Vandana Shiva | Image credir: Deutsche Welle - Photo: 2013

‘It’s the Earth Democracy We Need To Create’

As India reels under the havoc caused by devastating floods in the country’s northern Himalayan region, the call by eminent environmental activist Vandana Shiva [1] for a new economic model that respects the planet and all species of life in a keynote address at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Bonn on June 19, assumes an added significance. IDN is reproducing extracts of the speech transcribed by its partner Pressenza international press agency.

By Vandana Shiva* | IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

My home is in my heart and in my mind because I come from the Himalaya. 40 years ago ordinary peasant women came out and told the world something the world had forgotten; that somehow forests were connected to water because the market value of timber – and it was a German forester, who set up the system for the British in India on how to exploit forests – forests were just that much square foot of timber.

They were timber mines. And in 1972 we had a horrible flood and the women came out and said these trees protect us. They prevent the landslides, they prevent the flooding, they give us food, they give us fodder, they are our mothers and you can’t cut them and they created one of the most amazing movements that became my university of ecology. I did a PhD in the foundations of quantum theory in Canada, but my real PhD is with women who never went to school. They came out and said we’re going to hug the trees and you’ll have to kill us before you kill the trees.

It took 10 years for the government to realise what they were saying was true because when the floods came in ‘78 the government was putting out more money for flood relief than they were getting out of timber revenues and after that a logging ban was put in the catchments of the Ganges and the Yamuna, the area where I come from.

The forest was saved from logging but the frenzy of globalisation, of speed, of building super-highways in the fragile Himalayas, dams, saying that electricity was the biggest produce of the mountains, not the water of the rivers. It’s created a situation that across the mountains in my regions we have landslides and when the first rain came this year 4 days ago all of that rubble came down, filled the rivers.t

The Earth and the economy

Literally, the dams and the roads have stolen the ecological space from the rivers and when there’s no space in the riverbed, obviously it’s going to flood.  When instead of space for water, all you have is landmass and mud, and rocks, and boulders, the rivers will find their way.  . . I haven’t seen a disaster like this. Our farm is under one foot of water. Agriculture is going to be devastated this year. Why? Because we’re still carrying such an outmoded idea of the Earth and the economy.

Both ecology and economy come from the same root ‘oikos’, our home. We don’t treat our planetary home as our home; we treat it as just raw material, dead, inert.  We couldn’t have had the rise of mechanistic science without declaring nature as dead.  She wasn’t living.

We’ve had the opportunity to relearn that the Earth is living through the Gaia hypothesis and yet an economy gone rogue – I’ve watched elephants that have gone rogue, they leave the herd and just destroy – an economy has gone rogue under globalisation, because it’s no more grounded in the ecological limits of the planet. It’s no more grounded in the human rights and human dignity of the last child, the last woman, the last person.

We’ve come up with this strange idea of limitless growth on a limited planet. It’s ecologically false, it’s physically false, it’s biological false and it’s socially unjust because there’s a very ancient text from India that reminds us that if you take more than you need, you are stealing.  Because some other being, some other person, all the future generations have a right to those resources.

Economy of greed

So an economy of greed must be based on theft and sadly greed has been made the only value of our times. We are witnessing what it is costing us. We are witnessing how ecosystem after ecosystem is under collapse. We are witnessing how societies are on such a fragile edge that in Turkey it takes the protection of one park to create a crisis, in Egypt the bread, a vegetable vendor in Tunisia. And don’t forget Syria, it didn’t start as a religious conflict; it was a protest by farmers around the drought.

But we’ve learnt how to create silos, you know, the economy sits in a little box insulated by everything else, but when you allow greed to be a virtue rather than a negative trait, it doesn’t just reward the bankers, it doesn’t just reward the CEOs. It does all that but it changes the minds. It changes society, so economic values are social values. Economic values are ecological values; values of exploitation of the earth end up destroying ecology.

Values that everything is an object, everything is a commodity to be controlled, dominated, exploited is what has transformed India from one of the safest places in the world for women and children until a few years ago to the capital of rape.  Through December and January you would have heard the rape stories: they continue. They haven’t stopped, because if that’s the values that seep through our heads then that’s the behaviour it creates.

We’ve learnt how to turn everything into an externality and some of the biggest externalities are in the way we produce and distribute food. If we did an honest analysis of the real costs of industrial agriculture, the real costs of poisons in our food, the real costs of GMOs, the real costs of monopolies on seed through patents, we wouldn’t be able to afford the system that’s destroying the planet, wiping out farmers, and farming is still the most significant livelihood on the planet, and in my view the most significant livelihood for the future.

At the Navdanya [2] farm at any point in time we have 20 to 25 international interns: PhDs in mathematics, MBAs, people from Wall Street, from the information technology sector coming to learn organic farming because that’s where they want their future to be. After all, how long can you bet on the global casino and feel rewarded and think you’re living a meaningful life?

Dunkel Draft Text

In the period of globalisation, where the laws of globalisation and the values for globalisation were not set through democracy, they were not set through dialogue, they were not set through multilateralism; a text was prepared. It was called the Dunkel [3] Draft Text because Dunkel was the Director General of the GATT (we called it the DDT).  In it is an intellectual Property Treaty. Monsanto is on record saying we wrote this treaty to own seeds and create patents on life.  The agriculture agreement was written by the Cargill [4] Vice-president, deputed to represent to the United States.

So I say they should be called Monsanto Treaties and Cargill Treaties. They shouldn’t be called Intellectual Property Rights (Trade Related), Agriculture Agreement. There’s nothing about agriculture in the Agriculture Agreement, it’s just market grab. And how do you grab markets?  With 400 billion dollars of subsidies! If that was added into the cost of farming, local would be cheaper, not the globalised dumping.

270,000 farmers’ lives have been taken with seed monopolies in cotton in India. 95% of the cotton is now owned and controlled by Monsanto and they collect royalties, those royalties are paid by farmers through their very lives. 270,000 farm suicides concentrated largely in the cotton belt. So what we try and do is build alternatives.  When I heard about the idea of patenting life, I said that’s a bit crazy, because life creates itself, that’s why it’s life. It’s not a machine, it’s not like these microphones that someone had to assemble from outside. Seed has evolved over millennia and there’s a very famous case that has just taken place in the US.

‘God Move Over’

At the end of it, what is a GMO?  It’s basically shooting a gene – largely a toxic gene – into the cells of an existing plant, but the plant has evolved over millennia, the soya bean came to the world from eastern Asia, but Monsanto has a patent and they sued a farmer who bought soya bean in the open market and planted the seeds on his farm, a very famous case called Monsanto vs. Bowman [5].  The courts ruled that Monsanto has created that seed and has owned that seed, so I’ve created the slogan saying GMO now must mean God Move Over.

Now whatever is your version of creation and whatever is your understanding of a god or goddesses we can’t afford unemployment of the divine. Somehow we have to reconnect the sacred to our everyday values, because that’s where limits come from, but not only do limits come from there, our understanding of potential come from there.

I was very fortunate last night I was releasing the book of the Karmapa [6], I won’t go into the details about the Karmapa and who he is (there’s a Dalai Lama and then there’s a young Karmapa, 26 years old, brilliant). He’s just written a book called, “The Heart is Noble” but it’s the ultimate text for social transformation in our times. Here’s a spiritual leader talking about how the current food system creates hunger; how our view of the Earth as dead matter creates the ecological crisis; how the idea of gender identities and other cultural identities being fixed is at the root of so much violence.

So we need values that shift from the idea of mechanistic reductionism as the foundation of science, to the new foundations of the emerging sciences, the quantum theory on which I worked. Non-separability, non-locality, we know the world is interconnected. All the new sciences of agro-ecology, from domination to equality and the respect for all human beings and all beings, from exploitation creating a pseudo-competition.

Why are the shirts we buy so cheap? (I don’t buy shirts, I only wear hand-woven saris) But why are the shirts so cheap?  Because the farmers who grew the cotton were killed through debt, this was taken then to Bangladesh and China and then the women get burnt in fires and then you get cheap clothing, just like you get cheap food, because the costs have not been internalised.

So we need to start talking the truth about costs, and we can only talk the truth about costs if we understand the interconnections, if we understand at a systems level what the food system is, what the clothing system is, what the financial system is, and without the deeper understanding we will not be able to address the problem of a billion people hungry.

The FAO just released [a report] on world food day, which was dedicated to food waste, they said that bad food is costing the world 4.3 trillion dollars through obesity. It’s not food. I think we need to separate. You know, we have labelling, we have nutrition labelling. In the US they’re fighting GMO labelling, in India we have it, you have it, in most democracies we have labelling, the country that prides itself on being the biggest, highest, largest democracy can’t afford food labelling! But I think we need a new labelling of ‘food’ and ‘non-food’, because so much of what’s being eaten is not worthy of being eaten. High fructose corn syrup isn’t a sugar.


They’re faking daal. You know we live on daal, we live on daal. They’re now creating an I-daal thinking if you can have an I-phone, an I-pad then you can have an I-daal.

Now of course they’re trying to fake the seed, but seed is that which renews on its own (bija) that’s the Hindi and Sanskrit word for it. Ja is life, bija – that from which life arises on its own for ever and ever and ever, on its own.  It doesn’t need Monsanto’s GMC, toxic genes, BT, herbicide resistance.

We’ve received a lot of incomplete phrases in this period of globalisation and you from the media will have to do some work to complete them. For example India that has been around for 10,000 years is called ‘an emerging country’. We did not emerge after 1995!

We are repeatedly told that intensification will feed the world but they never clarify intensification of what? Intensification of fossil fuels actually creates a very inefficient system; 10 units are put in to get one unit out. Ecological systems use one unit to produce 2 units of food.  That’s the way we can double the production of food without harming the planet.  We’ve done it in Navdanya and we said yield per acre only measures the commodity production of something that goes off anonymously on container ships and its only value is the weight.

But food becomes us, so it should be more than weight we measure; it should be taste (it should taste good), it should be nutrition, it should be quality and all those values have disappeared, not just in food but in other matters too. So instead of yield per acre which only measures that which leaves the ecosystem, leaves the land, leaves the community, gets traded globally, we measure health per acre, nutrition per acre, and when we intensify biodiversity rather than fossil fuels and toxics we actually get more nutrition per acre and this is going to be the new breakthrough in issues of food security.

Gates’ bananas

Of course that reductionist mind carries on. We’ve just had to launch a campaign recently.  Mr Gates has emerged as the biggest philanthropist in agriculture. He’s pushing the green revolution in Africa and suddenly we find that he wants genetically modified bananas for Indian women so that they don’t die in child birth because of anaemia and iron deficiency.

I did very quick calculations. Banana is very good but it produces only .44mg of iron.  Other foods and other crops and other biodiversity give you 56 or 68 so we are taking something 6000% less efficient maybe doubling it, even tripling it, it will still have very little iron and then saying this is going to be the iron source in India.

Of course then aid agencies will join in and that will be in the diet and before you know it GMO bananas.  So we said no GMO bananas, sorry. Thank you. Women have the knowledge, we have the biodiversity, we are going to grow the richest foods in every kitchen garden, we’re going to cook the best of foods in every kitchen and our knowledge and our diversity can’t be brushed aside as if it doesn’t exist. Our heads are not empty the land is not empty.  We’ve had Terra Madre replaced by Terra Nullius once before. Now is the time for Tierra Madre to be at the central value of what it means to be human.

It’s only if we realise we are Earth’s citizens that we can be fully human. Human rights are a derivative of the rights of the Earth and I think that change is happening so fast, it’s so wide which is why out of the blue an occupy movement can be created of the 1% vs. the 99% and of course a surveillance system is being built to try and make sure that the 99% doesn’t have its way.  But a 1% rule has never lasted it must be 100% participation, not just of every human being but every species on this planet. It’s the Earth democracy we need to create.

*Vandana Shiva is an Indian environmental activist and anti-globalization author, currently based in Delhi. She has authored more than 20 books. She was trained as a physicist and received her PhD in philosophy from the University of Western Ontario, Canada, in 1978 with the doctoral dissertation “Hidden variables and locality in quantum theory.” She received the Right Livelihood Award in 1993, and numerous other prizes. [IDN-InDepthNews – June 28, 2013]

Image credit: Deutsche Welle

2013 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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