The jury is still out on benefits and disadvantages of planting genetically modified (GMO) corn, but on Thursday Prime Minister Barrow anounced that GMO seed imported into Belize without proper authority will be destroyed.

He promised that the Belize Agricultural Health Authority will have all the time it needs to make a complete assessment before any GMO seed will be allowed.

The Toledo Maya of southern Belize see GMO corn as yet another threat to their existence and way of life. They see GMO corn as a reminder of how the arrival of Europeans introduced diseases which decimated the indigenous people of the Americas, allowing the Europeans to overcome native Americans by force, settle on Indian lands and harvest their wealth.

The Maya people refer to themselves as the people of the corn, as corn has been their staple food and the basis of their existence. Their Maya ancestors created the modern maize we know today through millennia of selective breeding of the tiny teosinte grain. The Toledo Maya have planted the corn, season after season, within the rainforest of southern Belize.

The Mayas’ rotational system of farming corn and intercropping is one of the only sustainable forms of agriculture in the climate and terrain conditions of southern Belize, based on a system of respect and value for Mother Nature; even though others have criticized the Mayas’ slash and burn system of agriculture.

The Mayan leaders point out that modern maize, which has nourished and fattened generations of Belizeans, is the intellectual property of Central America’s indigenous people who freely shared it with the world.

The new GMO corn is the product of companies like Monsanto, which insert genes from other organisms into the genetic make-up of the corn. Monsanto claims that the new, genetically modified corn is superior and resistant to pests, and will provide better harvests

The Toledo Maya who have been planting corn for genertions are skeptical of these claims, because innumerable other schemes have been foisted upon them by agricultural “experts” over the decades,causing hardship for the Maya while their traditional methods continue to sustain them. They see GMO corn as a dangerous experiment which can cause them grief.

The Toledo Maya are not the only opponents to GMO crops being introduced to Belize, Mark Miller of Punta Gorda Town also called for the Belize Agricultural Health Authority to stop any importation of GMO seed until proper consultations with the public can be held. His letter to this effect was published in the September 11 edition of The Reporter.

Many other countries, including Caribbean countries, Brazil, Peru, Paraguay, Japan, Egypt, the Phillipines, China, and the European Union, have banned or severely restricted the planting or importation of GMO grain. These are some of the fastest growing economies in the world. France also withdrew authorization to plant Monsanto GMO corn in 2007, after initially allowing it.

The Toledo Maya see this as an endorsement of their position. Resistance to GMO crops is not backward, but forward thinking.

The Toledo Maya are also concerned that GMO seed while producing a bigger harvest, may also sterilize their own native corn seedforcing them to rely entirely on the imported seed.There is also evidence which suggests that GMO corn may have contributed to the evolution of a pesticide-resistant “superbug”.

In Maya traditional farming, pests are kept low naturally, without the need for pesticides, by burning the field when clearing, by planting rotation crops, and by moving their milpas sites from time to time.

Farmers’ experience with GMO corn in the United States has not lived up to Monsanto’s promises. Farmers in Iowa and Illinois suffered massive losses this summer; as fields of corn, which were supposed to resist corn beetles (rootworm), toppled over from rootworm invasions. In South Africa – one of the first countries to adopt GMO corn - the Monsanto GMO corn failed massively in 2009. In 82,000 hectares, the plants grew beautifully, but the cobs were seedless because of “under-fertilization” . Monsanto has paid accepted responsibility for the losses and has paid these farmers some compensation.

In India, farmers who adopted Monsanto GMO cotton on promises of better yields and lower pesticide costs got 35% less crop. Reports say some 125,000 farmers committed suicide when they realized their crop was lost. due to the crop failure.

While proponents praise GMO corn as more efficient, and cheaper to grow, it is not generally known that GMO crops still need chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Whereas in Belize, the Maya save a portion of their harvest as seed corn for the next year’s crop, with GMO corn the farmers would need to buy fresh seed from Monsanto every year, making them completely dependent on imports of foreign seed, fertilizer and pesticides, eventually increasing their cost of production.

The Reporter