Poverty and globalisation
by Dr Vandana Shiva
In April 2000, Dr Vananda Shiva delivered one of the six BBC Reith Lectures presented that year. Her talk was recorded in New Delhi, India.
Dr Vandana Shiva is the Founder Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, New Delhi. She trained as a physicist and has been an adviser to governments in India and abroad. She is a member of NGOs such as the International Forum on Globalisation, Women’s Environment and Development Organisation and Third World Network. She is the founder of Navdanya, a national movement promoting diversity and use of native seeds. She attended the World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle in 1999. Dr Shiva is the author of Biopiracy (South End Press, USA, 1997).
Recently, I was visiting Bhatinda in Punjab because of an epidemic of farmers’ suicides. Punjab used to be the most prosperous agricultural region in India. Today every farmer is in debt and despair. Vast stretches of land have become waterlogged desert. And as an old farmer pointed out, even the trees have stopped bearing fruit because heavy use of pesticides has killed the pollinators — the bees and butterflies.
And Punjab is not alone in experiencing this ecological and social disaster. Last year I was in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh where farmers have also been committing suicide. Farmers who traditionally grew pulses and millets and paddy have been lured by seed companies to buy hybrid cotton seeds referred to by the seed merchants as “white gold”, which were supposed to make them millionaires. Instead they became paupers.
Their native seeds have been displaced with new hybrids which cannot be saved and need to be purchased every year at high cost. Hybrids are also very vulnerable to pest attacks. Spending on pesticides in Warangal has shot up 2000 per cent from $2.5 million in the 1980s to $50 million in 1997. Now farmers are consuming the same pesticides as a way of killing themselves so that they can escape permanently from unpayable debt.
The corporations are now trying to introduce genetically engineered seed which will further increase costs and ecological risks. That is why farmers like Malla Reddy of the Andhra Pradesh Farmers’ Union had uprooted Monsanto’s genetically engineered Bollgard cotton in Warangal.
On March 27th, 25-year-old Betavati Ratan took his life because he could not pay pack debts for drilling a deep tube well on his two-acre farm. The wells are now dry, as are the wells in Gujarat and Rajasthan where more than 50 million people face a water famine.
The drought is not a “natural disaster”. It is “man-made”. It is the result of mining of scarce ground water in arid regions to grow thirsty cash crops for exports instead of water prudent food crops for local needs.
It is experiences such as these, which tell me that we are so wrong to be smug about the new global economy. I will argue in this lecture that it is time to stop and think about the impact of globalisation on the lives of ordinary people. This is vital to achieve sustainability.
Time to re-evaluate
Seattle and the World Trade Organisation protests last year have forced everyone to think again. Throughout this lecture series people have referred to different aspects of sustainable development taking globalisation for granted. For me it is now time radically to re-evaluate what we are doing. For what we are doing in the name of globalisation to the poor is brutal and unforgivable. This is especially evident in India as we witness the unfolding disasters of globalisation, especially in food and agriculture.
Who feeds the world? My answer is very different to that given by most people.
It is women and small farmers working with biodiversity who are the primary food providers in the Third World, and contrary to the dominant assumption, their biodiversity based small farms are more productive than industrial monocultures.
The rich diversity and sustainable systems of food production are being destroyed in the name of increasing food production. However, with the destruction of diversity, rich sources of nutrition disappear. When measured in terms of nutrition per acre, and from the perspective biodiversity, the so called “high yields” of industrial agriculture or industrial fisheries do not imply more production of food and nutrition.
Yields usually refers to production per unit area of a single crop. Output refers to the total production of diverse crops and products. Planting only one crop in the entire field as a monoculture will of course increase its individual yield. Planting multiple crops in a mixture will have low yields of individual crops, but will have high total output of food. Yields have been defined in such a way as to make the food production on small farms by small farmers disappear. This hides the production by millions of women farmers in the Third World — farmers like those in my native Himalaya who fought against logging in the Chipko movement, who in their terraced fields even today grow Jhangora (barnyard millet), Marsha (Amaranth), Tur (Pigeon Pea), Urad (Black gram), Gahat (horse gram), Soya Bean (Glycine Max), Bhat (Glycine Soya) — endless diversity in their fields. From the biodiversity perspective, biodiversity based productivity is higher than monoculture productivity. I call this blindness to the high productivity of diversity a “Monoculture of the Mind”, which creates monocultures in our fields and in our world.
The Mayan peasants in the Chiapas are characterised as unproductive because they produce only 2 tons of corn per acre. However, the overall food output is 20 tons per acre when the diversity of their beans and squashes, their vegetables their fruit trees are taken into account. In Java, small farmers cultivate 607 species in their home gardens. In sub-Saharan Africa, women cultivate 120 different plants. A single home garden in Thailand has 230 species, and African home gardens have more than 60 species of trees.
Rural families in the Congo eat leaves from more than 50 species of their farm trees.
A study in eastern Nigeria found that home gardens occupying only 2 per cent of a household’s farmland accounted for half of the farm’s total output. In Indonesia 20 per cent of household income and 40 per cent of domestic food supplies come from the home gardens managed by women.
Research done by FAO has shown that small biodiverse farms can produce thousands of times more food than large, industrial monocultures.
And diversity in addition to giving more food is the best strategy for preventing drought and desertification.
What the world needs to feed a growing population sustainably is biodiversity intensification, not the chemical intensification or the intensification of genetic engineering. While women and small peasants feed the world through biodiversity we are repeatedly told that without genetic engineering and globalisation of agriculture the world will starve. In spite of all empirical evidence showing that genetic engineering does not produce more food and in fact often leads to a yield decline, it is constantly promoted as the only alternative available for feeding the hungry.
That is why I ask, who feeds the world?
Blindness to diversity
This deliberate blindness to diversity, the blindness to nature’s production, production by women, production by Third World farmers allows destruction and appropriation to be projected as creation.
Take the case of the much flouted “golden rice” or genetically engineered Vitamin A rice as a cure for blindness. It is assumed that without genetic engineering we cannot remove Vitamin A deficiency. However, nature gives us abundant and diverse sources of vitamin A. If rice was not polished, rice itself would provide Vitamin A. If herbicides were not sprayed on our wheat fields, we would have bathua, amaranth, mustard leaves as delicious and nutritious greens that provide Vitamin A.
Women in Bengal use more than 150 plants as greens — Hinche sak (Enhydra fluctuans), Palang sak (Spinacea oleracea), Tak palang (Rumex vesicarious), Lal Sak (Amaranthus gangeticus) — to name but a few.
But the myth of creation presents biotechnologists as the creators of Vitamin A, negating nature’s diverse gifts and women’s knowledge of how to use this diversity to feed their children and families.
The most efficient means of rendering the destruction of nature, local economies and small autonomous producers is by rendering their production invisible.
Destroying local economies
Women who produce for their families and communities are treated as “non-productive” and “economically” inactive. The devaluation of women’s work, and of work done in sustainable economies, is the natural outcome of a system constructed by capitalist patriarchy. This is how globalisation destroys local economies and destruction itself is counted as growth.
And women themselves are devalued. Because many women in the rural and indigenous communities work co-operatively with nature’s processes, their work is often contradictory to the dominant market driven “development” and trade policies. And because work that satisfies needs and ensures sustenance is devalued in general, there is less nurturing of life and life support systems.
The devaluation and invisibility of sustainable, regenerative production is most glaring in the area of food. While patriarchal division of labour has assigned women the role of feeding their families and communities, patriarchal economics and patriarchal views of science and technology magically make women’s work in providing food disappear. “Feeding the World” becomes disassociated from the women who actually do it and is projected as dependent on global agribusiness and biotechnology corporations.
However, industrialisation and genetic engineering of food and globalisation of trade in agriculture are recipes for creating hunger, not for feeding the poor.
Everywhere, food production is becoming a negative economy, with farmers spending more to buy costly inputs for industrial production than the price they receive for their produce. The consequence is rising debts and epidemics of suicides in both poor and rich countries.
Economic globalisation is leading to a concentration of the seed industry, increased use of pesticides, and, finally, increased debt. Capital-intensive, corporate controlled agriculture is being spread into regions where peasants are poor but, until now, have been self-sufficient in food. In the regions where industrial agriculture has been introduced through globalisation, higher costs are making it virtually impossible for small farmers to survive.
The globalisation of non-sustainable industrial agriculture is literally evaporating the incomes of Third World farmers through a combination of devaluation of currencies, increase in costs of production and a collapse in commodity prices.
Farmers everywhere are being paid a fraction of what they received for the same commodity a decade ago. The Canadian National Farmers Union put it like this in a report to the senate this year:
“While the farmers growing cereal grains — wheat, oats, corn — earn negative returns and are pushed close to bankruptcy, the companies that make breakfast cereals reap huge profits. In 1998, cereal companies Kellogg’s, Quaker Oats, and General Mills enjoyed return on equity rates of 56%, 165% and 222% respectively. While a bushel of corn sold for less than $4, a bushel of corn flakes sold for $133 ... Maybe farmers are making too little because others are taking too much.”
And a World Bank report has admitted that “behind the polarisation of domestic consumer prices and world prices is the presence of large trading companies in international commodity markets.”
Consumers pay more
While farmers earn less, consumers pay more. In India, food prices have doubled between 1999 and 2000. The consumption of food grains in rural areas has dropped by 12%. Increased economic growth through global commerce is based on pseudo surpluses. More food is being traded while the poor are consuming less. When growth increases poverty, when real production becomes a negative economy, and speculators are defined as “wealth creators”, something has gone wrong with the concepts and categories of wealth and wealth creation. Pushing the real production by nature and people into a negative economy implies that production of real goods and services is declining, creating deeper poverty for the millions who are not part of the dot.com route to instant wealth creation.
Women — as I have said — are the primary food producers and food processors in the world. However, their work in production and processing is now becoming invisible.
Recently, the McKinsey corporation said: “American food giants recognise that Indian agro-business has lots of room to grow, especially in food processing. India processes a minuscule 1 per cent of the food it grows compared with 70 per cent for the US … ”.
Local economies shut down
It is not that we Indians eat our food raw. Global consultants fail to see the 99 per cent food processing done by women at household level, or by the small cottage industry because it is not controlled by global agribusiness. 99% of India’s agro-processing has been intentionally kept at the small level. Now, under the pressure of globalisation, things are changing. Pseudo-hygiene laws are being uses to shut down local economies and small scale processing.
In August 1998, small scale local processing of edible oil was banned in India through a “packaging order” which made sale of open oil illegal and required all oil to be packaged in plastic or aluminium. This shut down tiny “ghanis” or cold pressed mills. It destroyed the market for our diverse oilseeds — mustard, linseed, sesame, groundnut, coconut.
And the take-over of the edible oil industry has affected 10 million livelihoods. The take over of flour or “atta” by packaged branded flour will cost 100 million livelihoods. And these millions are being pushed into new poverty.
The forced use of packaging will increase the environmental burden of millions of tonnes of waste.
Stealing from the poor
The globalisation of the food system is destroying the diversity of local food cultures and local food economies. A global monoculture is being forced on people by defining everything that is fresh, local and handmade as a health hazard. Human hands are being defined as the worst contaminants, and work for human hands is being outlawed, to be replaced by machines and chemicals bought from global corporations. These are not recipes for feeding the world, but stealing livelihoods from the poor to create markets for the powerful.
People are being perceived as parasites, to be exterminated for the “health” of the global economy.
In the process new health and ecological hazards are being forced on Third World people through dumping of genetically engineered foods and other hazardous products.
Recently, because of a WTO ruling, India has been forced to remove restrictions on all imports.
Among the unrestricted imports are carcasses and animal waste parts that create a threat to our culture and introduce public health hazards such as the Mad Cow Disease.
The US Centre for Disease Prevention in Atlanta has calculated that nearly 81 million cases of food borne illnesses occur in the US every year. Deaths from food poisoning have gone up more up more than four times due to deregulation. Most of these infections are caused by factory-farmed meat. The US slaughters 93 million pigs, thirty seven million cattle, two million calves, six million horses, goats and sheep and eight billion chickens and turkeys each year.
Now the giant meat industry of US wants to dump contaminated meat produced through violent and cruel methods on Indian consumers.
The waste of the rich is being dumped on the poor. The wealth of the poor is being violently appropriated through new and clever means like patents on biodiversity and indigenous knowledge.
Patents and intellectual property rights are supposed to be granted for novel inventions. But patents are being claimed for rice varieties such as the basmati for which my Valley — where I was born — is famous, or pesticides derived from the Neem which our mothers and grandmothers have been using.
Rice Tec, a U.S. based company has been granted Patent no. 5,663,484 for basmati rice lines and grains.
Basmati, neem, pepper, bitter gourd, turmeric … every aspect of the innovation embodied in our indigenous food and medicinal systems is now being pirated and patented. The knowledge of the poor is being converted into the property of global corporations, creating a situation where the poor will have to pay for the seeds and medicines they have evolved and have used to meet their own needs for nutrition and health care.
Such false claims to creation are now the global norm, with the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement of World Trade Organisation forcing countries to introduce regimes that allow patenting of life forms and indigenous knowledge.
Instead of recognising that commercial interests build on nature and on the contribution of other cultures, global law has enshrined the patriarchal myth of creation to create new property rights to life forms just as colonialism used the myth of discovery as the basis of the take over of the land of others as colonies.
Humans do not create life when they manipulate it. Rice Tec’s claim that it has made “an instant invention of a novel rice line”, or Roslin Institute’s claim that Ian Wilmut “created” Dolly denies the creativity of nature, the self-organisational capacity of life forms, and the prior innovations of Third World communities.
Patents and piracy
Patents and intellectual property rights are supposed to prevent piracy. Instead they are becoming the instruments of pirating the common traditional knowledge from the poor of the Third World and making it the exclusive “property” of western scientists and corporations.
When patents are granted for seeds and plants, as in the case of basmati, theft is defined as creation, and saving and sharing seed is defined as theft of intellectual property. Corporations which have broad patents on crops such as cotton, soya bean, mustard are suing farmers for seed saving and hiring detective agencies to find out if farmers have saved seed or shared it with neighbours.
The recent announcement that Monsanto is giving away the rice genome for free is misleading, because Monsanto has never made a commitment that it will never patent rice varieties or any other crop varieties.
Sharing and exchange, the basis of our humanity and of our ecological survival has been redefined as a crime. This makes us all poor.
Nature has given us abundance, women’s indigenous knowledge of biodiversity, agriculture and nutrition has built on that abundance to create more from less, to create growth through sharing.
The poor are pushed into deeper poverty by making them pay for what was theirs. Even the rich are poorer because their profits are based on the theft and on the use of coercion and violence. This is not wealth creation but plunder.
Sustainability requires the protection of all species and all people and the recognition that diverse species and diverse people play an essential role in maintaining ecological processes. Pollinators are critical to fertilisation and generation of plants. Biodiversity in fields provides vegetables, fodder, medicine and protection to the soil from water and wind erosion.
As humans travel further down the road to non-sustainability, they become intolerant of other species and blind to their vital role in our survival.
In 1992, when Indian farmers destroyed Cargill’s seed plant in Bellary, Karnataka, to protest against seed failure, the Cargill Chief Executive stated, “We bring Indian farmers smart technologies which prevent bees from usurping the pollen”. When I was participating in the United Nations Biosafety Negotiations, Monsanto circulated literature to defend its herbicide resistant Roundup ready crops on grounds that they prevent “weeds from stealing the sunshine”. But what Monsanto calls weeds are the green fields that provide Vitamin A rice and prevent blindness in children and anaemia in women.
Stealing nature’s harvest
A worldview that defines pollination as “theft by bees” and claims biodiversity “steals” sunshine is a worldview which itself aims at stealing nature’s harvest by replacing open, pollinated varieties with hybrids and sterile seeds, and destroying biodiverse flora with herbicides such as Roundup. The threat posed to the Monarch butterfly by genetically engineered bt crops is just one example of the ecological poverty created by the new biotechnologies. As butterflies and bees disappear, production is undermined. As biodiversity disappears, with it go sources of nutrition and food.
When giant corporations view small peasants and bees as thieves, and through trade rules and new technologies seek the right to exterminate them, humanity has reached a dangerous threshold. The imperative to stamp out the smallest insect, the smallest plant, the smallest peasant comes from a deep fear — the fear of everything that is alive and free. And this deep insecurity and fear is unleashing the violence against all people and all species.
The global free trade economy has become a threat to sustainability and the very survival of the poor and other species is at stake not just as a side effect or as an exception but in a systemic way through a restructuring of our worldview at the most fundamental level. Sustainability, sharing and survival is being economically outlawed in the name of market competitiveness and market efficiency.
I want to argue here tonight that we need to urgently bring the planet and people back into the picture.
Feeding the world
The world can be fed only by feeding all beings that make the world.
In giving food to other beings and species we maintain conditions for our own food security. In feeding earthworms we feed ourselves. In feeding cows, we feed the soil, and in providing food for the soil, we provide food for humans. This worldview of abundance is based on sharing and on a deep awareness of humans as members of the earth family. This awareness that in impoverishing other beings, we impoverish ourselves and in nourishing other beings, we nourish ourselves is the real basis of sustainability. The sustainability challenge for the new millennium is whether global economic man can move out of the worldview based on fear and scarcity, monocultures and monopolies, appropriation and dispossession and shift to a view based on abundance and sharing, diversity and decentralisation, and respect and dignity for all beings.
Sustainability demands that we move out of the economic trap that is leaving no space for other species and other people. Economic globalisation has become a war against nature and the poor. But the rules of globalisation are not god-given. They can be changed. They must be changed. We must bring this war to an end.
Rule of commerce
Since Seattle, a frequently used phrase has been the need for a rule-based system. Globalisation is the rule of commerce and it has elevated Wall Street to be the only source of value. As a result things that should have high worth — nature, culture, the future are being devalued and destroyed. The rules of globalisation are undermining the rules of justice and sustainability, of compassion and sharing. We have to move from market totalitarianism to an earth democracy.
We can survive as a species only if we live by the rules of the biosphere. The biosphere has enough for everyone’s needs if the global economy respects the limits set by sustainability and justice.
As Gandhi had reminded us: “The earth has enough for everyone’s needs, but not for some people’s greed”.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Sujata Gupta, the Tata Energy Research Institute: I’d like to hear your views on sustainable use of scarce inputs like water for agriculture. What I gathered from your lecture was total condemnation of the market system.
Vandana Shiva: Let me first respond by saying — I love markets. I love my local market where local “subgees” are sold, and one can chat with the women. The tragedy really is that the market is being turned into the only organising principle for life, and Wall St is being turned into the only source of value, and it’s the disappearance of other markets, other values that I am condemning. In terms of water, the solution to water conservation and scarce water management is not putting it in the hands of those who can afford to buy the last drop, but to put it in the hands of the community, to use it sustainably within the limits of renewal. The water must be returned to the communities and managed as a commons — it has to be taken beyond the marketplace.
Professor Marva, University of Delhi: Can there be sustainable development without sustainable population?
Vandana Shiva: I think non-sustainable population growth is a symptom and product of non-sustainable development. It’s not that population grows by itself as a separate phenomena — you look at the data — Indian population had stability till 1800 — colonisation, dispossession of land started to make our population grow. Highest growth rates of population in England is after the enclosures of the commons. It’s the loss of resources of the people that generate livelihood and the replacement of resources by labour to be sold on markets in an uncertain daily wage market that triggers population growth. Population growth is a result of non-sustainable development.
Bhoopinder Singh Hooda, member Legislative Assembly from Haryama: I belong to a farmer family and myself am a farmer. Farmers were exploited even when there was no globalisation. And I totally agree with you globalisation is going to lead (to) neo-colonisation, but we can’t be out of globalisation. WTO is a ground reality — no country can get out of it like you have suggested.
Vandana Shiva: WTO rules are written on pieces of paper — as I mentioned in my lecture they’re not God given. And therefore they are not ground reality in the way the soil and the Ganges are ground realities that can’t be changed. These are rules that need to be changed — that was the message of Seattle and the way to change them is to bring consideration of people’s livelihoods, sustainable use of resources at the heart of every step of trade decisions, and to ensure that trade rules reflect sustainability and the right of people to have security.
Bhoopinder Singh Hooda: In India farmers are getting negative subsidy — there’s no subsidy for farmers, so how can unequal competitors go for globalisation?
Vandana Shiva: That’s precisely the issue — that we were told we’d have a level playing field — we were told when the WTO rules come into place we would have a fair market for Indian farmers — that was the single most important reason why India justified signing on to the GATT treaty after the Uruguay round. It turns out we have a very unlevel playing field — the northern countries or OECD countries are giving 343 billion dollars of subsidies and these subsidies have actually doubled since the completion of the Uruguay round — meantime India’s giving a negative subsidy of 25 billion. Now one could keep arguing about how the north is giving very high subsidies — I think the argument needs to shift to how can we ensure that small farmers in every country and the soil and water and biodiversity in every country be protected and how can we ensure that trade rules as they are written by totally fallible trade ministers and trade secretaries should be rewritten to ensure that this unequal playing field does not destroy the Earth and her producers.
Dr. Sandhya Tiwari, Confederation of Indian Industry: Dr. Shiva is it really the job of the farmer to preserve germ plasm and biodiversity, to grow plants that are less productive? Shouldn’t this job be left to the specialists?
Vandana Shiva: Well — I’m talking about leaving it to the specialist, which is the women farmers. So far if we have biodiversity available to us it is because biodiversity experts who happen to be women by gender, happen to be on small farms in poorer parts of the world, have continued to conserve biodiversity because it is more productive for them from their perspective. It might not be productive for a single monopoly trading house that wants to have every farmer grow corn in a region or every farmer grow cornola in a region, but it is highly productive and very efficient use of land, water — to feed the family, to have a little surplus to sell on the local market, to send your child to school and it is in fact that community which will save these resources for us. We cannot trust them in anyone else’s hands.
Gulgit Choudhury, Ram Organics: I have worked earlier with Monsanto. I have a simple question to ask you. Suppose you were given the opportunity to develop parameters of a social governance which ensures sustainability — what would you suggest for countries like India?
Vandana Shiva: We are in fact involved for the last few years — generating the kind of criteria through participatory democracy building — through ensuring that people at every level have the information, through ensuring that communities are organised, to manage collectively the resources that can only be sustained collectively. If I have the money and power to drill a deep tube well I can make dry my neighbour’s shallow well and she will usually be a very poor woman. And therefore the only way a village can conserve its ground water is to do what the “Paani Panchayath” did in Harash — ensure that water is used within limits. Systems of governance have to begin with where people feel the impact, and therefore we do require the rebuilding of decentralised direct democracy. I do not see growers as isolated individuals because the consequences of their action are felt by their neighbours. If I am growing b.t. corn on my field I kill the monarch butterfly of my neighbour’s field. Communities, collectives are cohesiveness of societies are important to talk about not individual growers, and that is the bottom rung of decision making to which both which corporations as well as governments need to be accountable — that is the experiment that started after Seattle and that experiment in accountable localisation to ensure that decisions are made at appropriate place and production is carried out at the appropriate level is really the new enterprise of democracy that societies are involved in around the world, even while globalisation threatens our lives.
Host, Kate Adie: Thank you — we’ll have some time for more questions from our audience here at the Nehru Memorial Library in Delhi in just a moment. First I’d like to read some of the e-mails sent to the BBC’s Reith 2000 website. From Bangladesh Alimgihia Haque says he finds himself in sympathy with both Vandana Shiva and the Prince of Wales on the issue of GM foods. Thank God he says that the people of Britain made their voices heard and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair had to listen.
A contributor from Malaysia who signs himself Yong is critical of his own country’s leaders. He says they condemn globalisation on the one hand and on the other give approval for dams and other environmentally destructive activities. Chris Whitehouse, who sent his e-mail from Nepal questions whether more roads, more fridges, more water greedy flush toilets will make people in developing countries any happier? Every society he says should decide its own vision of development.
Zeb Phibbs from Britain says eating meat has got a lot to answer for. 70% of everything grown is used to feed animals which are then killed to feed us. Use the land grow food directly for people and we can easily feed everyone. Being Vegan is easy — completely cruelty free and sustainable. What more do you need?
Finally, we had this from last year’s Reith lecturer Anthony Giddens — addressing you Vandana he says — “I congratulate you on your challenging presentation. I have to say though I don’t agree with much of it. Isn’t it a contradiction in terms to use the global media to put a case against globalisation?”
Vandana Shiva: I don’t think BBC is a product of the economic globalisation regime that the World Trade Organisation gave us or the new recent trade liberalisation has given us. I think it was created in l922 and international integration, international communication is not what economic globalisation is about. Corporate concentration, corporate control is what recent economic globalisation is about and in fact the BBC is a counter-example to that because the real example of globalised media and communication is Time Warner, now bought up by American on Line, Disney, and the News Corporation.
Prof. Vinod Chowdhury, reader in economics at St. Stephen’s College: It strikes me as very extraordinary that Vandanaji should have such a one-sided approach. And I’m saying that with due respect to the sheer vivacity of her presentation. Vandanaji seems to believe that there are two clearly antithetical paradigms. One is a paradigm that essentially is based on decentralisation, democratisation — all the good things in life — women are cared for, poor people are cared for — this, that and the other. And other is terribly evil. Everything’s wrong with it. Now surely life cannot be like that Vandanaji may I plead with you to please consider third paradigm, where we take bits and pieces from here and there and get an eclectic, practical approach, and I support Boopinder Singh Hooda — the President of the Haryama Congress who asked you — and you didn’t answer that — what is the alternative at a time when no country can opt out of the WTO — it’s not a piece of paper madam — it is a commitment that countries have to make or they will be paraiah countries and we cannot afford to be a paraiah country — please react?
Vandana Shiva: I did react to him. And I said rewriting those rules — rewriting those rules that are one sided. In fact it’s the WTO rules that are totally one sided because they really only protect the interest of one sector of the global community which is the global corporations, not in the local industry, not even local retail business, not small farmers anywhere, not in the north and not in the south. And those rules can be rewritten. That is the point I’m trying to make. Do not treat WTO rules in the Uruguay Round Treaty as the final word on how trade should be carried out. Those rules are being reviewed. What we have called for in Seattle is a more democratic input in what sustainable and just rules would look like for agriculture on intellectual property rights, in the area of services, in the area of investments, the four new areas which were brought in. Before that — no-one had problems with the GATT. The old GATT was about real trade in real products beyond national boundaries. The new GATT with the Uruguay round — is about invading in every space of our everyday lives ... and if you are a woman you do have a somewhat different point of view. That’s why we talk of gender. If you are poor, you will have a different point of view from the rich. To have different points of view because of differences in location in society is not a problem. It is opportunistic though to take a little element of the perspective of the rich , a little element of the perspective of the poor and put it into a little jigsaw of opportunistic statements. Societies live by coherent principles, organisational systems, values and world views. And what we are calling for is to balance out that one sided idea that we live by commerce alone.
Rovinder Raki, student: You seem to eulogise the fairness and efficiency of traditional agricultures, societies and production patterns. But the reality is that the farmers were exploited in these societies by moneylenders and feudal lords. With the market reaching these societies that exploitative social system certainly declines. Now what I have to ask you is what restrains you from appreciating this sanitising effect of the market?
Vandana Shiva: Well the sanitising affect of the market does end up treating people like germs. Wipe them out. And it is that view of dispensability, the disappearances of the small that I was trying to draw attention to in my lecture. There has always been exploitation, and I agree with Mr Hooda, but no exploitation before this period of current, economic globalisation, ever organised itself in ways that it could totally dispense with the exploited. Even the slave system needed the slave. Even the worst of British rule which created the Bengal famine, and led to the “Faybehaga” movement to rise against the exploitation, it needed to keep the peasants alive For the first time we have a system where no-one needs the peasants, unless we realise as societies we need them, that we’ve reached a period where people are actually talking in India, in other countries that you can get rid of small producers. It’s assumed that everything, real growth, real prosperity is going to come out of cyber space, but as you can see, you can have the best of IT technologies floating above the carcasses of people dying in Rajisthan and Gujerat right now — and it will not help them out. We have to pay attention to the ecological base of our survival and the needs of all. I personally am committed to feeling and believing that the smallest of species and the smallest of people have as much a right to live on this planet with dignity as the most powerful corporation and the most powerful individual.
Anurag Jacob: I’m a card-carrying member of India’s nascent dot-com economy. Dr. Shiva I just was very disturbed by your omission of any reference to education. Communities in today’s world cannot grow in vacuum — they need to have tools to evaluate the evils of globalisation with the good of localisation. Why is that you omitted to talk about education?
Vandana Shiva: For the simple reason that the Reith lecture only allows me 25 minutes. But in any case I don’t disagree with the characterisation of IT driven society as the only knowledge society. I believe the women working in the fields conserving biodiversity, producing our food, cooking the food also have a knowledge society and it’s that denial of knowledge in other ways through other domains that is the basis of the work we do against biopiracy, the work I do against monocultures of the mind, the work I do against reductionism in science and technology, and I think there is a real need for our future to recognise knowledge in all its diverse forms among all the different creators of knowledge.
Anurag Jacob: I’m not saying the knowledge that indigenous community has is rubbish. But when a farmer is faced with the prospects of using what you call white gold as opposed to his traditional seeds, the farmer opted for the white gold because he did not know how to evaluate his own local seed against genetically modified foods. Therefore don’t you think we do need to educate our people so that they can evaluate what they need to do?
Vandana Shiva: I actually referred in the response to the person who used to work in Monsanto — that part of democracy is to have public education, and full public awareness. I agree with you that technologies need to be assessed and that is why for the last 13 years we have been trying to build this system of assessing genetic engineering, the bio-safety protocol under the convention on biological diversity, that finally after a decade of subversion is now in place and was completed in January in Montreal. We need people to make decisions on the basis of having the knowledge of what the technologies are, and having processes to actually participate. That’s the basis of our plea — in the supreme court on the Monsanto trials — that we need more knowledge dissemination, more participation, more accountability. And finally, there are situations in which we will be ready with the production technology long before we are ready with the capacity to assess its impact. That is when we call for the precautionary principle. Know the risks before you deploy technology. The result we have a precautionary principle today is because we put out DTT — gave it Nobel prizes, now we want to withdraw it. We put out fossil fuel now we’re worried about climate change. With GM crops you can’t deploy them because there’s no call back. In any case the climate change phenomena is becoming so life threatening that people are calling for the fact that you will never have the final ultimate deterministic linear prediction — therefore on the basis of complex assessment, take care, take caution before you deploy technologies on a very large scale that could be absolutely devastating for the planet.
Rukmini Paya Naiur — Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology: Some would argue (my institute) is exclusively focused on what you call the dot com route to success. Listening to your strong emphasis on biodiversity, it struck me that there was an unseen shadow twin of biodiversity which is recyclability or reusability in our cultures. India is said to be a great recycling culture — we recycle everything including souls...I wanted to ask you whether this shadow twin recycling had something to contribute to the notion that the materials of the whole universe are in fact reusable and that we have something to actually offer the world in this sort of expertise?
Vandana Shiva: We have been a civilisation that lived on the basis of recycling and that’s why when we today are burdened with plastic and plastic packaging now compulsory, now required by law, people still treat that plastic bag as if is a little banana leaf that will disappear. And even the cows are in the habit of thinking plastic is like a banana leaf they can eat up. Some products don’t disappear. Some products don’t get recycled and that’s part of the crisis that as a culture which has had such sensitive ways of ensuring that our ecological footprint is very light on the planet — last year a scientist from Canada sent me his data on ecological footprint and his data on resource use, and ability of eco-systems to absorb outputs and waste was that there were only 3 countries with surpluses in resources — Canada, Sweden — at that time India. That was India before the race to “plastic” itself, globalise itself. Today what we need is a way to make a fit into those systems that we have evolved so sophisticatedly, recycling organic matter to ensure we get out of the chemical tread mill because chemicals do not get recycled. They just bio-accumulate.
P.D. Kayra from Delhi: While one would appreciate that biodiversity and systems like that do help in production, but I’m more concerned with the farmer who today I find is disenchanted and is less and less motivated and becoming totally indifferent to his way of life and that maybe biodiversity by itself will not be able to explain?
Vandana Shiva: In the areas where monocultures have taken over, where external inputs and chemicals are forcing farmers to spend the little bit of income they have to buy those useless and costly inputs — farmers are disenchanted both because of the negative economy I talked about — and no production can take place over time on the basis of a negative economy — as well as the fact that the entire set of technologies in industrial agriculture are careless technologies. They are technologies that substitute care with carelessness. You can just spray urea — you don’t have to do composting. You don’t have to weed at the right time — the few tiny weeds that might come up, spray the herbicide and that technology of carelessness eventually creates disenchanted people because they have no meaning, no role. In the areas where we work through our movement called “Navdanya”, for conserving biodiversity and we now have seed banks in seven states, eleven community seed banks have been started — every region where after a while the farmers have replaced external inputs with internal inputs to produce food organically, where they have managed to get rid of their debts — a threefold increase in incomes just by saving on expenditure — they are excited, they’re enthused, they are absolutely on the verge of a whole new determination and I invite some of you to come and visit those regions.