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Mexico: Go ahead, touch and take it

Mexico: Go ahead, touch and take it

Silvia Ribeiro, La Jornada, Rebelión, 18 de agosto 2008

According to an article published at, “Go ahead, touch and take it" will be the formula applied by the Mexican Maize Master Project (Diana Teresa Pérez, 28/4/2008). All too candid. Other versions of that project try and sell us the story that Monsanto, with the National Rural Workers Federation (CNC), proposes to "conserve" Mexican maize varieties, on which pretext the CNC cynically suggested to Congress paying for the project out of the 2009 budget. Since the article mentioned is aimed mainly at business people, they offer the product without frills. A footnote sums it up, "The project offers seed DNA, sufficient samples to enable improvement and the sale of grains as required by purchasers."

Paticipants in the Mexican Maize Master Plan (PMMM) include Monsanto, the CNC and the "Antonio Narro" Autonomous Agrarian University, together with Puebla's all too well known government of Mario Marín. They expect the support of the governors of Tlaxcala and also of Enrique Peña Nieto and Ulises Ruiz, so as to extend the project to the states of Mexico and Oaxaca - a fine set of individuals.

The PMMM has various components. It is aimed at all kinds of farmers and rural workers. One component is the creation of a germoplasma bank of rural workers' seed varieties, something supposedly public and apart from the rest of the project. Other, much larger components include boosting contract agriculture along with the use of hybrid maize varieties and genetically manipulated (GM) seed, with the corresponding packet of agro-poisons those seeds require, since without them they fail to yield - agri-poisons sold by the self-same companies

This project readily bear comparison with other, earlier contracts or with the current one, also with Monsanto, signed by the University of Guadalajara. Under this contract the University hands over to that multinational company research on teocintle and native maize varieties from the Manantlán Sierra. The two projects are complementary. In both cases public funds and resources are used to help Monsanto appropriate Mexico's most important genetic patrimony.

Incidentally, they try cleaning up the dirty image of the multinational company with the biggest seed monopoly in the history of agriculture, mission impossible - still, they try. Owning more than 80% of the world's genetically modified agricultural seed, Monsanto is also the world's biggest seed company for seeds of any type. Along with Dupont-Pioneer and Syngenta, it controls 47% of the world's commercial seed market and they aggressively promote the legalization of GM maize in Mexico, as well as being responsible, with no legal consequences for GM contamination of Mexico's natural maize varieties.

With the minimal contributions from Monsanto amounting to minor payments in the projects' overall budgets, it has yet to be explained to Mexico's people for the historical record why the University of Guadalajara and the "Antonio Narro" Autonomous Agrarian University take part in such projects contrary to the country's interests and sovereignty. They contribute their own funds, sites and researchers, including all the accompanying social costs. They are disposing, furthermore, of the genetic patrimony of maize varieties that are in no sense their property.

According to researchers participating in these projects, the lack of public research funds "obliges" them to accept funding from private businesses. They don't explain why the public counterpart contribution is so very much greater and why those same funds are not used instead to re-establish the public germoplasma banks that already exist in the country and have been hung, drawn and quartered by privatization policies that benefit the very businesses now turning up pretending to be charities. Nor do they explain how it is that eliminating rural workers' varieties and substituting them with hybrids along with GM contamination via genes patented by Monsanto is going to contribute to "conserving Mexican maize varieties".

Or again, instead of supporting Monsanto why do they not use those public funds for something really necessary, like promoting agriculture for rural workers and their families? The diversity of maize does not depend on what can be frozen in a bank, not now, not ever. It is rather the collective work of millenia, by millions of men and women rural workers who must exist if that diversity is to continue as a living thing.

Those peoples of maize are the ones who suffer both the brunt of privatization benefiting agribusiness multinational companies like Monsanto, as well as past and future GM contamination designed to make those peoples lose their own seed, leaving them with no other choice but to buy the patented seed of the multinationals.

It was in the face of all this that the July 2008 assembly of the Network in Defence of Native Maize declared vigorously against these projects. Despite the multinational companies governments and academics trafficking in favours, surrender is not on the agenda for these stubborn mean and women rural workers.

Silvia Ribeiro is a researcher with the Erosion, Technology and Concentration Group


translation copyleft Tortilla con Sal

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