WILD Is Life
The WILD had the distinct honor of speaking with activist Dr. Vandana Shiva, founder of the Navdanya Institute and expert on human interaction with the environment. The Navdanya Institute functions both as an Educational Center and a Seed Bank, its unique mission concerns the preservation of indigenous cultures through the protection of seed biodiversity. I caught up with Dr Shiva on her recent trip to the Pacific Northwest and here is what she had to say:
What do you find is the most commonly misunderstood aspect about the relationship between environmentalist failure and consumer patterns?
The assumption that consumers are making free choices when it’s really the corporations selling the products that cause so much harm to the environment and corporations who are pushing consumers. The confusion to not see corporate dictatorship and to treat it as consumer choice is doubly wrong.
Having said that, what daily actions can we take to create or sustain a more equitable ecological living situation?
I have very consciously chosen the area of food and agriculture as the daily action where we can make the biggest difference. But knowing that all kinds of legal and policy blocks are created to prevent people from making a full set of choices. There is also an issue of seeds. If corporations are allowed to have a seed monopoly, if governments help corporations by making local indigenous seed illegal – which is a push worldwide – farmers won’t have a choice about what they grow. That is why I started a global seed freedom campaign. We’ve been doing work for seed freedom for 25 years in India through Navdanya, but I realize that we have to organize globally.
Why do you think it is that corporate entities have been given massive power to seize upon seed patents and use toxic fertilizers, and even in general to conduct business practices that are so obviously insidious to global food security?
Corporations haven’t been given these powers, they’ve grabbed them, by taking chemicals created to kill during the war and redefining them as agrochemicals. In India, we call those pesticides medicine. They worked very insidiously and used their influence. The corporate lobbying part carried on to change agricultural policy, to change agricultural research, to change agricultural education and to prevent alternatives from flourishing. Worse, to criminalize alternatives that are safe for the environment and safe for our health.
Why do societies allow these damaging practices to continue?
There are two reasons that people continue to blindly participate in a system that is so obviously destructive for the planet’s health and for human health. Every time knowledge about the harm comes out it is squashed. I have seen so many of my fellow scientists lose jobs, not have their work published, or have their departments closed because of the destructive powers of corporate activities. Additionally, there is so much confusion created, and consumers feel things are too complicated to understand so they just keep doing what they’ve been doing. This is why we need to build movements that have scientific authenticity communicated in simple accessible ways that touch the hearts and minds of people.
Celebrating seed diversity, which is the first link in the food chain. Getting people to remember once again that food begins with seed. People have forgotten. Kids think food comes out of a supermarket. They’ve been made to forget the links with the soil and the seed. We just have to have far more connection. That’s why I started the Earth University at Navdanya, where we have just had 150 kids at an Earth Summit, the majority of which had never ever seen a farm or how food is grown, they’d never seen a seed, they’d never seen that there are trees that give us natural soap, that can act as natural pesticides, and give us the most beautiful natural fibers. There is such a thing as blacking out, it’s like a censorship of life.
Who are some of your teachers?
My first teachers are nature, the soil, the seed and biodiversity. I learned so much. I learned the lesson of abundance from the seed, I learned the lesson of cooperation from biodiversity, I learned the lesson of the amazing renewal of life from the soil. Politically my strongest teacher is Ghandi. No one understood democracy better than him in terms of the deep insights of how we lose our freedoms. So much of Navdanya’s work is based on what we’ve learned from him. And then there are ordinary farmers, women and peasants that are very amazing teachers who are always instructing.
Speaking of women, what do you find have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your field as a woman?
The biggest challenge has been to maintain the confidence in a knowledge that I know is reliable and accurate, yet has been excluded as knowledge by a dominant system which has created monocultures of the mind, mechanistic thought and a military operation in terms of how to practice knowing.
In terms of what must realistically occur in an effort to feed more people, what needs to happen and what is preventing it?
We need a shift in worldview, to be able to think more ecologically, more holistically and in a more inter-connected way rather than in a mechanistic way. We have to reclaim democracy. Corporations must become businesses again; businesses that are accountable to society and community, where society and community set the rules and not the corporations. And we must be far more aware as earth citizens, knowing our responsibility.
Concerning organizations such as IMF and World Bank, and even the U.N., what do you see is their role in either ameliorating or aggravating this situation?
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are very strong partners in ecological crime. I was a physicist and I had no idea that an entity like the World Bank existed until I found our amazing South Indian landscapes being destroyed by Eucalyptus monocultures. I decided to do a study on why farmers were planting Eucalyptus farms. The World Bank was financing the replacement of food crops and biodiversity to provide raw material to one pulp factory. Our land, biodiversity and food was being turned into an input for one industrial house. Everywhere in the world where I have been involved in movements to protect water and the right of people to have water, it’s the World Bank and IMF imposing water privatization. Now the U.N. used to be somewhat available for the public good and public interest. That is how in 1992 we managed to shape an Earth Summit we managed to get treatise for climate and biodiversity protection. Now, 20 years later, the U.N. has become a platform for corporations to dismantle everything we put together for environmental protection. It is being corporatized in a very deep way.
Why do you think it is so easy for us to feel that we are separate and to be polarized to acting not only against one another, but against nature as well?
My next book is precisely about this and I call it “Making Peace with the Earth.” Just like South Africa was governed by apartheid, which means separation, for the last 300 years humanity has been ruled by the idea of eco-apartheid, a separation of us from nature. The very scientific paradigms shaped created a worldview where humanity was not just separate from nature, but masters of nature, owners and conquerors of nature. The very paradigms of political economy and economics have separated us from nature and each other. When you fragment society and reduce everyone to be an individual consumer obviously you rob people of their collective strength. We must reconnect with nature in our minds- we have never been independent from nature materially. We depend on nature for everything from the food we eat and the water we drink to the clothes we wear, the shelters we build. In our minds we have a separation, now we need to reconnect to nature in our minds and our hearts and in a similar way we need to rebuild communities to reconnect at the social level.
In terms of your own personal legacy, if you are able to leave a seed within everyone you come across, what do you wish your seed to be?
The recognition of life’s life-giving properties. That life sustains us, and there is a living world and we are part of that amazing living world. Which is why I love the title of your magazine, The WILD, because wild is life in freedom. But also that we reclaim a deeper idea of freedom - not a false idea of freedom as individual predetermined choice in an economic dictatorship of a global supermarket - but authentically free decision-making in an interconnected living world where you respect the freedom of every species and every other human being.
Understanding our own motivations?
Not just understanding our own motivations, but understanding how we are a strand in the web of life and shaping our motivations with that awareness.