At this fragile moment of human evolution—in the immediate wake of yesterday's celebration of Mother Earth Day—we have a moment to reflect on the state of the Earth and the human condition, as well as an opportunity to renew our pact as members of the Earth family — Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam.
Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam, a Sanskrit phrase, is a worldview from which flow paradigms, policies, practices, as well as vision and values.
Science is reaffirming the worldview of life as an interconnected web. From soil to plants, from insects to animals, life is a food web. The Taittiriya Upanishad recognised this thousand years ago with the verse, “Everything is food; everything is something else’s food”.
The Upanishad also says that growing and giving good food in abundance is the highest dharma, and growing and giving bad food is the highest form of adharma. That is why growing and eating organic food without violence to the soil is our sacred duty. And growing and eating food with chemicals, pesticides, genetically modified organisms or junk food violates ecological ethics, our cultural ethics and the laws of health and nutrition.
Our farmers are in distress. Farmers committing suicide is a symptom of an exploitative agriculture which extracts fertility from the soil and wealth from farmers. Globalisation and neo-liberal policies, which put the rights of corporations above nature and people’s rights, are at the root of the farmers’ distress.
Since 1995, nearly 300,000 farmers have committed suicide. In Vidarbha, it is because of the greed of Monsanto, an agricultural biotechnology corporation which increased seed costs by more than 70,000 per cent and forced cotton farmers to commit suicide. In West Bengal, it is the greed of Pepsi. The potato farmer receives only Rs 0.20 per kg for potatoes for which the consumer pays Rs 200 in the form of Lays chips. The consumer also pays with their health through diseases linked to junk food.
This year climate chaos has added to the farmers’ distress with rain and hailstorms at harvest time destroying crops and, with it, farmers’ livelihoods.
More than 100 farmers have committed suicide in Uttar Pradesh because of crop damage last month.
A deep concept of Indian civilisation is “rta” — the path of dharma, the way that maintains the right order based on right livelihood. From rta flows ritu — the stable pattern of our seasons and climate. When we adopt policies and lifestyles that are in violation of the laws of the Earth based on anrita (the creation of disorder), it often results in ritu asantulan (climate disorder).
In my book Soil, Not Oil (2007), I have assessed that more than 40 per cent of greenhouse gases that lead to climate change are contributed by industrial, globalised agriculture. These chemical monocultures are also more prone to failure due to extended droughts, intense floods and untimely rains.
On the other hand, organic farming reduces emissions and also makes agriculture more resilient to climate change. Navdanya’s research has shown that organic farming has increased carbon absorption by 55 per cent. International studies show that with two tonne per hectare of soil organic carbon, we can remove 10 gigatonne of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which can reduce atmospheric pollution to 350 parts per million.
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A one per cent increase in soil organic matter can increase soil water holding capacity by 100,000 litres per hectare, five per cent can increase it to 800,000 litres. This is our insurance against climate change, both when there is drought and too little rain, and when there are floods and excess rain. On the other hand, cement and concrete increases the runoff of water, aggravating floods and drought. We witnessed this in Uttarakhand floods in 2013 and in the Kashmir disaster in 2014.
In living soil lies the solution to climate change, both through mitigation and adaptation. Yet, it is the soil itself that is being forgotten and buried under a borrowed paradigm of “cementification is progress”.
Our Mother Earth is being sacrificed for short-term growth based on the greed of a few.
Some 4,000 years ago our ancient Vedas had guided us, “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Care for it, and it will grow our food, our fuel, our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it, and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.”
The Land Acquisition Bill reduces land to a commodity, violating our cultural ethics of sacred soil, which has sustained us over millennia. It is blind to the ecological functions and services that living soil contributes. On a global scale, the destruction of these services has been assessed as amounting to $20 trillion annually.
The Isha Upanishad clearly says that this universe is sacred and for the benefit of all, anyone taking more than their share is a thief. Mahatma Gandhi distilled this wisdom in his famous quote, “The Earth has enough for everyone’s needs, but not for some people’s greed”.
Those who support the Land Acquisition Bill are proposing that our small farmers should disappear, giving way to corporate farming based on chemicals and GMOs.
United Nations studies and Navdanya’s work have shown that small farmers produce more food than large industrial farms. Nutrition per acre can be doubled and rural incomes increased 10-fold through organic farming.
The solution to poverty, the agrarian crisis, the health and malnutrition crisis is the same — care for the soil and care for our farmers who care for the soil and our health.
An economic system that violates the Earth’s rights also violates human rights because we are inseparable from the Earth. We are members of Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam. We need a new pact with the Earth as members of the Earth family, a pact to create a new non-violent economy and Earth democracy in which the contributions and rights of the last species and the last person to the creative gifts of the earth are taken into account.