In a world filled with technology and innovation, it is so easy to get swept up in the motion of life. Fortunately for the world, Earth Day comes around every April to remind us where we came from and the primitive nature that this world once began with. One woman has kept her roots (pun intended) in tact over the years, becoming one of the most successful and influential activists in the field of agriculture. Of course I’m talking about Vandana Shiva, whose groundbreaking research has exposed the destructive effects of monocultures and commercial agriculture and revealed the interrelationships among ecology, gender, and poverty.
To celebrate Earth Day this year and the importance of agriculture in our lives, we have prepared an excerpt from The Vandana Shiva Reader, which how Shiva’s profound understanding of both the perils and potential of our interconnected world calls upon citizens of all nations to renew their commitment to love and care for soil, seeds, and people:
In 1984, a number of tragic events took place in India. In June, the Golden Temple was attacked because it was harboring extremists. In October, Indira Gandhi was assassinated. And in December, a terrible industrial disaster took place in Bhopal when Union Carbine’s pesticide plant leaked a toxic gas. Thirty thousand people died in the terrorism in Punjab, and thirty thousand people have died in the “industrial terrorism” of Bhopal. This is equivalent to twelve 9/11s. I was forced to sit up and ask why agriculture had become like war. Why did the “Green Revolution,” which had received the Nobel Peace Prize, breed extremism and terrorism in Punjab? This questioning led to my books The Violence of the Green Revolution and Monocultures of the Mind. Blindness to diversity and self-organization in nature and society was clearly a basic problem in the mechanistic, Cartesian industrial paradigm. And this blindness led to false claims that industrial monocultures in forestry, farming, fisheries, and animal husbandry produced more food and were necessary to alleviate hunger and poverty. On the contrary, monocultures produce less and use more inputs, thus destroying the environment and impoverishing people.
In 1987, the Dag Hammarjold Foundation organized a meeting on biotechnology in Geneva called Laws of Life. I was invited because of my book on the Green Revolution. At the conference, the biotech industry laid out its plans—to patent life; to genetically engineer seeds, crops, and life-forms; and to get full freedom to trade through the GATT negotiations, which finally led to the WTO. This led to my focus on intellectual property rights, free trade, globalization—and to a life dedicated to saving seeds and promoting organic farming as an alternative to a world dictated and controlled by corporations.
Having dedicated my life to the defense of the intrinsic worth of all species, the idea of life-forms, seeds, and biodiversity being reduced to corporate inventions and hence corporate property was abhorrent to me. Further, if seeds become “intellectual property,” saving and sharing seeds become intellectual property theft. Our highest duty, to save seeds, becomes a criminal act. The legalizing of the criminal act of owning and monopolizing life through patents on seeds and plants was morally and ethically unacceptable to me. So I started Navdanya, a movement that promotes biodiversity conservation and seed saving and seed sharing among farmers. Navdanya has created more than twenty community “seed banks” through which seeds are saved and freely exchanged among our three hundred thousand members.
Through our saving of heritage seeds, we have brought back “forgotten foods” like jhangora (barnyard millet), ragi (finger millet), marsha (amaranth), naurangi dal, and gahat dal. Not only are these crops more nutritious than the globally traded commodities, but they are also more resource prudent, requiring only two hundred to three hundred millimeters of rain compared to the twenty-five hundred millimeters needed for chemical rice farming. Millets could increase food production four hundred fold using the same amount of limited water. These forgotten foods are the foods of the future. Farmers’ seeds are the seeds of the future.
In addition to The Vandana Shiva Reader, Shiva has just recently published two new books:
Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of Global Food Supply – In this book, Shiva explores the devastating effects of commercial agriculture and genetic engineering on the food we eat, the farmers who grow it, and the soil that sustains it. This prescient critique and call to action covers some of the most pressing topics of this ongoing dialogue, from the destruction of local food cultures and the privatization of plant life, to unsustainable industrial fish farming and safety concerns about corporately engineered foods.
The Violence of the Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology, and Politics – The Green Revolution has been heralded as a political and technological achievement—unprecedented in human history. Yet in the decades that have followed it, this supposedly nonviolent revolution has left lands ravaged by violence and ecological scarcity. A dedicated empiricist, Shiva takes a magnifying glass to the effects of the Green Revolution in India, examining the devastating effects of monoculture and commercial agriculture and revealing the nuanced relationship between ecological destruction and poverty. In this classic work, the influential activist and scholar also looks to the future as she examines new developments in gene technology.
For more information on The Vandana Shiva Reader, click here!