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Lions Roar : January 2015
But the Green Revolution had an ugly side. Industrial farm- ing requires large quantities of fresh water and fossil fuels. Pes- ticides and fertilizers have sickened the farmers who use them, and the runoff from these chemicals pollutes rivers and lakes. As Vandana Shiva points out in her book Stolen Harvest, “While most environmentalists can recognize that converting a natural forest into a monoculture is an impoverishment, many do not extend this insight to industrial agriculture.” She argues that we have lost invaluable crop varieties that nature and our ancestors took thousands of years to develop. Today, if just one monoculture falls prey to a pathogen that cannot be controlled with agrochemicals, it could threaten global food security. An activist focused on biodiversity and biotechnology, Shiva has been called the Gandhi of grain. She was born in 1952 to a Brahmin family in the foothills of the Himalayas. Her father was a forestry official for the Indian government and her mother was a school inspector. In the 1970s, Shiva attended university in Canada, where she wrote a thesis on quantum mechanics and earned her PhD in the philosophy of science. She also joined the Chipko movement, which opposed commercial logging in the Uttarakhand region of India. Chipko activists prevented trees from being cut down by forming circles around them and embracing their trunks. This method proved highly effective and led to the term “tree hugger.” In 1987, Shiva attended a meeting on biotechnology organized by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation. She learned that certain giant chemical companies had started to paint themselves as “life sciences” companies; their aim was to control agriculture through mergers, genetic engineering, and patenting seeds. As Shiva sees it, seeds are sacred. We have a duty to share and save them. Inspired to prevent private control of genetic mate- rial and encourage sustainable, nonindustrial agriculture, she founded a network of seed keepers and organic producers called Navdanya. The word means both “nine seeds,” to symbolize Navdanya’s work to protect biological and cultural diversity, and “new gift,” to symbolize their efforts to freely share seeds. To date, Navdanya has conserved the seeds of more than 5,000 crop varieties—including 3,000 of rice, 150 of wheat, and 150 of kidney beans—in 111 community seed banks in seven- teen Indian states. More than 650,000 Indian farming families are members of Navdanya. Slaves of Monoculture By vandana shiva with industrial seeds and industrial agriculture, the diversity of plants and crops disappears. Humanity has had 8,500 species of foodstuffs available to consume, and each spe- cies has evolved, creating further diversity. India had 200,000 rice varieties before the Green Revolution. This diversity has been replaced by monocultures. Today India grows eight globally traded commodities. The fastest expanse in acreage is for genetically engineered corn and soya, because they are patented and corporations can col- lect royalties from farmers. When seed freedom disappears and farmers become dependent on GMO seeds, they in effect become seed slaves. Gandhi spun cotton for our freedom. Today GMO Bt cotton has enslaved our farmers in debt and pushed them to suicide. Ninety-five percent of cotton seed is now con- trolled by Monsanto. There are three forces driving the disappearance of diversity, and all three are connected to corporate control over seed and food. The first is the entry of big business into the seed market, and the consequent replacement of local varieties developed by farmers with uniform commercial, industrial hybrids and GMOs, sold by corporations. For example, local farmers tradi- tionally grew different watermelon varieties, and watermelons were seasonal fruits. Today you get only one variety everywhere, all year round, produced from seeds that are commercial hybrids. The same applies to papaya. The second is globalization-driven long distance trade. Diversity goes hand in hand with local, decentralized food systems. Our mangoes and bananas are as diverse as they are because they are eaten fresh, locally. Long distance trade replaces freshness and softness with hardness, so that fruits can travel. I call this breeding rocks, not fruit. Our soft jacket oranges have disappeared and been replaced with varieties that cannot be peeled. Corporations are advising our government that our bananas and mangoes need to travel longer, and stay longer on shelves. I shudder to think of the dasheri mango giving way to the hard, tasteless, flavorless “mango” found in global markets, or the little Kerala banana with the daintiest of skins being driven out by the characterless, thick-skinned Cavendish. The third is industrial processing. When McDonald’s wants potatoes for French fries, only the Russett Burbank will do. Pepsi’s Lay’s potato chips cannot use indigenous potato varieties like the tomri that we grow in the moun- tains. Ketchup requires tomatoes with pulp, not juice. So the juicy, tasty tomatoes disappear, and hard and tasteless toma- toes replace them. When we are careless with food we are careless with our- selves. Will we wake up only when the last peasant and the last seed disappears? Or will we turn to the sacred duty of protect- ing our sacred seeds? Adapted from Vandana Shiva’s introduction to Sacred Seed (The Golden Sufi Center). SHAMBHALA SUN jANUAry 2015 54