When I came down to El Salvador, I knew I would be living out my “studies”…seeing and living the social theories, environmental problems, and huge inequalities I have read about. However, I don’t think I knew exactly to what extent that would be happening. I would like to share one short story about a recent encounter I had that shows a little of what I am learning in El Salvador...
But returning to my experiences and encounter with Monsanto… Last month I was able to visit one of Monsanto’s demonstration and experimental farms in El Salvador, but what was so special about the day was that I went with people from my community - campesinos brought there to be convinced of how amazing GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) are! I was the only gringa, and probably one of the few present with an education greater than 4th grade. It was a memorable experience, but I ended up paying the “entrance price.”
Last month, I had the opportunity to visit and see for myself the evil (yes, I will go as far to say evil) work of the Monsanto. If you are unfamiliar with Monsanto, they are a US based, world famous, seed and fertilizer company represented in over 100 countries around the world. They are the producers of Agent Orange used in Vietnam, Round-Up (more commonly known today), many genetically modified seeds and much much more. Their slogan is “helping farmers feed a growing planet” but it can’t be farther from the truth. For anyone interested in learning more, at the bottom of this article, I will include some articles, websites, and YouTube videos to look up.
The cornfields at Monsanto's demonstration site...and campesinos observing in awe...
Most probably do not know, but this year has been a difficult year for the campesinos in El Salvador. It is the rainy season, meaning it generally rains most afternoons and every night and sometimes several days without stopping. However, this year has been extremely dry…for the entire month of July, it only rained 6 times in Los Naranjos! Most people in my community lost at least 50% of their corn and beans. You can imagine what this means in a rural impoverished community that depends on agriculture…
The different insecticide and pesticide bottles that were laying around the Monsanto site... you can tell they are big fans of cleanliness and setting an example for the campesinos!
So, just at the right moment a government organization brought the community free samples of Monsanto’s genetically modified corn (which was just approved for use in the country a few months ago). Because of the environmental education work going on in the community, many were aware of the dangers of genetically modified seeds, but sadly, due to the circumstances, most seemed to have no other choice but to plant the seeds they were given. What could I say to them? It’s easy for me to say “don’t plant them,” when it’s not me that is skipping meals. A few of the more economically stable families did not plant the seeds – some even buried them, making sure no one would use them!
Some more of the pesticide bottles laying around the site
Unfortunately, this is how Monsanto works. I am sure they knew Los Naranjos and other communities lost their crops and thus gifted the seeds when they were most likely to be used. Sadly, these seeds will now contaminate the community’s seeds, contaminating seeds that have been saved for years. The corn will need more fertilizers and pesticides because it is fabricated to need more. It is illegal for the farmers to save the Monsanto seeds year after year…instead they must buy them year after year because they are patented. Maybe I am being pessimistic, but this is what has happened in many countries and communities around the world (check out what has happened in India)… however, I will continue to pray and do everything I can to make sure this doesn’t happen here.
So, after bringing the seeds to the community, Monsanto invited Los Naranjos and several other nearby communities to visit their demonstration site to see what results to expect with their seeds. The community told me about the visit and invited me to attend with them…and how could I turn down the opportunity!
The Monsanto speaker. Notice the whiteboard behind him it has MONSANTO and then below it the word "Amargo" means bitter! He is explaining that their corn is no good for tamales and atol because it is bitter - then what is it good for?
Upon arrival, we had a few minutes to look around the cornfields. Of course it was beautiful, but anyone able to invest as much could have a similar cornfield. The field was perfectly flat with beautiful, dark, rich soil (quite unlike the growing conditions the farmers I work with experience!), and it looked like it was tilled or prepared with a tractor or other machine that we will never use in Los Naranjos. Plus, the speaker told us how much fertilizer and insecticide they use and it is clear they use way more than any small farmer can afford.
It is clear they know how to sell their product. They did complicated numbers and showed everyone how much they can make with the new high yield corn, and even announced they had buyers and transportation waiting! What really stunned me was what they said about the taste of the corn. Willingly, the speaker advised everyone that if they wanted corn for tamales or for “corn on the cob” for their own family it is better to plant a little patch of traditional seeds for yourself BUT whatever they planted to sell should be Monsanto! He said the corn has a bitter taste if you eat it fresh (most corn here is left to dry and used for cornmeal for tortillas but people also use fresh corn for tamales and corn pudding called atol), but if you absolutely have to eat it fresh, then only eat the top part of the grain! Do you think people in the community are only going to eat the top part of the grain?? They are going to get every piece of grain possible… and who knows what is in the corn for them to recommend to not eat it fresh.
Me in the garden at Los Naranjos... compare the differences
It made me sad, and nervous to be there… for a variety of reasons, but one being that the speaker, who was obviously quite intelligent, never spoke directly to me, but asked all around about who I was and what I was doing. He even took pictures of me on his cell phone, but never spoke to me directly.
The visit itself was quite interesting, but what impacted me the most about the whole incident is what happened afterwards. As soon as we left the site, my hands started to itch. When we got off the first bus, Marta (a woman in the community) got a worried look on her hands and said, “Angel! What happened to your hands?” I nervously examined my hands and realized that one was bright red, slightly swollen, and hot, and the other was rapidly turning red as well. At first I thought it was an allergic reaction to something I had eaten and we immediately went to look for some anti-allergy pills in a nearby pharmacy. I took a pill and within 30 minutes, it wasn’t spreading anymore and I stopped worrying as much. However, while I slept that night it started to come back. Slowly over the next two weeks my hands turned pink and then bright red and eventually a burnt black. It looked like I had stuck my hands in a fire. I even had the blisters to go along with it. At first my hands just itched and then they started hurting, just like a real burn. If someone grabbed my hand or I wet my hands, it felt like needles stabbing me! After a week, blisters started popping up all over my hands – and it was then that I decided to go to the doctor! Fortunately the pain didn’t last too long because the doctor gave me some good cream and antibiotics. The doctor was really unsure of what exactly was going on but he seemed to think I had an allergic reaction to some chemical being used on the farm.
If I had that strong of a reaction after just a short visit, it scares me to think about the people who work there day after day…and what about all of us who eat that corn?!?!
To conclude, I don't know exactly what caused the reaction on my hands, but it is extremely likely it is the result of something being used at the Monsanto site. Plus, I and others have noticed that people in Los Naranjos frequently suffer from different skin problems... a known problem that results from different pesticides if proper protection gear is not used. I recommend that everyone draw their own conclusions and do their own research on Monsanto, but I at least had to share my opinion. And please do write me with questions, thoughts, or more information.
Links of interest to those who want to learn more about Monsanto:
El Hambre de Soja
The World According to Monsanto
Monsanto Indian Farmer Suicides
Sourcewatch general overview: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Monsanto