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Nicaraguan Farmers in Opposing Camps over GMOs

Alvaro Fiallos, National Union of Farmers and Ranchers of Nicaragua (UNAG) president: “It’s not true they would raise productivity in the country.”



HAVANA TIMES – Fifteen small producers’ organizations joined forces to issue a statement rejecting the alleged intent of the National Union of Agricultural Producers (UPANIC) to introduce genetically modified seeds and crops into the country for experimental or commercial ends.

Álvaro Fiallos, president of the National Union of Farmers and Ranchers (UNAG), assured that introducing this type of seed would not bring about a change in the country’s productivity.

“These varieties require many special conditions that small producers don’t have the capacity to provide.  In addition, it hasn’t been proven that they produce more than other seeds,” affirmed the UNAG president.

Fiallos argued that the solution for more productivity in Nicaragua doesn’t start with the introduction of these seeds, but with good soil management and soil recovery in terms of the loss of organic material.

In addition to the UNAG, the pronouncement was endorsed by five cooperative federations (FECODESA, FENIAGRO, FECAMPO, y DELCAMPO, y FEMUPROCAM), as well as the Movement of Nicaraguan Organic and Ecological Producers (MAONIC), the small loan company FINDESER, and the alliance Seeds of Identity – a group for the promotion of ecological agriculture – among others.

Critics of the GMOs assure that the introduction of these crops would harm production and the small farm economies centered on basic grains, increasing food dependence and rural poverty.

“The genetically modified seeds are the patented property of the transnational companies, and come with technological requirements that are beyond our economic reach. They are also totally contaminating.  As a result, the producers that use them won’t own their own seeds, losing their sovereignty,” reads the statement.

Luis Orlando Valverde of MAONIC, explains that another of the small producers’ fears is that the introduction of genetically modified crops would bring greater contamination of the soil and water, in addition to an increase in pests on their small plots.

Javier Pasquier, president of one of the cooperative federations, affirmed that all of the organizations decided to sign the communiqué because there’s a serious threat to the food production of 200,000 rural families, one that will end up causing an increase in overall food prices.

“We’re going to lose our right to make decisions about our food, our food security. It’ll be the foreign companies who will determine the prices of the products that we’ll be consuming. The introduction of these genetically modified seeds will mean higher costs and more unemployment for the country,” Pasquier explained.

UPANIC’s position

At the beginning of the month Michael Healy, president of UPANIC, told the newspaper La Prensa that the large producers were preparing to initiate a process of field trials, which would allow them to determine what varieties of genetically modified seeds could be used in the country.

“The law was passed here several years ago.  What’s missing are the norms, which is what we’re working on. Demonstration parcels will be set up to determine which ones adapt best,” the UPNIC president remarked to the press.

The measure that Healy refers to is Law 705, the Law Regarding Prevention of Risks Resulting from Living Organisms Modified through Molecular Biotechnology. This was approved by the National Assembly and published in the official bulletin La Gaceta on April 13, 2010.

The law regulates the investigation, introduction into the environment, commercialization, reproduction, transportation, importation, exportation or direct use as human or animal food of live modified organisms for agricultural use, that is, the use of biotechnology.

The UNAG president was unaware whether the UPANIC had government authorization for beginning these tests.  Fiallos expressed concern for the experiments that some businessmen were apparently already realizing with genetically modified seeds in the country.

“Those who conduct experiments with these seeds are in violation of the law. I’d like to see this assurance of approval that they say they have, because I’ve been in conversations with the government and they haven’t said anything about it to me. I don’t know of any document that says that the genetically modified seeds have been approved.  If it is so, they should first change the laws in the National Assembly,” Fiallos indicated.

Felipe Argüello, executive director of UPANIC, assured that no trials were being held with the genetically modified seeds, much less any importation of them into Nicaragua.

“Up until now, I don’t know of anyone who is experimenting with or importing these seeds. That’s false.  They’re accusing us of something we haven’t done,” Argüello responded.

For his part, UPANIC president Michael Healy clarified that his organization doesn’t have any government authorization and that it’s not importing seeds because that’s illegal.  According to Healy, they are merely holding conversations about the topic with the executive branch.

“We’re not testing anything. That’s illegal and we can’t break the law,” the UPANIC president stated.

Healy recognized that they’ve traveled to other countries that are raising crops from genetically modified seeds. He underlined that they’re making note of some examples to support their position before the government in asking for a decision with respect to this. The crops they’d like to explore are yellow corn and soy beans.

“What we’ve said is that Nicaragua is importing 650 million pounds of corn for feeding chickens and [importing and working with genetically modified seeds] could be an alternative for some crops that are being affected by climate change,” he commented.

The UPANIC president affirmed that every producer is free to use the seed of his choosing and that if the small production sectors aren’t interested in this project, they can well continue using the varieties that they have on their farms.

“When the time comes and when we’ve finished our dialogue with the government, we’ll offer our declarations. But, I repeat, we don’t have any specific government authorization, and as such we can’t import.  Perhaps the reporters from La Prensa confused what I said, but the reality is this: we’re in dialogue and we’re analyzing some alternatives to respond to crops that could disappear from the Pacific due to the end of the CAFTA tax breaks and climate change,” Healy concluded.