El Salvador: US tries to block seed program

Four US-based organizations with programs centered on El Salvador were set to deliver a petition to the US State Department on June 6 with the signatures of some 1,000 US citizens opposing what the groups called the "intrusion of the [US] embassy in the sovereign politics of this country." At issue was an indication by US ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte that the US may withhold $277 million slated for the second phase of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) aid program if the Salvadoran Agriculture Ministry continues its current practice of buying seeds from small-scale Salvadoran producers for its Family Agriculture Plan. The US organizations—the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), US–El Salvador Sister Cities, the SHARE Foundation, and Joining Hands El Salvador Network (RUMES)—charged that the US threat was made "with clear intentions to advance the interests of transnational agricultural companies."

Under the administration of former president Mauricio Funes (2009-2014), the Family Agriculture Plan began distributing "agricultural packets" each year to an average of 350,000 impoverished farmers to encourage the cultivation of food crops. As an additional stimulus for the local rural economy, the Agriculture Ministry has been buying seeds for the packets from small Salvadoran producers rather than the large companies that previously dominated the market, Grupo Fertica and Semillas Cristiani Burkard, the Central American representative of the Missouri-based giant multinational Monsanto. The results have been impressive: the production of basic food crops (corn, beans, rice and sorghum) has grown by about one-third and now employs 210,000 of the 770,000 hectares under cultivation in the country. The program has helped hold down prices for basic foods and has contributed to the reduction of poverty.

President Funes was an independent progressive backed by the leftist Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN); the Salvadoran government has generally been expected to move to the left with the June 1 inauguration of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a leader in the FMLN. (CISPES press release, June 6; Adital, Brazil, June 6, from Rel-UITA)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 8.