Vandana Shiva arrived here on Oahu 1/15/2013 hosted by Hawaii SEED to share her wisdom with us about issues central to food sovereignty. She inspired those of us in the room with so much information I could hardly keep up with my note taking! Some of the main points that I gleaned I’ll share here in this post.
Who is Vandana Shiva?
According to Wikipedia, Shiva, currently based in Delhi, has authored more than 20 books. She was trained as a quantum physicist and received her Ph.D. in philosophy from a Canadian university. She’s known as a visionary leader and a figure of the world-wide solidarity movement for food sovereignty and has been featured in recent documentary films. She has fought for changes in the practice and paradigms of agriculture and food. Intellectual property rights, biodiversity, biotechnology, bioethics, genetic engineering are among the fields where Shiva has contributed intellectually and through activist campaigns. She has assisted grassroots organizations of the Green movement in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Ireland, Switzerland, and Austria with campaigns against genetic engineering. In 1982, she founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, which led to the creation of Navdanya in 1991, a national movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seed, the promotion of organic farming and fair trade. For last two decades Navdanya has worked with local communities and organizations serving many men and women farmers. Navdanya’s efforts have resulted in conservation of more than 2000 rice varieties from all over the country and have established 34 seed banks in 13 states across the country.
What were some of her key points?
1) ECOFEMINISM: Ecofeminism is the social movement that regards the oppression of women and nature as interconnected. Many of her comments centered on the innate wisdom, beauty, and power in nature. A couple of times while discussing her recommend action steps to make personal change (specifically organic gardening and cultivating a connection with nature), she drew a parallel to the recent gang rape of a young woman in Delhi. She suggested that the so-called “right to genetic engineering of seeds” is the equivalent of this gang rape. Not only is what’s happening with biotech connected to violence against women, but it is also connected to what is happening to other species of our planet, in particular, factory farmed animals. She spoke out against feeding cows corn instead of their natural diet of grass, as well as allowing them to live in such horrifying conditions. She said that to successfully do organic gardening, such as understanding the interconnections between pollinators (birds, bees, butterflies) and the health of the soil and weather are a true science, whereas biotech has absolutely no understanding of this complexity. These companies instead just add inputs (chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers) and overlook nature. The companies take varieties of seeds that have, for multiple generations, been saved by organic farmers and run the seeds through computer programs separating out the gene sequences. She said, for example, that while organic farmers know which of their seeds would be drought tolerant, the biotech industry has no idea which gene sequence is responsible for that particular trait. Irregardless, they create seeds anyway and simply take a gamble on the future of life. The most important part of farming is NOT growing the vegetables themselves, but actually caring for the soil quality (the nutrition the plants get as they grow). In places overrun by seed companies, the soil has no microorganisms, but is rather a cloud of toxic chemicals in the dust that blow in the wind. She suggested that after speaking with the companies, that it sounds like they know exactly what safety issues exist, but they are focused only on profits.
2) Racial Genocide: The other key point that she brought up was that seed companies quite intentionally go to a geographic region and modify the indigenous plants sacred to native people. Much like the US government gave blankets to Native Americans infected with small pox, the seed companies go after the most important plants to indigenous people. In Mexico, they have monopolized corn; in India, cotton, wheat, and eggplant; and in Hawaii, have gone after taro (kalo). Further, there is now only 5% of cotton seed in India that is organic. That’s right, 95% is biotech. She said that the cotton belt is also known as the suicide belt. The seed companies come to the farmer’s land and ask the farmers to “sign on the dotted line”. They deliberately sell the farmers seeds that the seed companies know are going to fail in that region. (Why? Again, profits.) The farmers thus have to buy more seeds, thinking perhaps their failure was just something random that season. Over time, farmer’s inputs go up by as much as 500% as they are purchasing everything they need to grow the crops (fertilizer, seeds, pesticides) putting them into severe debt. What is even more insulting is that they market the seeds to farmers by using Hindu deities. If for example, a seed packet has Hanuman’s image, the farmers often say, “Why would Hanuman lie to us?” By the time the farmers realize that there is no way to pay down their significant debt, the companies come back and seize the land, separating them from all they have ever known, and from their spirituality. The farmers ultimately commit suicide. She said in a place where Hindus believe in reincarnation, there is no longer a place where they can reincarnate to. With this company’s plan, she said, there is no other life. She felt they are waging a war against sacred cultures and that the so-called “science” needs to be taken out of culture. Fertilizers are leftover ammunition from bombs, so this is the science of killing, not life. Monoculture is a recipe for starvation and environmental destruction. (Biodiversity is the opposite of this and what will provide more food and protect the environment, especially with climate change.) The “biotech scientists” they speak of are actually just made up people that claim to be experts. When you actually research them, they do not exist at all. (If you have ever seen the movie The Yes Men Fix The World, they are the antidote!)
3) Health Issues: Ever wonder why so many people are now having gluten issues? One thing Vandana Shiva talked about was how wheat is being cultivated now to yield high gluten. Why? To make more profits. Wheat that is indigenous to the place (in her case, India) is naturally LOW in gluten. Research with animals fed biotech food shows that they die from cancer and lose 50% of their offspring also to health problems.
4) The Right to Ignore Unjust Law: “Progress means thousands of small and medium size sustainable organic farms.” Shiva said that Gandhi has been her inspiration for her teachings and life work. He taught that one need not follow a law that is unjust. In Gandhi’s time, this dealt specifically with salt and cotton. Now in current times, this deals with the right to save seeds. She will save seeds that to her represented freedom, and her dream for 2013 is food freedom zones filled with gardens everywhere. In these gardens we can claim unity which she said rests on biodiversity. Our strength is in the power we share with nature and that the power of non-violence is stronger than the power of violence. The power of money held by these corporations will be defeated by our love of the earth and of each other across the world. Another speaker there, Andrew Kimbrell said, “What can you do? Defend love. We live on love, not efficiency.”