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Crusade against globalisation

Vandana Shiva has been voicing concern over many issues ranging from globalisation, food security to biodiversity and people's rights.

COMPLETE PICTURE: Vandana Shiva's articulations are thought-provoking and inspiring. — Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

"ONE HAS to celebrate the life of what you are defending, whether it is the life of a plant, an earthworm or culture. We celebrate the indigenous food cultures.

We become strong members of the slow food movement as different from the fast food movement," says Vandana Shiva, physicist, ecologist, activist and author of many books.

Voicing concern against globalisation at many fora, Vandana's articulations surely are thought-provoking and inspiring. She set up Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, which works on biodiversity conservation and protecting people's rights. Her Navdanya programme is an effort to conserve agricultural diversity. Excerpts from an interview while Vandana Shiva was in Hyderabad to attend the Asian Social Forum.

Is there any connection between globalisation and food security?

There is an intimate connection between globalisation and insecurity. When globalisation started two promises were offered.

The first was farmers' incomes would grow because they would have export markets since the Northern countries would be forced to bring down subsidies. The second was everyone would have food, as it will become cheaper with competition and the poor would have better access to it . Neither of those promises have come true.

Local domestic markets of farmers are disappearing. Their incomes are falling dramatically, the costs of production are increasing because the seed sector has been liberalised and between the joint pressure of the rising cost of production, declining earnings the suicide factor is an indicator of how much globalisation is costing farmers.

In addition the case in WTO, which forced us to remove quantitative restrictions allowed the artificial prices created by huge subsidies of $ 400 billion to destabilise our domestic market. For the poor globalisation meant the dismantling of our universal food security and the rising of food prices as food subsidies were withdrawn. Even for those who are so-called targets we have done a calculation that their diet is a starvation diet of 100 calories a day.

Even the Nazi concentration camps gave their people 1700 calories per day. Those who are excluded are being made to starve, those who are so-called included are also being made to starve.

The entire dependency is now on imported genetically engineered corn and soya and ready-to-eat mixes of strange things that are not supposed to be eaten.

They are not safe, not culturally appropriate and they are not generating economies locally. They are generating market for the Monsantos while pushing our people further and further down into malnutrition on a persistent level but even when they are getting food they are falling ill. What kind of solution is this?

Do you see any solution to this?

Yes. We have in fact at the Asian Social Forum organised a coherent series besides the talks I am giving to other people. Navdhanya and Research Foundation have worked out solutions - food sovereignty, seed sovereignty and water sovereignty. And when I talk about sovereignty I mean not just centralised State control over that sector or that resource, we mean decisions in people's hands, ability to provide especially in the hands of women. As far as food security is concerned our solution is `Anna Swaraj'. Our farmers have been viable for centuries. Globalisation is rendering them unviable. Let 75 per cent of India that makes it living growing food survive. That is `Anna Swaraj' for the farmer.

For people `Anna Swaraj' is having food at accessible, affordable prices in culturally appropriate ways. After all way why are we excited by idli, dosa here, alu paratha and sarson ka saag somewhere else? That is what makes life worthy. The idea of food safety is being created which is based on packaging and industrial processing. But real food safety comes from small-scale processing specially at home or at the community level.

We need a public distribution system but public does not mean it must be controlled by centralised State agencies. It can be in the hands of a community, specially at the community level shaped by women. It is economically better because you don't have giant subsidies, at one-tenth the subsidy structure we could have all the malnutrition of this country removed, all the hunger deaths made to disappear forever.

There is a view that agricultural productivity and production will be less if we use indigenous varieties of seeds. Do you agree?

The world had been taken for a ride by claiming that chemical agriculture was producing more food. Chemical agriculture was using more chemicals, it wasn't producing more food. Productivity per acre went dramatically down because productivity is output per unit input and if you recognise that inputs are land, water, biodiversity you actually had a negative economy.

You were using more energy when you were producing an output. You were using more water but the most important issue is by singling out a single crop one was getting rid of the mustard that grew with the wheat which was the source of iron to women. A diversity yield shows that bio-diverse systems, mixed cropping, rotational cropping actually produces far more in a food basket using the same amount of resources ten twenty thirty times more. For the last ten years that's what our organisation has been doing.

Are they examples of high productivity from organic agriculture? If so how can they be replicated?

Our own experience has confirmed that organic has higher productivity. On just one farm in the last kharif season where a neighbour was doing chemical and we asked him to put an acre under organic using the same seed but change of manure. Chemical gave 1.8, organic yield was 2. It can be replicated by shifting the inputs from chemical to organic. Are we rushing through the use of genetically modified organisms?

The BT cotton varieties that were introduced were attempted to be rushed through in one year of imports.

Are you worried by the consumption styles of the upper classes in our country?

The tragedy is when I started doing work for ecological responsibility 25-30 years ago sustainable lifestyles existed. All of us had the same level of lifestyle where basic issues were concerned. Our food was the same, our clothing was not much different. Some had more, some had less. Today, the elite, knowledgeable and the middle classes of the West are moving to sustainable levels. They are going out of their way to eat organic stuff, to make sure to consume fair trade coffee, to drive miles to pick up food from a local farmer and get cycles. Cycle rickshaws are getting banned in our cities in Delhi and Kolkata, and Netherlands is introducing them on their streets. So, in a way since the last decade at Rio, the picture has actually twisted. Today, I believe one of the worst groups for the fate of this planet is the Indian elite. They haven't learnt a single lesson from the people they want to copy. They haven't learnt a single lesson from society of which they are a part.

Can you talk a bit about the processing side?

Centralised food processing does not give you food, it gives you waste. Large scale food processing is not about giving you the best diet and the best nutrition. It is brilliant ways to recycle waste, render animal waste and turn it into cattle feed and make the cows mad. The mad cow disease is a very good example of what comes out of an industrial processing system and I believe we are on a mad human diet if we don't watch out. I really feel the only way we can have nutritional security is to decentralise food processing because it is the only safe processing.


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