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.
Photo by Grassroots International.
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