Monsanto and Developing Countries: the Case of Belize

A Q'eqchi' Maya farm planted in corn in southern Belize.
Photo courtesy of dooglas carl.
by douglas reeser on September 21, 2011

As one of the leading companies in the business of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Monsanto has been seeking to spread its seed(s) around the globe for years, including into developing nations where populations may rely more heavily on agricultural production for their day-to-day needs. Indeed, debate about the longterm viability and safety of GMO seeds and plants remains a hot-button issue in the US and abroad. A recent feature in Amandala, one of the primary newspapers in Belize, shines some light on the GMO debate in the context of a developing nation.

In Belize, GMO seeds are not yet in production, although seeds do exist in the country - locked in a vault awaiting the green light for testing. Still, as is the case the world over, GMO products are on the shelves of local supermarkets in the form of imported goods such as breakfast cereals and snacks. Still, despite pressure from Monsanto, Belize appears to be on the track of exercising caution where GMO seeds are concerned. According to the Amandala article:
Whereas the GMO corn is being considered by the Mennonites of Spanish Lookout, who farm commercially; there are fears that the GMO corn, described as invasive, could eventually take over cornfields in places like Toledo, thereby wiping out the livelihoods of Toledo Maya who grow corn for both subsistence and trading purposes. 
With patent rights claimed by the foreign corporation Monsanto, there are fears that the economic impacts could be far-reaching on rural communities whose meals are still heavily corn-based.
In Belize, the Mennonite population, a group of immigrants whom mostly came to the country in the mid-1900s, are the primary producers of agricultural products in Belize. In the south of the country (the Toledo District for instance), the majority of the population is also agricultural, however most production is for household or local consumption. If farmers in areas like the Toledo District turn to GMO corn, they may be forced into purchasing seed for their crop on an annual basis, which is one of the ways that Monsanto has maintained control of its seeds and its profits.

Still, Belize remains in a unique position, and may be able to allow GMO seeds into the country without issuing patent rights to the seeds to Monsanto. This would allow farmers to plant the seed, and then save some of that crop for planting the next season, as is custom for farmers around the globe. Amanadala explains:
The Belize Intellectual Property Office (BELIPO) has the jurisdiction to refuse the registration of the patent for GMO corn in Belize, which would mean that Monsanto cannot have protected status in Belize, on the grounds that the refusal is needed to protect public order, morality and human, animal and plant life, as well as to avoid serious prejudice to the environment.
At this time, it appears that GMO seeds are going to make their way into the Belizean soil in the way of test-plots that have been approved in a few spots in the north of the country. These plots will reportedly be seeded sometime early in 2012. Where the seed goes from there remains to be seen. There are groups in Belize opposed to the introduction of GMO, and there are a number of legal issues that need to be addressed before GMO seeds make it into farmer's fields. It should be interesting to see how this all plays out over the next year or two. Will the influence and money of Monsanto be too much for Belize to resist? Will GM-corn take over the fields of Maya farmers who have been growing corn for generations? Or will Belize remain relatively GM0-free, and offer a place for multiple varieties of corn and other crops to co-exist?

Read the entire Amandala article here >>>
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  1. After seeing some of the documentaries on the tactics that monsanto has used in the US I hope to god it doesn't make it into Belize. Even with their "unique" position monsanto has a history of bullying behavior.

  2. I agree with you Tender - we've been posting about Monsanto for the last few years now, and are definitely familiar with their tactics. Being in Belize now, makes the situation here all that more interesting to me. There seems to be some resistance to them here, but money definitely talks in a country like this, where money is scarce. It should be interesting to see this play out.


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