Sowing Seeds of Health, Hope and Humanity
An Interview with Vandana Shiva
Vandana Shiva, Ph.D., is a scientist, philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco-feminist. The founder of Navdanya, a seed freedom movement in India to promote native seeds, Shiva is a formidable opponent in the global battle over genetically modified seed, which she links to problems in our ecology, economy and humanity. Shiva is a keynote speaker at the Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago conference this month.
You believe that we need a new paradigm for living on the Earth because the old one is not working. What does that new paradigm look like?
The old paradigm is based on fragmented thought, mechanistic science and on a deepening division between humans on the basis of class—the 1 percent versus 99 percent of the Occupy movement—as well as on gender, race and greed as a virtue. The emerging paradigm, which many of us are now seeing, is based on interconnectedness and equality as diversity, rather than on uniformity, as well as sharing and caring as virtues.
How does your education in quantum theory and the science of interconnection play into the new paradigm?
I wrote my Ph.D. thesis on the Foundations of Quantum Theory, especially the aspect of non-locality or nonseparability, which acknowledges the interconnectedness of the universe.
Quantum theory—the science of interconnectedness, which is the nature of reality—teaches us nonseparability, which is built into the new science of quantum theory and the new biology. Separation between humans and nature was intrinsic to the old mechanistic assumptions developed during the 1600s and 1700s by French philosopher and mathematician, René Descartes; English scientist, Francis Bacon; and English physicist, Sir Isaac Newton.
The Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Paradox, developed by Albert Einstein and his colleagues, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen, has shown that when a quantum system is subdivided and the two subsystems are separated in space and time, their state is nonseparable. I agree with physicists such as Niels Bohr, Wolfgang Ernst Pauli and David Bohm, who stressed the non-separable wholeness of the universe of physical phenomena.
Which epic myths are you debunking about our industrialized food system?
The first myth is that it is efficient. Using 10 units of energy to produce one unit of food as energy is not efficient.
The second myth is that it improves farmers’ livelihoods. In India, 270,000 farmers have been pushed to suicide, and the majority of family-owned farms in the U.S. have disappeared.
The third myth is that it produces more food. Our study and numerous studies conducted by the United Nations show that ecological farming produces more food.
Most industrial-farmed food now is dedicated to ethanol production for cars and to feeding animals in factory farms. It is not food for people. We have food deserts in cities and in the countryside.
What is the Declaration on Seed Freedom? Why is it important that people sign it?
It is important for everyone to sign the Declaration on Seed Freedom because seed is the first link in the food chain. If we lose seed freedom, we lose food freedom. Seed freedom is threatened by genetically engineered seeds, which are contaminating our farms, thus closing the option for GMO-free food for all.
The seed freedom of farmers is threatened when, after contaminating our crops, corporations sue farmers for “stealing their property.” It is also threatened by the deliberate transformation of the seed from a renewable, self-generative resource to a non-renewable, patented commodity. The most extreme case of non-renewable seed is the “Terminator Technology”, developed with the aim to create sterile seed.
Thirty years ago, most North American and European seed companies were small, family-owned businesses that specialized in varieties adapted to regional climates, with resistance to local pests and diseases. Today, just 10 companies control 30 percent of the commercial seed market worldwide. Just five vegetable seed companies control 75 percent of the global vegetable seed market. Some of these companies, such as Monsanto, are imposing genetically engineered, patented seed on small farmers and are denying citizens’ labeling. In effect, they are robbing us of our most fundamental freedom, our food freedom.
What is the Earth Democracy movement?
I refer to the new paradigm as Earth Democracy, which recognizes that the Earth and all of her beings, including humans, have rights and freedoms; that we are interconnected in a web of life, and are all members of an Earth Family. Earth Democracy enables us to make transitions to a living democracy, living economy and living cultures that celebrate life.
How is what is happening in India important here in the U.S.?
The U.S. and India have become deeply intertwined through dominant corporate globalization and Earth Democracy. Monsanto; Cargill, Incorporated; and Wal-Mart are trying to take over India’s food and agriculture like they took over food and agriculture in the U.S. Our movements to resist corporate takeovers of our seed, our food and our markets need to be connected.
Can Navdanya, the Seed Freedom movement you founded in India, be repeated in other countries?
At the Navdanya biodiversity and organic farm in Doon Valley, in Uttarakhand, North India [set at the foothills of the Himalayas], more than 630 varieties of plants are growing, butterflies are flourishing, and earthworms fertilize our soils. People from all over the world come here to learn and observe. For example, our A-Z course on organic farming attracted 55 people from 12 countries.
My colleagues in Italy have started Navdanya there. And the Seed Freedom movement spreading across the world shows that what is being done by Navdanya in India is relevant worldwide.
How has your experience at Navdanya shown you that the future of cities, in any country, lies in gardens and organic connections to the countryside?
As we evolved Navdanya on the basis of diversity and decentralization to offer an alternative to the monoculture and centralization, it became evident that cities can be sources of their own food through urban gardens, and can create their own foodshed by cultivating more intimate connections with the countryside. This improves the well-being of the countr—those who farm in the country, and those who live in cities. It is a concrete step towards creating Earth Democracy.
What has led you to the conclusion that living cities should be cultivated organically and that living food is the basis for living communities?
Over the past three decades, beginning with my study on the Green Revolution, I realized that chemicals, monoculture and giant farms as the basis of food security constitute a lie that we have been sold.
During the past 25 years, my Navdanya experience has helped me to realize that good farming is like gardening. Biodiverse small farms produce more food and nutrition than large industrial farms. Navdanya’s concept of “Health per Acre” measures nutrition and quality of food instead of the “yield” of commodities.
Industrial food has created a killing culture, which is killing biodiversity, the soil, farmers and our health. Organic agriculture creates living food and living communities.
How does ecological connectedness promote a sense of common humanity?
Ecological interconnectedness is based on Earth citizenship. As citizens of the Earth, we breathe the same air, drink water in the same hydrological cycle and eat food from a common food web. This makes us aware of our common humanity, and our common rights and responsibilities to the Earth and each other.
Do you have any suggestions for how people in the U.S. can fight for food labeling of genetically engineered food?
The California vote is only one step in labeling of GMOs. Other steps need to be based on creating local, organic, GMO-free food systems.
You have fought Coca-Cola and other multinational giants over the privatization of water in your native India. Now you are doing battle with Monsanto over genetically modified seeds. What keeps you going?
We have a beautiful text in India, the Bhagavad Gita, in which [Hindu deity/avatar] Krishna gives a simple lesson: Do not measure the fruit of your action; rather, measure your obligation of action. You have to find out what is the right thing to do. That is your duty. Whether you win or lose is not an issue. The obligation to do the right thing is the issue.
From childhood, I have been an ecologist and nature lover. My right thing and duty is to protect the diversity of species and their intrinsic values. Their integrity is vital, as are the rights of our farmers to have seed—the most fundamental source of livelihood in a poor country. Today, 80 percent of the world’s food is produced by small farmers such as those that we have in India. Our small farmers are 1.2 billion East Indians.
I believe that we have forgotten what smallness means when it is multiplied many times. We’ve also become accustomed to the dinosaur mentality: we only see the big and have forgotten that dinosaurs are extinct.
To learn more about Navdanya and its mission to protect nature and people’s rights to knowledge, biodiversity, water and food, visit Navdanya.org. For information and to register for the Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago conference, visit BioneersChicago.org.