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A Life in Food 
Promoting Sustainability

Dr. Vandana Shiva (Gandhi of Grain) at Sewa Samwaad

Summary & Key learnings

Sewa Samwaad with Dr. Vandana Shiva

In our series of Sewa Samwaad, we had the privilege of having Dr Vandana Shiva speak to us on 23rd of October.
Dr Shiva is a renowned physicist, ecologist, activist, editor, and author of numerous books. She is a tireless defender of the environment. She is the founder of Navdanya, a movement for biodiversity conservation and farmers’ rights. Dr. Shiva fights for changes in the practice and paradigms of agriculture and food.

Intellectual property rights, biodiversity, biotechnology, bioethics, and genetic engineering are among the fields where Shiva has contributed intellectually and through activist campaigns. She has also served as an adviser to governments in India and abroad as well as non-governmental organizations.

She is a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, commonly known as the Alternative Nobel Prize to name just one of the numerous awards bestowed upon her.

She drew an analogy between the work being done by Sewa International & her organisation Navdanya which was a big morale booster for us.

Dr Shiva started the session by highlighting the interconnectedness of all entities in the universe. The concept of non-separation comes from quantum theory as a discipline but the philosophy of non-separation, of us being part of the earth, really comes from nature. She is an unequivocal critic of the green revolution which has made the farmers dependent on big corporates for seeds & chemical fertilisers. The green revolution seeds are not high-yielding-variety seeds according to her but these are the seeds that respond magnificently to the chemical fertilisers. Our ancient methods of farming were organic & nature friendly. She quoted our scriptures to propound the fact that the Indian tradition extends the right to food to all species including the soil organisms. The current system drives farmers into a debt trap & creates malnutrition. The solution lies in shifting from a toxic, high-cost system to a nutritious, low-cost, sustainable food production model. Our rich agricultural practices were summarily destroyed by Green Revolution in the 1960s. We were used as a lab for the leftover chemicals of the second world war. The Green revolution increased the yield per acre but it does not take into account the quality of yield. Chemical monocultures are pushing our farmers to debt and suicide, they are depriving our children of the nourishment and they are spreading an epidemic of cancer. Sir Albert Howard, who was sent to India in 1905 to introduce chemicals in farming, saw how fertile the soils were with no pests in the fields. He decided to make the Indian peasants his professors and wrote An Agricultural Testament, which spread organic farming worldwide on the basis of India's ecological farming, today recognised as agroecology-ecology as applied to agriculture.

She further said the forests are great teachers. The forests are sources of water and the storehouses of a biodiversity that can teach us the lessons of democracy—of leaving space for others while drawing sustenance from the common web of life. Tagore saw unity with nature as the highest stage of human evolution.

Our food producers, the small farmers who have provided food to more than a billion Indians and hold the potential to provide healthy food for all, are themselves dying because of agriculture and trade policies which put corporate profits above the rights and well-being of our small farmers. Solution to the crisis lies in shifting the focus from an unhealthy, nutritionally empty, toxic, high-cost food system to a healthy, nutritious, low cost and sustainable system which improves the well-being of the earth, of the farmers, and all citizens.

The industrial model is energy, water, chemical, capital and fossil fuel-intensive with costs of production much higher than the price farmers get. This high-cost system, which neither the farmers nor the nation can afford, is kept afloat artificially with a huge subsidy burden which basically benefits the agrichemical corporations selling toxic chemicals. Financially it is a negative economy, vulnerable to a chaotic climate in times of climate change and a manipulated commodity market. Farmers have been turned into the victims of the market when they should be the drivers of the market.

She also quoted the example of Cuba where organic farming has been immensely successful. She also spoke about Bhutan where organic farming faced a lot of obstacles as the country is heavily invested in chemicals. According to her, Bhutan should be waging a war against chemical fertilisers & pesticides more than against drugs & narcotics. She calls them ‘ecological narcotics. Pesticide & chemical industry has lot of lobbying power. We need a counter veiling power of honest citizens who can withstand & fight aginst these vested interests. Organic food is climate resilient, more bio diverse & more nutrition rich. Research has shown that organic food can heal not only the soil but also our gut biome within the matter of a week. Dr Shiva gave a clarion call to go back to organic farming from chemical intensive farming.

The discussion ended on an open invitation on the part of Dr Vandana to one & all to visit Navdanya, her organisation that promote organic farming and fair trade. She says that Navdanya does not teach a technique, they teach a system – right from seed, soil, pest control, to nutrition, economy & farming.

Let us learn from the learned physicist & migrate to healthy & sustainable farming.

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