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The Associated Press May 14, 2010, 8:40PM ET

Monsanto gives Haiti $4 million in hybrid seeds

U.S. agriculture giant Monsanto Co. is donating $4 million worth of seeds to Haiti, the biotechnology manufacturer's first major foray into the chronically hungry nation.

The corporation, based in Creve Coeur, Missouri, announced a pledge this week of 475 tons (431 metric tons) of corn and vegetable seeds. Some 130 tons (118 metric tons) have been delivered and are on their way to farmers as of Friday.

"We looked at what would be well-suited to Haitian growing conditions," said Elizabeth Vancil, the company's development partnership director.

Farmers will have to buy the seeds at markets to avoid flooding the local economy with free goods, but Monsanto will not receive any revenue from the sales, Vancil said. A spokesman for the U.S. Agency for International Development program distributing the seeds could not immediately provide more details.

Haiti's agriculture ministry approved the donation, while UPS and Switzerland-based Kuehne and Nagel are assisting with the shipping and logistics, Monsanto said.

The announcement raised concerns in Haiti that the donation would include genetically modified seeds, for which the country does not have a regulatory system. Monsanto representatives said no such seeds will be included.

Instead they are sending hybrid seeds, which are produced by manually cross-pollinating plants. The company said the seeds produce larger yields than non-hybrid seeds, but that with such a variety new seeds have to be purchased and planted every year.

For decades Haiti has been unable to feed itself, while local farms have been wiped out by competition from cheap foreign food and free food aid -- especially from the United States. The U.N. World Food Program estimates 2.4 million Haitians, a quarter of the country, do not have enough to eat.

The Jan. 12 earthquake damaged warehouses and roads when it wrecked much of the capital and killed a government-estimated 230,000 to 300,000 people. But the urban disaster had less effect on food than Haiti's past calamities, such as a string of 2008 hurricanes that ruined market roads and fields, worsening hunger and causing some children to die in isolated villages.

"What we're really focused on now are these first shipments and trying to help during this current crisis," Vancil said. Doing future business in Haiti "would be good, but it's not a requirement by any means."

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