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'Big Ag' Doesn’t Serve Us: Reflections on World Food Day

A terrace farm in India. (Photo: travel photography/flickr/cc)

During the last half-century, agriculture and food systems lost their way, in the darkness and fog created by corporations that made chemicals for warfare, through myths and paid propaganda - that poisons and synthetic chemicals are necessary to feed the world. For the industry it was a matter of extending their sources of profits long after the war was over.

For the planet and people, the costs have been tragically high. 75 per cent of the earth’s biodiversity, soils, water have been destroyed, the climate has been destabilised, farmers have been uprooted, and instead of nourishing us, industrial food has become the biggest cause of disease and ill health.

For all the destruction it causes, the industrial food system produces only 30% of the food eaten by people. If we continue, we will soon have a dead planet and no food. There is, however, another road to food security. The road that was abandoned by research institutes and governments under the influence of giant chemical corporations (now seed and Biotechnology Corporations). This is the road of agroecology and small scale farming, which still produce 70% of the food.

Agroecology Rejuvenates Earth

Agroecology rejuvenates our soils, biodiversity and water systems, that stabilises the climate, that produces health and well being. It is the way of small farmers all over the world. These good farming practises of small farmers strengthen local economies instead of extracting profits for the few. They work on the intensification of biodiversity and ecological processes.

An industrial model of food production is neither efficient nor sustainable. It is not efficient because it uses ten units of inputs - largely fossil fuel based - to produce one single unit of food. It eats into the ecological foundations of agriculture, hence not sustainable too.

Even though the evidence is clear that ecological farming holistically produces more and better food, using fewer resources, corporations continue to fog our thinking about the future of food and farming with new propaganda – “sustainable intensification”, “smart agriculture”, “climate smart agriculture”.

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This is another attempt to hide the failures of their technology and a push to keep agriculture addicted to their toxic and carcinogenic chemicals. In reality, industrial monocultures use more land to produce nutritionally empty commodities, most of which are used as biofuel and animal feed. Only 10% of the corn and soya is used directly as human food. This is not, by any stretch, a food system.

Ploughed field with tractor in distance. (Photo: iStockphoto)

Need a Transition to an Organic India

It is also designed to trap farms in debt and appropriate their assets. A recent example is the failure of 60% of the Bt cotton in Punjab driving 15 farmers to suicide.

Organic farming is the alternative that gets rid of poisons and pests. The Punjab experience of failure of Bt should help in the transition to an Organic India by 2020. And it should stop the insane and methodical destruction of resilient native varieties of crops.

Another lie they are spreading is what is being referred to as “Climate Smart Agriculture”. In truth it is actually “Climate Stupid Agriculture” as it is the next hasty step that leads to guaranteed destruction of the earth and society.


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It is designed to make farmers and society dumb by giving up their intelligence, traditional knowledge and skills, and then forcing them to buy “data” controlled by distant, centralised and exploitative systems.

Climate-tolerant Seeds Can’t be the Property of Firms

After having caused epidemics of food based diseases, the players in the industrial food system are betting on Big data -pushing “Information Obesity”, not knowledge, not intelligence, which are both living, participatory processes.

Monsanto now owns the world’s biggest climate data corporation and soil data corporation. Armed with proprietary big data, Monsanto intends to profit from the climate crisis. The worse it gets us, the better it is for Monsanto’s profits.

Currently 1500 patents on Climate Resilient crops have been taken by corporations like Monsanto. Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, has published the list in the report “Biopiracy of Climate Resilient Crops: Gene Giants Steal Farmers Innovation”.

With these very broad patents, corporations like Monsanto can prevent access to climate resilient seeds in the aftermath of climate disasters through patents. But we must know that climate resilient traits are not created through genetic engineering, but are pirated from seeds farmers who have evolved them. Women farmers have had a key role in seed evolution and breeding.

In partnership with other women and with nature, they have increased the natural diversity and adapted the seeds to the needs of different cultures. Biodiversity and cultural diversity have mutually shaped one another over time.

Along coastal areas, farmers have evolved flood tolerant and salt tolerant varieties of rice - such as Bhundi, Kalambank, Lunabakada, Sankarchin, Nalidhulia, Ravana, Seulapuni, Dhosarakhuda. After the Orissa Supercyclone, Navdanya could distribute two trucks of salt-tolerant rice to farmers because we had conserved them as a common in our community seed bank.

Every seed is an embodiment of millennia of nature’s evolution and centuries of farmers’ breeding. It is the distilled expression of the intelligence of the earth and intelligence of farming communities. It cannot be the private property of a Monsanto, it belongs to everyone.

The intelligent, responsible road to the future of food and farming is based on the deep awareness that the earth, the farmers, and all people are sentient beings. And we grow food sustainably through care for the soil and the seed, not through exploitation and privatised profits.

If we can look through the degenerate Public Relations Fog, we can find our way to the road that will ensure we rejuvenate the planet, we regenerate the soil, and we ensure the well being of all.

Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva

Dr. Vandana Shiva is a philosopher, environmental activist and eco feminist. She is the founder/director of Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology. She is author of numerous books including, Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis; Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply; Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace; and Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. Shiva has also served as an adviser to governments in India and abroad as well as NGOs, including the International Forum on Globalization, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization and the Third World Network. She has received numerous awards, including 1993 Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) and the 2010 Sydney Peace Prize.

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