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To Protect the Earth is Our Ecological Duty : Vandana Shiva

(Vandana Shiva, who was born in Dehradun, India, in 1952, has taken on a number of identities. She is known as a writer, philosopher, eco-feminist, activist, and so on. She later focused her studies and research on science, technology, and environmental policy after earning her PhD degree in ‘philosophy of physics’. In the 1970s, she helped organize the Chipko Movement in Uttarakhand, India, and ever since then, she has been at the forefront of the environmental movement. In 1982, she started a ‘Research Foundation’, and in 1987, she started ‘Navdhanya’, which works with local farmers to save endangered crops. She is supplementing her research, writing, and movement work. She is fighting against powerful multinational corporations that benefit from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and genetic engineering, and she is advocating for the local original agriculture and food system. She has written more than twenty books, including Water Wars, Biopiracy, Earth Democracy, Violence of the Green Revolution, Ecofeminism, Reclaiming the Commons. Valuing her general commitment, she has been nicknamed ‘Gandhi of Grain’. She has also been recognized as an environmental hero by Times Magazine and Forbes as the world’s most influential woman.)

  1. As an environmental, eco- agricultural activist with a physics and philosophy background, you possess a unique perspective on contemporary ecological crisis.  What motivated you to pursue this path?

Shiva : I had decided to study physics since I was a young child, inspired by Einstein . My critique of  mechanistic science led me to explore the foundations of quantum theory. I applied for doctoral studies in Canada , and did my PhD on “ Hidden Variables and Non Locality in Quantum Theory” .

Before leaving for Canada, I decided to do a quick trek in the Himalaya . The oak forest was gone, the stream that originated in the oak forest had been reduced to a trickle. Troubled by the destruction of the forests I had grown up I , I was chatting with the chai walla while waiting for a bus to return to Delhi in time to catch my flight to Canada. He said Now there is Hope. There is Chipko” . He narrated how the women were rising to stop the logging. I took a pledge to return every vacation and volunteer for the Chipko movement. That is how my involvement with the Chipko movement started .

In 1984, the violence in Punjab and the pesticide disaster in Bhopal made me look at the violence of the Green Revolution. Since then I have been seeking nonviolent ways of growing food with regenerates the earth while providing us good, healthy food .

In 1987, at a conference on the New Biotechnolies, I heard the chemical industry declare that they genetically engineer every seed , patent it , and impose patting through GATT which became WTO .

That is when I started saving seeds, founded Navdanya , began challenging Patents on life and seed , and Biopiracy, the theft of our biodiversity and traditional knowledge .

2. The prevailing model of industrial agriculture, characterized by monoculture, heavy reliance on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, GMOs and fossil fuels, is widely recognized as damaging to earth and is obviously unsustainable. But the core countries of global north continue to unabashedly advocate and lobby for it. India is also no exception. What are your thoughts on an earth-friendly as well as economically poor-friendly developmental alternative, for peripheral countries of the south  ?

Shiva : I have spent the last 4 decades practising and researching alternatives to fossil fuel free, fossil chemical free , debt free ecological agriculture that is biodiversity intensive – not chemical intensive , people centred  small farm centred – not based on large scale monocultures . Navdanya’s work on Biodiversity based regenerative agriculture, using native seeds, ecological processes , building local markets shows that we can increase nutrition availability for two times India’s population by regenerating biodiversity . Native seeds are nutritional dense and have unto 200% more travels elements and macronutrients than the so called “modern varieties’. Farmers can increase their incomes tenfold by stopping the unnecessary expenses for toxic chemicals and non- renewable corporate seeds, both GMOs and hybrids , and selling globally traded commodities at low prices . 

3. You have a long track record of fighting against multinational corporations and business conglomerates to safeguard the environment and planetary health. Could you share with us some of the lessons that are relevant for the situation in Nepal. 

Shiva : I was once visited by a Buddhist monk from Nepal asking for renewable design corn seeds . He explained how Nepalese farmers had got trapped in dependence of non renewable corporate seeds from corporations like Monsanto . They had to buy seeds every year and were getting into debt . Agents would come to them to solve the debt problem, claiming that they would get their daughter jobs . However, the debt trap created by Corporate Greed and Corporate Seeds led to trapping women in the sex trade .

In India the same phenomena of the debt trap created by non renewable corporate seed has driven more than 400,000 farmers to suicide .

The MNC’s that sell us poisons that give us disease, are also the Pharmaceutical industry that sells us costly cures for the diseases they create . While trapping citizens in the disease trap, they trap farmers in debt . And now that they are attempting total control over our food and health with the slogan , ‘Farming without Farmers , Food without Farms’ 

Countries of South Asia with large numbers of small farms, diversity of crops , diversity of climates need to defend our biodiversity and our food sovereignty .

We need to delink our food systems from corporate greed and monopoly , and reconnect to the earth and our biodiversity .

4. The hills of Nepal have been increasingly loosing population in the last two decades. Largely because of labour migration abroad and migration to urban areas in many districts of eastern, central and western Nepal the hills are going through a crisis in agriculture where 40 to 60% of agricultural land lies fallow and food imports are on the rise. Are there lessons to be learnt from Indian hills and elsewhere for jump-starting agriculture on a new footing to avert the crisis ?

Shiva : The emptying out of the countryside is global phenomena , driven by the debt creating industrial globalised food system which increase costs of production , makes farm prices collapse, and increases consumer prices . Corporate subsidies, subsidising fossil fuel and fossil chemicals privileges industrial farming and global trade. 

Reversing this trend needs a shift from industrial agriculture with high cost inputs which are dispossessing farmers and driving them off the land . If we look at what is happening in the rich countries like the USA, Canada, UK , life is becoming unlivable everywhere. We have to reclaim life and life generating livelihoods. We have to regenerate the infrastructure of life and living .We have to focus on well being, health and happiness instead of being focused on the super profits of a handle of corporations and billionaires who create disease, debt , dependence as the externality of their extractive economies. This is why we offer an annual course on “Return to Earth: The A-Z of Biodiversity, Agroecology , and Regenerative Organic Farming. “

5.  Capitalism with its unabashed production for profit drive appear to be the root cause of climate and ecological crisis.  Scholars are questioning the drive for “growth” and global debates about “Degrowth” have ensued. If capitalism is the problem, then what is the solution?

Shiva : Creating living economies . Economy is Oikonomia , the Art of Living . Living needs Oikos , our home, the earth 

What is called “economy” is actually “chrematistics” , the art of money making. You destroy a forest , you have growth of profits  . You plant a forest , there is no growth . You create disease, you have growth of profits of hospitals , pharmaceuticals . You grow healthy food, build immunity , grow health , there is no growth of profits . 

That is why Degrowth of chrematistics and money making is an imperative to protect the earth and people’s well being. Instead of corporations and their profits being the centenaries of the economy , we have to shift to paradigms that put the earth and people at the centre.

6. As a prominent activist of our time, how do you assess the effectiveness of contemporary ecological movements? Could you provide us some insights into the kind of strategies you believe are essential for progressing towards a sustainable future?

Taking responsibility and taking actions to protect the earth is our ecological duty , an ethical imperative .The effectiveness of the contemporary ecological movements is a function of both how rooted they are in community and in the earth’s ecological laws of inter-connectedness and nature’s rights as well as the violence of the dominant systems. For me the three strategies that have worked are recognizing that the earth  and nature are alive and have rights and we have responsibilities, that humans as part of the earth have rights to food, water , clean air, health and livelihoods. That sovereignty and  self-organisation are central to our freedom and are the birthright of all beings and all human beings .

What we have to resist is privatization of the commons of water, forests , biodiversity , seed , financialisation of nature ( the banks and Rockefeller Foundation are leading this financialisation , thing to reduce living nature to a financial asset on wall street which will earn the billionaires $ 4000 trillion )and an ideology of disposability ( that 99% people are useless – Yuval Harari and Zuckerberg )

What we have to grow is commons, community , real food , nature’s infrastructure of life 

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Bampanth_The Left is a quarterly academic magazine published from Kathmandu. It is registered under the Sambad Publication following the provision mentioned in The Press and Publication Act 1991. The magazine aspires to serve as a bridge between scholars and activists to deepen our understanding of the socialism oriented socio-political transformation of Nepali society.

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