Vandana Shiva – In Her Own Words

Interviewed by Paolo Scopacasa March 6, 2004
Vandana Shiva
Vandana Shiva
curriculum vitae

Editor’s Note: Vandana Shiva, a scientist and activist from India, has become an outspoken critic of privatization, globalization, and genetically-modified crops. Shiva is strident and at times inflamatory but her fundamental arguments are powerful and resonate with millions. It is at our peril when we no longer even ask these questions: Do corporations rule the world? Is soverignity for sale? What voice do regular people have in the tidal wave of globalization and privatization? Who speaks for the people on the land from Asia to Africa to the Americas? Should a watershed be sold like any other asset? Are the seeds of seeds that grow someone’s property?

Shiva’s opinions cover a broad range of issues, and she is often fierce in her rhetoric. But many of her positions have great merit and import. Her stand against rampant privatization is well founded. The idea that private enterprise is always more efficient than a government operation is a hilarious myth. Government organizations, such as the military or the public works administrations, enjoy access to much less expensive capital. Government agencies can pay less in salaries in exchange for offering more job security. A government agency can reinvest revenues and always focus on the efficiency of its core service. Because government-ran operations perform a specific service to the public, they avoid the constant searching for new business and higher profits that drain the resources of private sector companies. Keeping the government out of everything can be monstrously inefficient for any economy.

Shiva is also a critic of fundamentalist fanaticism, which in her view springs from a masculine, patriarchical system of rule in the world. As she puts it “They’re fighting each other around religion and fundamentalism, but they both want the same bomb, the same destruction.” Shiva champions diversity, localization, de-industrialization, public administration, feminization. Is she always right? Probably not, but who is? Should she be heard? Absolutely. EcoWorld Contributing Editor Paolo Scopacasa interviewed Vandana Shiva in the summer of 2003 in Milan, Italy. Here is Vandana Shiva, in her own words:

Q: Time Magazine has called you a hero who is fighting to preserve agricultural diversity. Michael Fumento, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute for Biotechnology wrote in the National Review: “If developing world farmers took her one-tenth as seriously as do Western activists, her proclamations would lead inexorably to massive famine. She was born into wealth and her soft palms have never worked a plow. Hunger to her is something she reads about in the newspapers.” Who is Vandana Shiva really?

It’s interesting how people whom I have never met…

…and who know nothing about me can create images that totally fly off the face of reality. I grew up on a farm with my mother. She was highly educated, but she chose to be a farmer, because she believed that the highest state of human evolution is to be a peasant.

I don’t say this as a prescription to someone else. I actually spend most of my time on a farm I started. I find no work as meaningful as working with the soil. I defend the farmers’ dignity and their right to survival, because for me peasants are the most creative and productive individuals on this planet not the people who gamble on Wall Street and make billions overnight. I think the real wealth is created on the land by people who soil their hands, by people who work in cooperation with nature and give us the nourishment we need as humans.

Some of these corporate spokesmen would like humanity to believe that genetic engineering, nano-technologies and chemicals can replace human creativity and human labor. But most people are fed up of the bad food they are being forced to eat.

Poor people are fed up of being made scapegoats for corporate schemes to make super profits by squeezing money out of peasants for seed royalties and water. People can see the game. Ultimately, the issue is corporate control over the means of life versus the celebration of a partnership between people and the Earth.

Soil is my teacher, seeds are my teacher, nature is my teacher. So I don’t have to worry about these accusations. I spend a tiny part of my life and my work in solidarity. But if I were always in the West, I would have never done the work which makes the guy you mentioned so panicky.

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Water Wars, Privatization, Pollution and Profit Book Cover
Water Wars
Pollution & Profit
by Vandana Shiva

Q: In your book Water Wars you argue that wars are already being fought over water. Where is this happening and why?

When water wars are referred to, people usually imagine militaristic attacks between countries, but the water wars that are spreading around the world are, at one level, paradigm wars. They are about two ways of looking at the world.

In one view, water is nature’s gift, and we need to maintain its flow as a gift. Even now, if you come to India on a hot day, you will see people put out water in street corners. It’s called the gift of water or the temple of water. Anyone who’s thirsty can go there and drink. Instead of accumulating wealth, these people are accumulating the good act of giving and meeting other people’s needs for basic survival.

The other view has it that water can be appropriated and sold to make huge profits or wasted.

In the summer of 2002, 1,300 people died of the heat in India. But heat alone does not kill. Heat transformed into dehydration is what becomes a killer. Water is becoming more and more scarce because there are swimming pools and golf courses, wasteful crops, such as sugar cane, green revolution paddies, hybrid and GM cotton, where there is not enough water to support all these non-sustainable systems. And that scarcity is leading to conflicts within families, between men and women, within communities.

During the summer of 2002 people were killed in water fights in the country. Water riots happened every second week in the capital of India. So the water wars are very real, they are actually annihilating life. Some of these fights transform into regional conflicts, which take on the color of chauvinism, but they are really about water, as was the conflict in Punjab, where thirty people were killed over a canal being taken away from Punjab to another state.

Hundreds of people lost their lives in fights over the Kaveri water, fights created by the promotion of non-sustainable industrial agriculture rather than the sustainable, prudent agriculture that Kaveri used to have. Nature has given enough water for each ecosystem to support itself, if water is conserved. When we start to go against that, water wars are unleashed. Right now, the most important water war has been declared by a handful of corporations against the entire planet, on all the people.

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Stolen Harvest Book Cover
Stolen Harvest
The Hijacking of the
Global Food Supply
by Vandana Shiva

Q: According to your book Stolen Harvest, “a hijacking of the global food supply” is taking place at the same time. Who is stealing the harvest from whom? And how?

Food is produced by farmers, most of whom in the Third World happen to be women. In India, about 60% of the farming work is done by women. They are the producers of the harvest. Their harvest is being stolen through a trade mechanism. This allows corporations which don’t grow food and don’t work the land, to make super profits at the cost of farmers and to capture markets around the world.

The corporations are enabled to do this through trade rules, through the agriculture agreement of the World Trade Organization, through so-called free trade, which is actually forced trade.

And another means for stealing the harvest from the people and from nature is this amazing invention of calling life itself an invention, the patenting of life. Suddenly, a harvest that originates from nature and from those who have evolved seeds, bred seeds and grown the crop, becomes property of a corporation. And the small farmers are treated as thieves when they save part of the harvest of their own crop for growing the next year’s crop.

Corporations like Monsanto declare people like Percy Smitheson, the Canadian farmer, a thief, after they polluted his field through genetically modified crops. So, the stolen harvest is really the grandest of thefts ever designed, and it’s a theft of the very basis of life. It’s a theft of the food chain, from nature and from those who are the actual producers of food, by those who trade in food and monopolize seed.

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Protect or Plunder? Book Cover
Protect or Plunder
Understanding Intellectual
Property Rights
by Vandana Shiva

Q: According to many of these corporations, by developing patented GM crops, they are helping reduce hunger in the world. What do you think about this?

World Trade Organization Logo

That is the rhetoric. That’s also Mr. Bush’s argument for the new case he started against Europe in the WTO. He argued that, by not eating GM foods, Europeans are somehow creating hunger in the South. Unfortunately, no lie is bigger than the fact that genetic engineering will be a solution to hunger.

In fact, it’s becoming a cause for hunger, it’s becoming the cause for poverty. In India, since globalization introduced new rules for the seed sector, farmers are having to pay so much for totally unreliable seed, which needs huge amounts of chemicals.

They’re getting into debt, they’re spending a hundred thousand rupees per acre for production and earning ten thousand rupees at the end of the year. They get into ninety thousand rupees of debt every year. Twenty thousand farmers have committed suicide as a result of this. The genetic engineered crops themselves are actually not performing because they have been engineered to use more chemicals, not to produce more yields. They have what is called a yield drag.

Monsanto Imagine Logo

When they brought their BT cotton to India, Monsanto announced that this genetically engineered cotton would double the yield, and bring a doubling of incomes. Well, the first year of cultivation showed that this was totally false. There was a 90% decline of yields and increase of farm losses of rupees 6 to 7,000 per acre. Monsanto has just been banned from expanding its cultivation in India for the extremely bad performance of its seed.

In the third world Monsanto is causing hunger, suicides and poverty. In fact, genetic engineering is not affordable in India. Our peasants are poor, and we can’t afford to play the profit-making games of corporations at the cost of polluting nature and biodiversity and impoverishing already marginalized farmers.

Q: Do you think that this kind of development has a negative impact on the so-called Third World countries only? Does it affect people in Europe and the United States, also?

Most Member Countries of the “Global South” are in the Tropics

If globalization was only affecting the South, we would not have had the huge turnout of people at the WTO meeting in Seattle. We would not have seen Genoa happen and the sacrifices made by innocent citizens in those protests, we would not have seen Evian. People in the North, in the more affluent parts of the world are also getting affected. They’re getting affected in two ways. First of all, the young are beginning to see that in this world they don’t have the kind of future they want. They probably don’t have a future at all. Look at America, the so-called richest country. It cannot place its graduates. They can’t find jobs.
University enrolment in the information technology sector, which was supposed to be the miracle sector, dropped to one third, because there are no jobs.

People can see that in this system corporations can control the economy, but really generate jobs for only 2% of the world’s population. And 98% will lose their livelihoods. This will definitely happen first in the South, creating more misery there. But it is happening in the North, also.

The GATS is leading to the privatization of education, health, water and energy. This denies the access to fundamental rights and basic needs. People can see this. The wonderful thing is that the movements against globalization are movements of solidarity. For the first time, we have gone beyond selfish movements. It is no longer my cause, my need today and I can let the rest go to hell.

There is a clear recognition that this is an issue of everyone’s interest. Water privatization has to be fought for all people on the Earth. GMO’s are being resisted, both in the North and the South. Corporations in agriculture are being fought in the North and the South. In fact, globalization has created an objective situation in which, for the first time, citizens in the North and South have one common agenda for creating alternative systems.

Earthworms in Hand
Earthworms: The Key to Healthy Soil

Q: In your book Stolen Harvest you also mention that earthworms are stolen their food. Why is that a problem for us?

Darwin has been quoted so much for talking about the competition between species and the struggle for survival, but Darwin’s more important contribution was a book on the earthworm. In that book, he wrote that the most significant species on the planet is the earthworm, because it is the most efficient converter of waste into fertility.

All systems of modern industrial farming, whether they be the Green Revolution, chemical agriculture or genetic engineering, assume that the millions of living beings which live in the soil and make it fertile can be killed. They assume that fertility will come out of explosive factories which make nitrogen fertilizers and a handful of other synthetic chemicals. But those synthetic chemicals rob the earthworms of their food, and in fact they create warfare in the soil, though we can’t see it.

The killing of the earthworms is the reason why our soils are getting desertified, production is dropping, our farming systems become vulnerable to disease, pests and environmental stress increase. We need the earthworm for food security, our food security.

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BioPiracy Book Cover
The Plunder of
Nature & Knowledge
by Vandana Shiva

Q: So it’s basically about respect for the soil and the Earth. In your book Staying alive, you introduced the term maldevelopment, referring to a “masculine mode of knowing”, or a patriarchal mode of development, which harms both women and the Earth. Why do you make a connection between women and ecological issues?

First of all I’d like to clarify that patriarchy is a system of male domination, but it dehumanizes the men as much as the women, and it robs from most men as much power as it robs from the Earth and from women.

The masculine mode of thinking, of doing science, of defining the economy is a mode that gains power for those who control wealth and property through controlling capital.

The reason women and nature are linked is because they are the original sources of creativity. Maldevelopment defines them into passivity. In fact the very word matter comes from mother, but matter today is the inert object around us, it’s that which provides raw material. Matter has lost its creative activity. Soil is mere matter, it’s mere container. Water is purely matter, it doesn’t have any life-nourishing force, therefore it can be commoditized.

The blindness to the creativity of nature and women is the source of power in patriarchal structure and patriarchal organization. It’s a very convenient source of power, because it allows destruction to be defined as the creation of wealth. In fact, after the war against Iraq, the general who was put in charge of reconstruction used a phrase: we are giving birth to a new Iraq. Now, after you’ve devastated a country, you’ve bombed it out, you see that phenomenon as a birthing process. And in my mind I said, generals don’t give birth and life is not born through bombs. But this illusion allows destruction to be interpreted as creation. And that is the ultimate partnership.

The partnership of ecology and feminism is a partnership of liberation. It’s not a partnership of essentially biological determinism, very far from it. It is a political association. It’s a political association that sees that systems that treat nature as merely raw material also treat women as purely suppliers of labor. And all our indicators of measurements of growth and prosperity are gained at the cost of women and nature. In India it translates into the most horrendous and the most violent systems.

Women are walking longer miles for water. Women are having to go into more and more hazardous work. But the worst form of violence we have seen emerge in the last decade is female feticide. This annihilating phenomenon is linked very intimately to globalization. It began to happen in the regions with the highest growth rates, the highest integration into commerce, the highest commoditization of culture.

Q: Isn’t that part of an Indian tradition?

Traditional patriarchy has a male bias and sons are preferred. But until a decade ago, baby girls weren’t killed. The female fetus wasn’t annihilated. The preference for the male child has been transformed into an annihilation of the female fetus by a combination and convergence of traditional patriarchy with its biases and the global capitalist patriarchy with its culture of commoditazion, which translates into a further devaluation of the female life.

Diverse Women for Diversity Book Cover
Diverse Women
for Diversity

Q: You have created a movement called Diverse Women for Diversity with several other women. What kind of world do these women want?

Very clearly a very diverse world. Our movement, Diverse Women for Diversity, is really a triple response. It grew out of defending biological diversity. It grew out of a group of women who were fighting genetic engineering, the biotech giants and the seed monopolies. We were a bunch of scientists, primarily, but we also recognized that we were all from different cultures. While we all wanted to fight monopoly, each of us wanted to defend our way of speaking, our way of eating, our way of dressing, everything that makes us what we are. But it was also a response to the dominant mode.

When India and Pakistan were competing with nuclear tests, and India called its nuclear bomb the Hindu bomb, while Pakistan called its bomb the Islamic bomb, I said: this is the perfect example of diverse men for monoculture. They’re fighting each other around religion and fundamentalism, but they both want the same bomb, the same destruction. For us, diversity is liberation. For us, diversity is precisely the solution and not the problem.

Navdanya Logo

Q: You have also started a movement called Navdanaya, the 9 seeds. In one of your books you mentioned that seeds are sacred for Indian farmers. Is Navdanya connected to this in any way? Do you think that the industrialized world lacks a spiritual approach?

Industrialization is desacralization. Industrialization is a project of hubris which basically assumes that there is nothing like life processes, nature doesn’t have its self-organizing capacities, people don’t have their self-organizing capacities, women have no potential, they are merely the second sex, Third World peasants have no brains, therefore intellectual properties are in the industrialized North. All of these arrogant assumptions come out of a denial of reverence for life and the lack of recognition of that which makes life possible.

All societies throughout history have organized themselves around the maintenance of life and the renewal of life. And systems that are centered on that define spirituality in different ways. However, spirituality is a link. It is about connection. Spirituality is merely the recognition that everything is related. It is what the indigenous Americans call being part of the web of life.

Now, the denial of being part of the web of life is the desacralization that is at the heart of the project of industrialization. It is at the heart of trying to genetically engineer life on Earth, including humans through the new nano-technologies.

Bija Vidyapeeth

Q: You have even started your own college, it’s called Bija Vidyapeeth. What kind of education does it provide?

Bija Vidyapeeth translates into the school of the seed. And it’s basically about living on Earth. We call it education for Earth citizenship. I started it after September 11, because I could see that now the formal education is going to be about hatred, animosity and annihilation, and we need education for love, for compassion, for sustainability and for justice. In the School of the Seed we do short courses, to learn from the seed how to renew ourselves.

Paolo Scopacasa conducted this interview in the summer of 2003 in Milan, Italy. The interview was originally aired on Italian radio.

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