the local market controlled mostly by corporations and the commodities stock market in Chicago, farmers like Seu Lazaro are happy to learn about alternatives that are economically viable and environmentally sustainable. They understand very well that the high cost of production also increases the chances of losing the land where they grew up and currently raise their families.

Further, the industrial agriculture model pushed by corporate giants and their door-to-door salesforce is based on the use pesticides to which insects, microorganisms and weeds become resistant, demanding ever higher doses of the same inputs or the use of more expensive ones. In other words, industrial farming is addicted to agrochemicals. This dependence on poisonous compounds creates an unprecedented and costly public and environmental health problem. Since 2010, for instance, Brazil has surpassed the United States as the world’s leading consumer of agrochemicals. Currently, each person in Brazil consumes over five liters of pesticides and contaminated food per year.

Agroecology is the solution

The Peasant Popular Movement (MCP) is working with peasant farmers like Seu Lazaro to identify and restore local practices and seeds that were replaced by GM seeds and pesticides. Through popular education like the small demonstration plots using Creole seeds, MCP also promotes the use of agroecological practices such as the diversification and rotation of crops and the use of natural fertilizers. One such practice, Agroecological Corridors, combines crops with natural fertilizer species that recuperate soil fertility.

After many years of monocrops and heavy machines, soils lose fertility and cannot even grow grass. In the Agroecological Corridor, farmers cultivate plants with strong root systems to break through the compacted ground created by the use of tractors. These plants also produce a good amount of leaves and branches that will feed the microorganisms in the soil, thus increasing its fertility. In this system, farmers are able to continue producing food while improving the soil.

Seu Lazaro is using the technique on his farm for the first time. He planted his Agroecological Corridor in an area with depleted soils and he is confident that after some adjustments his area will reclaim the vitality it once had.

Agroecology employs a set of practices that are environment friendly, socially just and economic viable. Unlike industrial organic farming, agroecology is not limited to producing food without pesticides. It also protects local agro-biodiversity, and relies mainly on the work of peasant farmers to end hunger. MCP’s grassroots work to build more resilient agroecological systems that value local knowledge is critical in these times when entire peasant communities are vanishing under pressure from agro-fuels plantations to produce for export.

In fact, MCP’s agroecological work has three positive effects. By creating the conditions for peasant farmers to stay on the land, MCP helps to reduce hunger in rural areas (where the level of malnourishment is the highest), values peasants’ contribution to supply the local market (peasant communities in Brazil produces over 50 percent of everything is consumed) and creates a more sustainable food system that cools the planet.

This post originally appeared on Grassroots International’s blog.

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Photo by Grassroots International.

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Marylyn E.


Mcp B.
Mcp B.3 years ago

We, from Popular Peasant Movement, are so glad by the comments and the support. MCP is a Grassroots International partner. Together we are working hard to strengthen family farms and preserve agrobiodiversity. "For food sovereignty and people's power" is our lemma.

Vivianne Mosca-Clark

There are farmers that have done suicide because of Monsanto's crops. They went into heavy debit and the committed suicide because of the huge debit.
The land does not do will with the chemicals used. The land is dead after the continued used of the pesticides used.

Vicky Pitchford
Vicky P.3 years ago

vendors of genetically modified seeds used to drop by with wide smiles and black suitcases full of samples and colorful catalogues. Their dusty cars, parked in the middle of the road

sounds so sketchy lol

Ernie Miller
william Miller3 years ago


Laura D.
Laura D.3 years ago

I have nothing against GM crops and farmers should be able to plant what they like, but I despise Monsanto's monopolizing tactics. What is needed is agricultural diversity--plenty of heritage crops, modern crops, and yes, GM crops as well.

Christine Stewart

People who want to argue that we can feed more people with GM seeds forget that most GM crops are going to require utterly perfect circumstances to produce at their full potential- like tons of artificial fertilizers (the runoff which poisons the local waterways) and huge amounts of water (likely diverted from wildlife habitat). Seeds from native plants can withstand the local conditions better when the environment gets too harsh (dry,hot, etc). There are still plenty of ways to get the native crops to produce more- just need to educate the farmers on rotating crops, adding compost to the soil, etc...

Jennifer S.
Jennifer Steger3 years ago

This was a great article. Our Department of Agriculture in the US needs to adopt the agroecological model of farming and avoid GM farming that has not been proven to create drought-resistent plants nor does it help the soil.

Good work MCP!

Alex H.
Alex H.3 years ago

If Brazil is so horribly contaminated with chemicals and pesticides,what is this doing to the flora and fauna in the Amazon River and rainforest,not to mention the native tribes which depend on these areas for their livelihood!? Sounds like corporate genocide to me?!It saddens me that there are salesmen who would sell their souls to the likes of Monsanto and then go out and con their fellow citizens.However,this is what happens in poverty-stricken developing countries,where choices are limited.

devon leonard
Devon Leonard3 years ago

Sounds like MCP is trying to protect and educate the people in that area of Brazil...Bravo..!!! They have a lot of work ahead of them to quell the tactics of dishonorable corporate agricultural companies.. We need to preserve the precious seeds of our Earth and not allow all our food to be grown from genetically altered seeds.