The answers are in the soil

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‘The answers are in the soil’

By Brian Loffler


greensefa under a Creative Commons Licence

This is the Year of Soils. Vandana Shiva wants everyone to know about the earth under our feet.

New Internationalist: You could have been a rich physicist, living a good life in Mumbai. Why did you decide to be an environmental activist instead?

Vandana: When I was doing physics I worked as a volunteer in the Chipko movement - they stopped cutting the forests in my home area in the Himalaya. In 1982 the Ministry of Environment asked me to study the effect of mining in Doon Valley. Because of this study, there was a court case and they shut the mines. So I saw that I could do a lot more outside formal research. I started the Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology. In 1984, because of the Bhopal disaster and Punjab violence, I did a study for the United Nations University – which became the book: The Violence of the Green Revolution. In 1987 I went to a conference on biotechnology, and I heard the agrochemical companies talk about genetic engineering and the international Intellectual Property Treaty in the GATT (which became the WTO). So I decided I must save seeds, and build movements on globalization, patents on seeds, and GMOs.

You’ve written that quantum theory taught you important ideas for your work. How?

The important quantum principles for my work are non-separability – reality is not separate; the world is interconnected. Potential – reality is potential, not fixed, unchangeable particles. Everything has potential to evolve. Indeterminacy – because the world is not made of fixed determinate things, but develops all the time in potential, indeterminateness and uncertainty. Uncertainty – is the nature of being. There is nothing in the middle.

You’ve said that ‘the answers to the problem that oil has created are in the soil’. What is the most important thing to do in the Year of Soils?

I want people to understand – and love and respect – the living soil that supports us and keeps us alive. We have started working on a Manifesto on Soil. It will be released at the Expo in Milan and it is dedicated to feeding the world. We are preparing a film of Living Soil. In September we will offer a course on A-Z of Agroecology to train people in living soil and living seed. On 1 October we will organize a festival for the Soil. And from 2-5 October we will organize a Soil pilgrimage. I hope your readers can join!

Why is ‘Seed Freedom’ so important to you?

Seed is the first link in the food chain. There are millions of years of evolution in seeds, and thousands of years of development by our ancestors. Seeds are the future potential of agriculture. Seed freedom is the most important commitment of my life because of the threat of genetic engineering, the patent laws and seed laws that are trying to make seed-saving illegal so that a few companies own all the seeds. In India, seeds and chemicals are very expensive, so the farmers all have too much debt. More than 291,000 farmers (with debts) have committed suicide. When farmers have their own seed, they have no debt. For the freedom of seed, of biodiversity, of farmers, of citizens, we all need to be engaged in Seed Freedom.

Organic crops can be contaminated by GMOs from local farms - and this is very worrying. What can be done?

This is a new form of pollution – genetic pollution. Environmental laws say that polluters must pay. With GMOs, corporations like Monsanto (who say seed is their intellectual property) should pay. Every country should follow the UN Biosafety laws.

What do you think of giving businesses the status of legal ‘persons’?

This takes away the rights of people. When the people of Vermont passed a labelling law, businesses took Vermont to court, saying their business had the rights of a ‘person’. They tried to say that if people know what is in their food, and make choices because of that information, this is taking away the ‘free speech’ of the business (‘person’). The New Free Trade agreements like TPP and TIPP have clauses of ‘corporate personhood’ – businesses want to have rights to sue governments that do things to help the public because of democracy. The more corporate personhood we have, the less democracy. It will be the end of human rights and freedom. We cannot allow this to be part of the law.

Food security is important for you. But you also say organic production is very important in non-food crops like cotton. Why?

I have seen cotton farmers getting into impossible debt when Bt (genetically modified) cotton took control. The highest number of suicides is in the cotton areas. We have studied the soil and found that helpful organisms are killed by Bt cotton. We are doing a study on insects that pollinate. There are no pollinators in Bt cotton fields. To protect our ecosystems, our biodiversity, our soil, our farmers we must promote organic cotton. Farmers using native cotton seeds from Navdanya seed banks and growing organic cotton are producing twice as much cotton and getting up to 10 times more money. They are also growing organic food crops and small organic gardens we call Gardens of Hope. Now the organic cotton project has got farmers out of debt, we call it Fibres of Freedom.

Interview by Brian Loffler.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).