Farm for Care shares Dr Vandana Shiva’s talk during the first session of the online webinar Agroecology for Food System Change: A dialogue series on land, life, and livelihood.
Greetings to all. I’m very happy to be able to join this dialogue on land, life, and livelihoods, inspired by Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’.
I have been at many meetings at the Vatican on redefining the global economy and shifting it from an economy of indifference to an economy of compassion. An economy of limitless greed “scientifically” put into GDP and growth, but you can’t have limitless growth on a planet with limits, on a planet whose very life is based on ecological limits and the recognition that we are all members of one common family. I call it the earth family, and we live in one common home, as what Laudato Si’ has so clearly specified.
What are the multiple crises we are living through right now? We are living through about 30 years of real buildup of a health emergency because we were being fed toxic food, nutritionally empty food, just because that is where super profits are made. And our minds are being shifted from seeing food as our daily bread – you know, the Lord’s prayer begins with “give us this day our daily bread” – and basically, the way the food economy is being shaped, is basically “give us this day our daily poison”.
If you look at the literature, they talk about the body as a machine, and food as stuff. No. We are part of an amazing creation where food is the currency of life. And whether you look at it scientifically, which is the foundation of agroecology, everything runs on a nutrition cycle. If you look at it spiritually, then everything is a sacrament. From the smallest of microbes to the planet as a whole, there is a seeking of participation in the integrity of creation. And that’s the movement of bread, of nutrition, of food.
Thirty years, chronic diseases were being created because we redefined food to be just a commodity. And it … created chronic diseases, created hunger – in the middle of the United States there are food deserts – because this is an extractive economy that takes and takes and takes without ever giving back in gratitude, and without ever giving back on the basis of needs and of rights.
The second thing it has done is it has been linked to a model of agriculture which is industrial agriculture. And I’ve been forced to look at agriculture – I’m trained in physics – because the place where I made my MSE in physics was such a prosperous place…and it became a land where huge conflicts were taking place. Most of them were protests of farmers because farmers were in debt. And this prosperous land had been destroyed by the green revolution. Our friends in the Philippines will recognize that name very clearly because the International Rice Research Institute was set up in order to bring chemical farming to the world.
Now the magic word that is used in industrial agriculture is yield per acre, “we must increase the yield to feed the people”. What does the word yield measure?
I have done a book for the UN called The Violence of the Green Revolution in which I went through what do they really measure. They do not measure how much you use on your farm. They do not measure the fertility of the land on which you are growing the food. They do not measure the vitality, abundance, and health of life. They do not measure the quality of the food, which is why people eating the food, which has been turned into a commodity, are getting sick, the land is getting sick, and saline, and instead of life flowing through the system, we basically have poisons flowing through the system. We have commodity flow increasing, but food is disappearing.
Now this “mismeasure” of yield, we have, in Navdanya, replaced it with nutrition per acre, health per acre. On the small farms, we can grow enough food for not just the existing humanity, but two times the existing humanity on this planet right now. There is no need for a single person going hungry. A greed-driven food system and an unscientific food system has given us hunger, and it has given us other problems, including the pandemic. Because it is such a hungry system, hungry for profit, and it’s guided by mismeasures like yield, producing more and more and more GMO soya everywhere, including burning the Amazon, the heart, the lung, the liver of this planet – for GMO soya.
In most parts of the world that I have studied, including my own land, we have farmed the same one- to three-acre piece of land for centuries and centuries and centuries. We have just done a new report called Gates to a Global Empire, how the billionaires now want to take our daily bread, as if they haven’t made enough money. They now want our food, and I just feel sad for them because they can never be satiated, and there’s no joy deeper than knowing when enough is enough and knowing when you should stop.
The pandemic has grown because forests were invaded, a foreign agribusiness model that doesn’t feed the world. Three hundred new infections have come from the forests to us, including Ebola, Zika, MERS, SARS, and this new coronavirus. And then of course there are many debates going on right now about whether it was further modified through a gain and function research. There’s been a paper just published about this issue of gain and function. And interestingly, for those who don’t know, the gain and function research was being done in the United States during Obama’s regime. Two hundred scientists said it was very dangerous, so it was moved to Wuhan, funded still by the US. And then we have what’s called the Wuhan virus but is really a combination of invading into the forests, the homes of other species, and a manipulation of living organisms, ignoring that all of creation has integrity. Integrity of creation means the integrity of life.
So we have the health emergency which is a combination of the pandemic and chronic diseases, which is now deepening the economic emergency. The economic emergency was already severe, where five billionaires were controlling half the wealth of the world, and those billionaires walked away freely with a trillion dollars while people lost their livelihoods, their jobs, their work, during the lockdown which is basically an economic emergency now. The UN has said 130 million additional people are going to die by the end of this year because of this lockdown. The ILO has talked about how billions will lose their livelihoods, and we’re witnessing this, in all your communities you are seeing it.
But then you have other emergencies. You have the health emergency, the economic emergency, you’ve got the climate emergency. I have a book called Soil not Oil, in which I added the different aspects of the food system: how you grow the food, that’s some 14-15% of the greenhouse gases (GHGs); how you invade into the forests like the Amazon, land-use change, about 20% of the GHGs; how you make food move miles and miles and miles, and you process it and package it and mine for the aluminum and the oil for the plastic…this package is another 20% (processing and packaging); and because you are basing a system on uniformity, long-distance transport, throwaway, the 4% of GHGs come from waste. So climate change is linked to the agribusiness, greed-driven, commodity-driven food system, and the same system is based on poisons.
Laudato Si’ talks very clearly about living in this common home with care and the responsibility and the duty to care. But there is also this idea of conquest over nature. Very clearly, Pope Francis has talked about these two worldviews.
But then 500 years ago there was colonialism, which was another way of conquering and seeing the land as empty. “The people we are conquering are not fully human. We’ve got to civilize them.” Then came the fossil fuels. Five hundred years ago, colonialism and fossil fuels added to the speed and expansion of colonialism. That’s how you had cotton in the America – grabbing the land of Indigenous People, capturing people as slaves from Africa. That is why you have today, people marching on the streets “Black Lives Matter,” because of colonialism.
Industrialism – and then we had Hitler and every chemical we use in agriculture today comes from Hitler’s lab. It’s a descendant from that technology. A group of companies called IG Farben was given the task of finding ways to gas the people to death in concentration camps. That IG Farben was connected to the fossil fuel baron, Standard Oil, they had one company: Standard Oil – IG Farben. The chemicals, beginning with the early poison gases beginning with Zyklon B…this is all in my book called Oneness vs. 1%. So you actually create chemicals to kill people, and then you say, after the war, “Why give up the profit?”
Rachel Carson has written about this in Silent Spring. Albert Howard has written about this in An Agriculture Testament, that those who are caught into the habit of making money could not give up that habit.
And so they redesigned the agriculture system into an industrial agriculture system. Those chemicals are still killing. They’re killing human beings: 200,000 people die every year because of pesticide poisoning, and the central valley of California is a disaster, as are the plantation economies of Latin America and Central America. So we really created a poison cartel that’s driving industrial agriculture. And this is leading to the other emergency of the integrity of creation. It’s called the extinction emergency.
What are the figures? We’ve lost 75% or more – 80% – of the fertile soils, right now, in Nicaragua, you’re having a hurricane…we never used to see mudslides of the kind we see today. We never used to see cyclones of the velocity and devastation that we see today. All of this is because of the model of agriculture. Our water systems have been destroyed. Our land has been desertified. Our people’s livelihoods in taking care of the land have been devastated. 50% of the GHGs come from this system. And it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do: it doesn’t feed the people. It has pushed to hunger billion people, and with this pandemic lockdown, that hunger crisis is a huge emergency.
But we can do better. This is the work. This is the call of Laudato Si’. This is the call I answered when I saw my brothers and sisters in Bhopal drop dead. The people of Bhopal call it the genocide; others call it an accident. But when you deliberately create a poison to kill people, and people die, it is not an accident.
When you deliberately create a food system of extraction, and peasants go into debt, it is not the peasant’s failure, it’s the design of a system of growing agriculture without listening to the land, without following the systems. For 60,000 years, the Australian aboriginals have farmed without destroying Australia. For 40,000 years, peasants of India and China have farmed, enriching the land.
So what is the alternative? The alternative is agroecology. What is agroecology? It is working with the land, working with the laws of the earth, the laws of integrity of creation. There are two central laws in the scientific definition. The ecological systems recognize two cycles: the cycle of nutrition which is the cycle of food, and the cycle of water. Food and water are what makes life.
In my work over the last 36 years, I studied agroecology as well as the harms of industrial agriculture, and there’s a book called Biodiversity, Agroecology, Regenerative Organic Agriculture which is a synthesis of 36 years of my research on agroecology, and if any of you want to publish a local version, please find a publisher. I will make sure we work out the rights and we get translation done, because this covers what happens to land, what happens soil, what happens to water, what happens to climate, what happens to our health, what happens to farmers’ livelihoods. All the details are there, with a lot of scientific research. It is a textbook of agroecology.
The three principles I have learned is first, the principle of self-organization. This is the integrity of creation. But because the integrity of creation and self-organization allow different expressions, we have diversity of species. In rice, we have evolved 200,000 rice varieties in India. Central America evolved thousands of varieties of corn from one wild grass.
So diversity is the nature of agroecology, but most central, in science, we call it the law of return, in spirituality, I will call it the ethics of gratitude. Giving back a part of what the earth gives you as organic matter, and closing the cycle of nutrition, and recycling is what agroecology and organic farming is about. This is the right way to do farming. It is the right way to live on this planet.
And all of industrial agriculture driven by fossil fuels and chemicals that come from fossil fuels, and a mentality of Hitler, of war against the earth and all people, that system breaks the cycle. It gives nothing back. It just extracts. Which is why we have desertification. We also have the destruction of livelihoods of people. It’s an extraction from soil and from society.
But we can build circular economies. We can build economies of giving back, of saying thank you to the earth, thank you to creation, and allowing every species to say “give us this day our daily bread,” and participating in creation, which is a prayer to creation.
For me, ecology is nothing but understanding that life works in harmony of self-organization, of mutuality, of giving – these are the principles of Francesco where he said it’s only in giving that we receive. This is a scientific principle. When I give to the soil, the soil will give me abundance of food.
What are the challenges we face? This is in our report on The Gates to a Global Empire. The Silicon Valley is not satisfied with patented software and having social media that’s making everyone crazy right now, and spreading hate and spreading fear. They now want agriculture; they call it digital agriculture, but they add: farming without farmers. They would like no one on the land. They would like no livelihood in food, and no one to care for the land.
Because the best you can do is decrease your Roundup spraying by 1%. But you can’t do farming without farmers, without Roundup. Roundup glyphosate is the reason you have so much cancer, and you have 125,000 cases in America. But they don’t stop there. Now, there’s so much soya: Only 10% of it is used for human beings, the rest is used for biofuel and animal feed.
Now they want to take the GMO soya, turn it into lab food. There’s a new fashionable word called “plant-based diet,” or “fake meat,” “impossible burger,” “beyond meat” – all kinds of names are floating around. And the big tech firms are seeing millions, billions of dollars of profits. The impossible burger, which comes from California, has 14 patents associated with it. Making fake blood, fake protein. They’re actually talking about farming that will not be for food. Farming will be to create raw materials to grow the carbohydrates and proteins, to assemble in a lab, and make fake food. We have a health emergency because the food was not respecting the law of health.
Health is a continuum – from the forests, the soil, the plants that we eat and the animals eat, to our gut microbiome. There are a hundred trillion microbes in our gut. When you don’t feed them, or you feed them poison, they die. The imbalance of the gut microbiome is behind the metabolic disorders obesity, diabetes. Toxics are causing 95% of the cancer. Neurodegenerative diseases are being caused by the gut microbiome, which is called our second brain, being damaged so that our first brain cannot function.
We have the alternative. Our work in Navdanya shows that we can feed two times the world population by taking care of the earth, taking care of creation. And then we will not have two times more population, because population increase is linked to uprooting from the land, links to economic insecurity. We have been able to see that farmers growing their own food, and not chasing the dollar, actually have ten times higher incomes than those in chemical commodity farming.
The earth creates not just a lot of abundant healthy food. The earth becomes the place for healing where the carbon and nitrogen excess in the air as GHGs come back to the soils as soil fertility. This is healing the planet.
Agroecology is the answer to the health emergency, to the economic emergency, to the hunger emergency, to the unemployment emergency, to the climate emergency, to the extinction emergency, and to the alienation of humanity from creation. This is our moment to return to the earth, realize we are part of creation, and perform our duties. Agroecology is where we begin.