Seeding the Food System with Biodiversity and Sovereignty
An Interview with Vandana Shiva
To Vandana Shiva, the notion that corporations can own the patents to seeds is nothing but a creation myth. She says, “Capitalist patriarchy assumes that when capital touches life, including when it touches life to extinguish it, that’s when creation begins. This is necessarily blind to the creativity, intelligence and work of nature, of women, of peasants. We are basically saying to the capitalist patriarchy, you have no idea about the intelligence in nature and diversity, you are not the creators, you are the destroyers."
Dr. Vandana Shiva is a scientist and environmentalist from India. She combines resistance to giant corporations seeking to privatize and own seed and water with building alternatives so that the basis of life stays in the commons and supports all life.
Douglas Gayeton: When seed diversity is lost it can’t be regained. This leads some communities to create seed banks. Can you explain what a “seed bank” is?
Dr. Vandana Shiva: A seed bank is a refuge for seeds, but also a refuge for farmers. It’s first based on collecting all the diversity that will grow in that region. We call our seed banks “community seed banks” because Navdanya is dedicated to reclaiming seeds as a commons and not allowing it to be defined as an invention and property of [TCTMNBN]1 Usually these seeds are in remote places, where the destructive power of these corporations or of the Green Revolution has not reached.
The second thing is to conserve seeds then plant them as living seed banks every year. We have set up 110 community seed banks in India since we’ve started our work and have over 2,000 varieties saved in our center in Belgaum. If you come today you will see 200 varieties of wheat being harvested; if you come in June you will see 700 varieties of rice being planted. But the rice of Belgaum doesn’t grow in the East or the South, so in each of these places we have community seed banks; these seeds get distributed according to each farmer’s needs.
When the super cyclone happened in Orissa, we were able to distribute salt tolerant rice seeds and therefore farmers were able to cultivate after the salt came in from the sea.
When the tsunami happened in Tamil Nadu in 2004, the farmers in Orissa were able to gift two truckloads of salt tolerant seeds to the Tamil Nadu farmers. That’s how seed banks function.
Douglas Gayeton: Could you explain what the term “agrobiodiversity” mean?
Dr. Vandana Shiva: Agrobiodiversity means biodiversity in agriculture. It means all the plants—cultivated and uncultivated—all the animals, all the insects and all the soil microbes. All of that is agrobiodiversity.
Douglas Gayeton: Do women have a different perspective than men when they look at agriculture, especially sustainable agriculture?
Dr. Vandana Shiva: Whoever practices differently has a different perspective. If women are left to feed children and also grow crops that feed those children, they’ll have a different perspective. They will relish the biodiversity that is for food. If men are locked into the market and only want to grow commercial crops, they will have a different perspective. It’s not through genetics that we get these different perspective but through work, engagement, and relationships.
Douglas Gayeton: You talked about creating a more accountable system and a more sovereign approach to agriculture. Can you envision an alternative food system in the United States? If so, what would that system look like?
Dr. Vandana Shiva: An alternative food system in the United States would look like what every sustainable system looks like—diverse. It’s about working with the earth, working with diversity, and growing food for food and not for a commodity. It is by its very nature decentralized because diversity and decentralization go hand in hand, and because decentralization is vital to create food democracy. Democracy doesn’t get created in centralized structures; it gets created in decentralized structures. That means creating closer links with those who produce and those who eat. We are seeing these emerging initiatives. We’re also seeing the final attempt to crush those initiatives, whether it is sanitary laws saying you can’t have any cheese making at home, free-range animals or local food production. There are new seed laws called compulsory registration laws, which in effect are criminalizing diversity and farmers who have their own seeds. It’s happening in Europe; it’s happening in Mexico. We stopped it from happening in India by doing what Gandhi taught us to do—the Satyagraha, or the fight for truth and noncooperation. They haven’t been able to pass the seed law yet, so the criminalization of the local, the diverse, and the sovereign are the last set in this contest of creating another food system.