Vandana Shiva

Seed freedom is the future of agriculture

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Vandana Shiva is a world-renowned Indian scholar, environmental activist and author of over twenty books. She has been involved in popular movements against genetic engineering worldwide and has led many successful campaigns against various multinational corporations and international institutions seeking to monopolize and privatize seeds, traditional knowledge and indigenous natural resources.
In this important interview with ROAR that UP' Magazine has chosen to publish in full, Vandana Shiva talks about the role of industrial agriculture in climate change, the challenges facing farmers in the South and how to avoid the impending environmental disaster that threatens our existence on this planet.
An interview first published in UP' Magazine on February 20, 2018
 
Por many years, you have actively resisted, both in your writing and in your activism, the global transformation of agriculture from an agro-ecological to an industrial paradigm. In your latest book, Who Really Feeds the World? (Zed Books, 2016), you also point out that "the industrial paradigm of agriculture is at the root of climate change". How should we conceptualize the difference between the two paradigms and what role do they play in driving climate change?
 
Vandana Shiva: There are two distinct agricultural paradigms. The first is industrial agriculture, which was conceived and developed by the "poisons cartel", those chemical companies and factories that emerged during the Second World War and controlled the production of chemicals used in explosives, as well as the mass extermination of human beings. After the war, they reintroduced these same chemicals into agrochemicals - pesticides and fertilizers - and convinced us that we could not eat without these poisons. The second paradigm is the agro-ecological system that has evolved over 10,000 years and works with nature according to ecological principles.
 
There are two alternative futures for food and agriculture at the end of each paradigm. One leads to a dead end: a lifeless planet poisoned by chemical monocultures, farmers committing suicide to escape debt-induced misery, children dying for lack of food, and people with chronic diseases spreading through empty and toxic food sold as food, while the ravages of climate destroy human life on earth. The second paradigm leads to the rejuvenation of the planet through the restoration of biodiversity, soil, water and small farms that produce varied, healthy, fresh and ecological food for all.
 
Globalized industrial agriculture is one of the largest contributors to climate change. Some estimate that at least 25 percent of global emissions are related to the industrial food system: carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuel use, nitrous oxide (N2O) from the use of chemical fertilizers and methane (CH4) from industrial agriculture.
 
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the atmospheric concentration of CO2 has increased from a pre-industrial concentration of about 280 parts per million to 403.3 parts per million in 2016 as a result of human activities. When CO2 levels were this high 3.5 million years ago, global temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees warmer and sea levels were 10 to 20 metres higher. The global atmospheric concentration of methane in the atmosphere increased from a pre-industrial concentration of 715 parts per billion to 1,774 parts per billion in 2005. The global atmospheric concentration of nitrous oxide - largely due to the use of chemical fertilizers in agriculture - increased from about 270 parts per billion to 319 parts per billion in 2005.
 
The extraction of fossil fuels (dead carbon) from the Earth, their combustion and the release of uncontrollable emissions into the atmosphere lead to the disruption of the carbon cycle and the destabilization of climate systems. To capture more living carbon from the atmosphere, we need to intensify our farms and forests biologically, both in terms of biodiversity and biomass. The more biodiversity and biomass there is, the more plants capture atmospheric carbon and nitrogen, reducing both emissions and stocks of pollutants in the air. Carbon is returned to the soil by plants. This is why the link between organic farming and climate change is so closely related.
 
You said that "the future lies in the soil. " What do you mean by that? And what do you think are the main lessons we can learn from indigenous agricultural knowledge and practices to address the ecological crises we face today?
 
We're from earth. We are earth. We are made of the same five elements - earth, water, fire, air and space - that make up the universe. What we do on the ground, we do to ourselves. And it is no coincidence that the words "humus" and "human" have the same etymological root. All indigenous cultures have recognized that we are one with the Earth, and caring for the soil is our supreme duty. As an ancient veda said: " In that handful of soil is your future. Take care of it, it'll take care of you. Destroy it, it will destroy you.... »
 
This ecological truth is forgotten in the dominant paradigm of industrial agriculture, which operates on the false premise that we are separate and independent from the Earth, on the one hand, and on the other, which defines soil as dead matter. If the soil is dead in the first place, human action cannot destroy its life, it can only "improve" the soil with chemical fertilizers. And if we are masters and conquerors of the soil, we determine the fate of the soil - the soil cannot determine our fate.
 
However, history shows that the fate of societies and civilizations is intimately linked to the way we treat the land. We have the choice of our relationship with the land, through the Law of Return or the Law of Exploitation and Extraction. The Law of Return, to give back, has ensured that societies create and maintain fertile soil that can sustain civilizations for thousands of years. The Law of Exploitation, of taking back without giving back, has led to the collapse of civilizations. Contemporary societies around the world are on the verge of collapse as soils are eroded, degraded, poisoned, buried under concrete and deprived of life.
 
Industrial agriculture, based on a mechanistic paradigm and the use of fossil fuels, has created ignorance and blinded us to the living processes that create living soil. Instead of focusing on the food web, this agriculture has been obsessed with external inputs of chemical fertilizers and mechanization, creating the imperative of monocultures - biology and life being replaced by chemistry. By exposing the soil to the elements, monocultures expose it to erosion by wind and water. Because organic matter creates aggregates and acts as a binder, soils depleted in organic matter and artificially enriched with chemical fertilizers are more easily eroded.
 
Degraded and dead soils, soils without organic matter, soils without soil organisms, soils without water-holding capacity create famines and food crises - they do not create food security. This is especially true in times of climate change. Not only is industrial agriculture responsible for almost a quarter of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, it is also more vulnerable to it. Soils rich in organic matter are more resistant to drought and extreme weather conditions. And increasing the production of organic matter through biodiversity-intensive systems is the most effective way to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, in plants and then in the soil through the Law of Return.
 
"Soil, not oil, holds the future of mankind."
 
Soil, not oil, holds the future of humanity. Oil-based, fossil fuel and chemical-intensive industrial agriculture has triggered ecological and social processes that are killing the soil, putting our future at risk.
 
It is clear that we need to take the immense power held by large agricultural and agrochemical companies, which in turn receive significant support from some of the world's most powerful states. The struggle of small farmers against multinationals such as Monsanto is like a typical case of David against Goliath. Where do you see this highly asymmetrical struggle? Where is there hope? Do you see opportunities for society to regain control of its own food production in the face of this vast concentration of agricultural capital?
 
The poisons cartel, which, following a series of mergers, was reduced to a cartel of three poisoners - Monsanto Bayer, Dow Dupont and Syngenta ChemChina - developed the chemicals used by the Nazis in their extermination camps. After the war, these same chemicals that were once used to kill humans were reintroduced into industrial agriculture in the form of pesticides. They then tried to take control of our seeds through genetic engineering and patents.
 
But there is a way to get our seeds back: through seed freedom, where seed control is the responsibility of farmers. This is the opposite of a system that sees seeds as a company's intellectual property. Every place and every plate can be the scene of a revolution against the poison cartel, responsible for a century of ecocide and genocide. It is time to sow the seeds to make peace with the earth and recover our freedoms. SatyagrahaThe "power of truth", or non-violent civil resistance as promoted by Mahatma Gandhi, is more important than ever in our "post-truth" era. Satyagraha was, and always has been, based on the awakening of our consciousness, our inner power, to resist the external, brute force. It is an autopoietic response to a cruel and unjust system imposed from the outside. As Gandhi said, "As Gandhi said, " Satyagraha is a 'No' that comes from our highest consciousness.. »
 
Gandhi's "Satyagraha salt" of 1930 inspired Navdanya's contemporary "Seed Satyagraha" and the Seed Freedom movement. Since 1987, when I first heard companies talking about owning seeds through intellectual property rights, my conscience has not accepted it. I have made a lifelong commitment to save seeds and not to cooperate with the intellectual property rights regime that makes saving and exchanging seeds a crime.
 
Bija SatyagrahaSatyagraha Seed, or Satyagraha Seed, is a popular movement for the resurgence of the Real Seed, from the intelligence of farmers to be breeders and co-evolve with the intelligence of the seed towards diversity, resilience and quality. It is a movement that emanates from the higher laws of our belonging to the Earth Community, Vasudhaiva Kutumbkamthe higher laws of our duty of care, protection, conservation, sharing. The Bija Satyagraha is committed to ensuring that our farmers take note of this commitment:
 
We received these seeds from nature and our ancestors. It is our duty to future generations to return them to the rich diversity and integrity in which we received them. Therefore, we will not obey any law or adopt any technology that interferes with our higher duties to the Earth and future generations. We will continue to conserve and share our seeds. »
 
For more than four and a half decades, I have been involved in a lot of satyagrahasand I have worked for true freedom - the freedom of nature, and for the defence of those most in need. My commitment to our common freedoms deepens over time. The Satyagraha Planetary what we need today is for each one of us to free ourselves from the prisons in our minds, prisons created by a minority -1% - that are forging illusions for us. Freeing our intelligence and the powers we have within us to rethink our real relationship with the Earth and with each other.
 
Today's non-cooperation movement begins by not subscribing to the fictions and lies by which we are colonized, and not cooperating with the structures of violence and domination built through these fictions to support the structures of extraction and exploitation. Freedom from 1% is the Satyagraha of our time. It's a Satyagraha to stay alive and celebrate what's real. To live free according to the higher laws of Gaia, and the higher laws of our humanity and Dharma.
 
You often refer to the relationship between the patenting of seeds - by turning them into commodities that are subject to private property rights - and the indebtedness of local farmers, which, in India alone, has led to the suicide of more than 300 000 people. Can you say a few words about the impact that the introduction of capitalist rationalities has had on food production in the countries of the South, and what the social consequences have been?
 
India is a land rich in biodiversity. For more than 10,000 years, Indian farmers have used their brilliant and indigenous knowledge to domesticate and evolve thousands of crops, including 200,000 varieties of rice, 1,500 varieties of wheat, 1,500 varieties of bananas and mangoes, hundreds of species of dal and oilseeds, various millets and pseudo-cereals, vegetables and spices of all kinds.
 
 
This mastery and diversity in livestock farming was abruptly stopped when the Green Revolution was imposed on us in the 1960s by agrochemical companies and factories that, in the aftermath of the Second World War, were desperately looking for new markets for the synthetic fertilizers made in the war's explosives factories. In the same vein as the colonization process of the past, our intelligence in seed breeding and farming was denied, our seeds were labeled "primitive" and we were displaced. A mechanical "intelligence" of factory farming for homogeneity, for external inputs was imposed. Instead of continuing to evolve varieties of diverse species, our agriculture and food has been reduced to rice and wheat.
 
Companies have produced seeds that react to their chemicals. Chemicals need monocultures to function optimally and profitably, which in turn are vulnerable to the consequences of climate change to which industrial agriculture makes a significant contribution.
 
Genetic engineering of seeds was initiated by the poison cartel because they saw the possibility of collecting rents from farmers by imposing patents on the use of seeds in free trade agreements. As a representative of Monsanto put it: "[translation]... We were the patient, the diagnostician, the doctor at the same time. "And the problem they diagnosed is that farmers are saving the seeds. The case of Monsanto and its genetically modified cotton seed called "Bt cotton" is a clear example. In order to force farmers to use Bt cotton seed, it established a monopoly that prevented farmers from having access to alternative cotton seed. Currently, 99 percent of the cotton planted is Bt cotton. Meanwhile, Monsanto has increased the price of seed by nearly 80,000 percent, forcing farmers into extreme debt to buy the most basic element of their crops.
 
Bt cotton - sold in India as Bollgard - has been shown to be resistant to pests, eliminating the need for farmers to use pesticides. But as pests have become resistant to Bt cotton over time, the use of pesticides in some Indian states has increased thirteen-fold since the introduction of the genetically modified crop. As a result, hundreds of farmers have died from pesticide poisoning and thousands more have committed suicide because of the debt they incurred.
 
Farmers' sovereignty over seeds is at the heart of the solutions to the epidemic of peasant suicides. Only when farmers have access to their own seeds will they be free of debt. And it is only through seed sovereignty that farmers' incomes can be increased. Organic cotton farmers earn more by avoiding expensive seeds and chemicals. Organic cotton is the future.
 
People in the South - especially those whose livelihoods depend directly on their natural environment - are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change. In your view, what immediate steps should be taken to minimize the threat that climate change poses to these vulnerable populations, given that the governments of some of the world's richest countries do not seem very interested in departing from the status quo?
 
Tragically, it is those who have contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions who suffer most from climate chaos: communities in the High Himalayas who have lost their water resources as glaciers melt and disappear, farmers in the Ganges basin whose crops have failed because of droughts or floods, coastal and island communities who face new threats of sea-level rise and intensified cyclones.
 
Climate change, extreme natural events and weather-related disasters are increasingly reminding us that we are an intrinsic part of the Earth. Every act of violence that disrupts ecological systems also threatens our lives. As citizens of the Earth, each of us can take action to protect it. Industrial agriculture is a major contributor to climate change. The shift to organic agriculture is imperative for our health and that of the planet, for climate justice and democracy on Earth.
 
That is why, at the Paris Climate Change Conference (COP21), we collectively planted a garden and made a pact to protect the Earth. Each garden may be small, but when millions of people join hands, they begin to shift from fossil carbon, which should be left underground, to living carbon, which we should cultivate everywhere to heal the earth, create climate resilience and rejuvenation.
 
Humanity has recently crossed a very important threshold, in that more than half of the world's population now lives in urban areas. This seems to create a conflict between the environmental benefits of small-scale ecological agriculture and the need to feed a population of billions of people who cannot - and often do not want - to grow their own food in their immediate environment. How can this paradox be resolved?
 
Protecting the planet and ensuring food for all are not in opposition. The industrial system that destroys the health of the planet is also the cause of hunger, malnutrition and disease. Industrial agriculture has clearly failed as a food system.
 
Contrary to the myth that small farmers should be wiped out because they are not productive and that we should leave the future of our food in the hands of the poison cartel, surveillance drones and spyware, we must bear in mind that small farmers provide 70 per cent of the world's food using 30 per cent of the resources that go into agriculture. Industrial agriculture uses 70 percent. resources to produce a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions, while providing only 30 per cent of our food. This commodity based agriculture has caused 75 per cent of the destruction of soil, 75 per cent of the destruction of water resources and the pollution of our lakes, rivers and oceans. Finally, as I indicated in my book, Who Really Feeds the World ? Who Really Feeds the World ? (Zed Books, 2016), 93 per cent of crop diversity has been driven to extinction by industrial agriculture.
 
At this rate, if the share of industrial agriculture and industrial food in our food supply increases to 45 per cent. We will have a dead planet. There will be no life, no food, on a dead planet. That is why rejuvenation and regeneration of the planet through ecological processes has become a survival imperative for the human species and all human beings. The transition from fossil fuels and dead carbon to living processes based on the growth and recycling of living carbon is at the heart of the transition.
 
Rejuvenating and regenerating the planet through ecological processes has become a survival imperative for the human species and all human beings. The transition from fossil fuels and dead carbon to living processes based on the growth and recycling of living carbon is at the heart of the transition.
 
The work of [my NGO] Navdanya The last 30 years has shown that we can produce more food and provide higher incomes for farmers without destroying the environment and killing our peasants. Our study entitled " Biodiversity-based Organic Agriculture: A New Paradigm for Food Safety and Security  "has established that small organic farms based on biodiversity produce more food and provide higher incomes for farmers.
 
In addition, biological biodiversity and local food systems contribute to both climate change mitigation and adaptation. Small, biodiverse and organic farms - especially in third world countries - are completely free of fossil fuels. Energy for farms comes from animal energy. Soil fertility is built up by feeding soil organisms through the recycling of organic matter. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Biodiversity systems are also more resistant to droughts and floods because they have a greater water retention capacity and thus contribute to adaptation to climate change. Navdanya's study on climate change and organic agriculture showed that organic agriculture increases carbon uptake by up to 55 percent and water retention capacity by 10 percent, thus contributing to both climate change mitigation and adaptation.
 
Biodiverse organic farms produce more food and generate higher incomes than industrial monocultures. Mitigating climate change, conserving biodiversity and increasing food security can therefore go hand in hand. Three decades of work by the NGO Navdanya has shown that by using indigenous seeds and practicing agro-ecology, Indian small farmers can produce enough safe and nutritious food for two Indians, and by not spending their precious money on poisons, and by not producing GM seeds, they have the potential to increase their income tenfold, and stop peasant suicides. I work for an India and a world without poison, without debt, without suicide, without hunger and without malnutrition.
 
Vandana Shiva,  Indian scholar, environmental activist, food sovereignty campaigner and author of a study on globalisation. She is the author of more than 20 books, including Who Really Feeds the World? (Zed Books, 2016).

 
Vandana Shiva's original interview (in English) with Joris Leverink was published by ROAR. (Copyleft)
Illustrations: Luis Alvés
 
To go further :
- Book" Seeds, an endangered vital heritage "by Pierre Rahbi and Juliette Duquesne - Editions Presses du Châtelet, April 2017
 

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