World-renowned activist and intellectual Vandana Shiva describes in a recent video interview why she has spent practically her entire life advocating against the imperialism and colonialism of global agribusiness’ genetically modified, commodified crop strains.
[@ 3:15] Interviewer: “What is the urgency of keeping seeds now in Indian and in the world?”
Shiva: “The emergency of keeping seeds now is that seed has been appropriated and colonized. Corporations have declared it is their intellectual property. The only way they can get their intellectual property is by mutilating, modifying seeds through genetic engineering. So we have a double hazard: the hazard of genetic engineering and the hazard of seed patenting.
We have seen what this combination does in the area of cotton. India is the land of cotton. We used to grow 1,500 varieties of cotton. This is the land where Ghandi spun freedom through cotton . I started Navdanya inspired by the spinning wheel; I said the seed is [analogous?] to the spinning wheel, and today the seed itself is under threat because now all the cotton we could spin is genetically engineered Bt cotton and controlled by one company: Monsanto. That is why if we don’t save seeds, all of that diversity will be gone forever, and with it the memory that is in the seed – the ecological memory, the cultural memory – and with it, the livelihood of farmers. [emphasis added]
The takeover by Bt cotton has pushed farmers into such debt that they are now committing suicide. We have had 250,000 suicides in India in the last decade. We can’t [sic] see that happen with growers of corn, growers of onion, growers of tomato, growers of rice; we only have experience with one crop, cotton, and we have seen what it does. It devastates nature; it devastates farmers; it devastates our agriculture. We have to defend life, that that is why we have to save seeds.” [emphasis added]
Shiva’s experience advocating for traditional ecological knowledge and agricultural practices is not just a tactic to combat global climate change and empower poor populations; her advocacy is for empowering a knowledge that is distinct from the technoscientific knowledge of the West, a knowledge that is firmly rooted in a particular place and sense of appropriateness toward nature. These agricultural practices are technologies that work with nature, rather than attempting to control nature through the imposition of human engineering over and against natural processes. Seeds, then, are not simply the vehicles for the transport of genetic information to the next generation of plant; they are deeply embedded in the historical and cultural identity of people. Seeds represent specific livelihoods and the rich history of a multiplicity of ways of living that are being steadily assimilated into, or even annihilated by, the hegemony of the Western way of knowing and relating to nature: modern science and technology.
What is at stake in the story of international development is precisely what it means to be human within nature, and our ability to continue to live on this planet.
I would recommend staying for the rest of the interview as well. The West has a lot to learn from thinkers such as Shiva, and from the millions of people whose livelihoods it continually disrupts.