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Oct 11, 2011

Toledo Communities oppose GMOs

The importation and experimental use of GMO corn seeds has stirred controversy.  Last week government caused the destruction of a container of the seeds that had been brought into the country reportedly by members of the Mennonite community. In the south, there is strong opposition to the GMOs since it would alter the traditional way of farming since it would endanger natural species of corn. News Five’s Isani Cayetano was deep in the south and has this report.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The destruction of roughly twenty pounds of bio-engineered corn seeds at the start of the weekend has momentarily put on hold a heated argument amongst farmers for and against the introduction of genetically modified organisms into the agro sector.  While the raging debate over the pros and cons of GMO has, for now, come to a standstill the issue is not completely off the table.

Gabino Canto

Gabino Canto, C.E.O., Ministry of Agriculture [File: October 7th, 2011]

“We are destroying the GMO corn seeds that came into the country about two weeks ago because the cabinet did not approve the establishment of the trial plots in the country. So this is the process that we have to go through. The representatives from BAHA are here, the representatives from Midwest that brought in the seeds along with CARDIthey are here to witness everything and we have the people witnessing as well from Central Farm.”

To further understand the potential impact corn hybrid could have on local agriculture I journeyed to Santa Ana, a Mayan community cradled in the Toledo District.  There I joined Ligorio Coy before paddling downstream, along the lazily snaking Moho River.  A few hundred yards away from its steep embankment and we’re standing before a rice paddy adjacent to a half-acre corn field.

It is one of several plots being farmed by Coy’s family.  Everything grown here is organic.

Ligorio Coy

Ligorio Coy, Farmer

“It is good that we are here in this field.  You can see the way how we do our [subsistence] farming here in Toledo.  We don’t only plant corn but we also plant rice, beans et cetera, like ground food and whenever if this Monsanto seed, the GMO corn, will be used here in Toledo it will not only affect corn but also we believe that it will affect rice.”

The crops’ resistance to herbicides and, in some cases, their ability to produce insect repellent proteins, Coy argues, can also affect the ecosystem.  He, like other opponents of genetically modified maize, believes that the addition of GMO technology to the commercial cultivation of food crops will alter their age-old farming technique.

Ligorio Coy

“It’s a threat for us as a Mayan people, you know, because traditionally we don’t plant different types of corn.  We have our traditional corn that we have earned from our great ancestors and, you know, we don’t change seeds every year.  We don’t buy seeds.  So it will really affect our traditional corn that we use here and it’s not all the corn that we plant.  There are corns that you plant whenever you are harvesting, it is almost [like] weeble, you know, it is good for nothing and those traditional corns that we have we don’t want to lose this type of corn.”

On the other hand, insects such as the European Corn Borer which destroys crops by burrowing into corn stems have long been a nuisance.  Bt Corn which derives its name from the microorganism Bacillus thuringiensis is the result of bioengineering.  American farmer Paul Aasness is among its many proponents.

Paul Aasness

Paul Aasness, GMO Advocate

“For twenty years we’ve suffered severely with corn borers.  I sprayed one year, okay, and got an immediate twenty bushel increase in yield and shortly after that, in fact I didn’t want to spray anywhere because we are next a lot of lakes and rivers.  And then we found out we can purchase a corn that protects the corn from the European Corn Borer, Bt corn, and started raising it and wow! I got the same yield increase as I did when I sprayed it and the Bt only affects the corn borer.  It doesn’t affect anything else.  It doesn’t affect the frogs, the birds, the honeybees, or anything else that’s in the area, a lot of very beneficial insects, it doesn’t affect them.  But we get the same yield without affecting the environment.  As a matter of fact the way we’re farming now is far better to the environment.”

Back at the paddy Estevan Coy and his grandson are busy harvesting several bushels of rice.  He removes each grain manually, carefully making sure that each stem is bare before discarding it nearby.  Farming has been his livelihood for as far back as he can remember.  He too is apprehensive about the idea of planting GMO corn because of the risk of cross pollination.

Isani Cayetano

“How do you stand to be affected if the government would decide that it would introduce genetically modified corn into the agriculture industry?”

Estevan Coy

Estevan Coy, Rice Farmer

“Well I can’t say because I’ve never been hearing that from since.  I never heard of it from since when I started to do farming.  Up to now I hear about the [GMO] corn that is coming up to different things, I don’t know what but to me I don’t like to cut off my culture because I live with my own corn, rice, beans and whatever.  So I don’t want nothing to stop we because we love we corn and that da weh we live for.”

Admittedly, Prime Minister Barrow himself, in a recent interview on the issue of GMOs, said that he knew little of the subject but that a task force had been organized to study the potential environmental hazards and make necessary recommendations to government.

Dean Barrow [File: October 5th, 2011]

Dean Barrow

I personally dont know enough that is why a committee was appointed, a bio-safety committee comprised of the experts.  They will have to make the recommendations to government and then we will have to look at what they have to say, what the evidence is in support of whatever position they are recommending and take a decision.  Until that time there will be no experimental plots utilizing the GMO corn seeds.”

On the opposite side of the river sits a parcel of farmland belonging to Malaquias Chub, another of Ligorio’s many sons.  The teenager is a third generation farmer here in Santa Ana.

Malaquias Chub, Farmer

“As you see here we have our corn and if we bring that GMO corn and plant it here whereby we cannot plant anything else between our corn.  As you see here we have banana, calaloo, pepper [and other] things between our crops and if we bring that GMO corn I understand that if we plant it we cannot plant anything else in there.  So as you see we have rice beside our corn and if we bring that GMO corn we will not be able to plant rice again.”

While that remains to be established a bio-safety committee is carefully examining the proposed introduction of BT corn locally with no urgency, says PM Barrow, to proceed with implementation prior to its recommendations being vetted in Cabinet. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

Aside from the Mayan Leaders Alliance, there are numerous other NGOs that are vehemently opposed to the importation of GMOs. One of the strongest opponents is the organization called Belizeans Against GMOs (BAGMO).

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4 Responses for “Toledo Communities oppose GMOs”

  1. FRY says:

    this is the stupidest thing i have ever heard…. i swear!!… it is simply people that dont want to evolve. but anyways the worst thing is that it was destroyed.. while i think it should have been confiscated, basing on the legality of the matter, and given to a someone to start a farm that’s what i think

  2. SugaCityLove says:

    Belize MUST make a stand against Genetically Modified Organisms. This is part of the over all plan of the global elite to depopulate the world for their own sick reasons. IT is PROVEN without any doubt that GMO crops cause sterilization in humans and animals, b/c you are eating unnatural and unrecognizable foods that your body will reject, which cause allergies, cancer, and sterilization!!
    In the U.S. Monsanto has sued farmers and taken their land for growing corn “tainted” with GMO genetics after pollen drifted onto their fields. and their corn became infected with GMO genetics. they were later sued and lost their properties and livelihoods for not paying royalty to Monsanto for growing corn. this is backwards. Monsanto should have been sued for the “drifting pollen” affecting other crops. Belize does not want to give Monsanto a foothold. They will further destroy the health of our Nation.
    We are already using GMO cooking oils made from corn, canola, and soy. Thats why local oils and animall fats are better now than GMO oils. Also beware of imported masa (ground corn) imported from other countries, bc that is likely this same Monsanto GMO corn.
    If you want to live healthy, we must all learn about these new threats to our health and freedom.

  3. robert says:

    Shame on all those who are mis-informing farmers about the GMO seeds. If you ask those PG farmers how they separate their black corn from their white, they know that it just needs separation.
    (two weeks or 200yds) to keep their varieties apart. The same is true for GMO varieties. FARMERS HAVE BEEN KEEPING THE HYBRIDS SEPARATE FROM LOCAL VARIETIES FOR 35 YEARS.. As for GMO corn pollinating rice and other crops, that is too stupid a statement to warrant a reply.

  4. mark says:

    Obviously Robert you really don’t know what you are talking about you CANNOT SEPARATE these GMO seed from the local population. These seeds are so powerful that they can wipe out the local species.. meaning if in Belize we have 10 different types of corn we will eventually be left with one.. the GMO one. it cross pollinate with local and change their genes.
    SugaCity love is right Monsanto has successfully sued farmers around the world once their seeds infect the other.. so if Mr Castillo (random name) plants these GMO corn seeds and Mr Lopez ( uses his own family seeds) eventually his farm will be taken over by these GMO seed through wind pollination and Monsanto can then come in and sue Mr Lopez for using the seeds illegally. you see where this is coming to?? people have lost a lot more than they have gain.. Just look up which country has GMO seeds.. they are totally ban in Europe and other Asian countries.. Mexico strongly oppose GMO corn seeds because they have hundreds of different variety of corn.. No to GMO..

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