by Staff Writers
Hinche, Haiti (AFP) March 21, 2013
Hundreds of small farmers have converged on the central Haitian city of Hinche to demand more space to grow their own crops in a country that imports more than half of its food.
"Yes to land reform. Yes to environmentally-friendly agriculture," chanted the 300-some farmers gathered for the 40th anniversary of the Papaye Peasant Movement, a group aiming to promote "food sovereignty for the people."
"Forty years of struggle for social change. We want true land reform."
The high point of the summit is a march expected to see 40,000 farmers protest to air their grievances Friday.
MPP leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste strongly opposed the introduction of hybrid and genetically modified seeds from American giant Monsanto after the devastating 2010 earthquake that leveled much of Haiti.
"Farmers need to get the same consideration as all other Haitians. They must be respected and included in national decisions," he said.
"We have to show that we are a force in Haiti."
Haitian farmers are seeking land reforms that would allocate a plot to all workers to feed their families and supply local markets.
Those protesting believe that by using banning chemical fertilizers and pesticides while steering clear of genetically modified crops they can provide better yield while also reducing poverty.
With about 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of cultivated land, Haiti has about 800,000 small farming businesses.
Hurricane Sandy, which swept through the most impoverished nation in the Americas late last year, left an estimated $150 million in damage to the farming sector, triggering a sharp rise in food prices.
In Hinche, small farmers were offered aid by organizations from France, Canada, Brazil and the United States to attend the gathering.
"We foster the same values. We are bringing an ideological collaboration to small Haitian farmers who need to take their future in their own hands," explained Yves Altazin, director of the French NGO Freres des Hommes.
He said his group is buying 40,000 tonnes of seeds for Haitian farmers thanks to an online fundraiser.
Representatives of Brazil's Landless Workers' Movement, the Latin American branch of the international peasant movement Via Campesina and Canadian groups were also present.
Beverly Bell, coordinator of US-based Other Worlds, has supported Haitian workers for 30 years.
"I am a militant. I am trying to take into account the situation of Haitians who don't need luck but need international solidarity to make it," she said in near-perfect Creole to prolonged applause from the farmers.
Altazin insisted that "Haiti will emerge from the crisis if farmers are helped and supported." He called for France to increase its aid to small farmers.
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