Dr. Vandana Shiva: Starting a revolution—from the ground up

- Lindsay Gagel

It all begins with the seed. By its very nature, a seed can give so much: “You plant one seed, the seed will give you thousands.” From the seed comes food, and “food is creation itself.” These are the sentiments of Dr. Vandana Shiva, who presented a President’s Distinguished Lecture on March 27, following a special 50th anniversary convocation ceremony.

During the event, in which she was awarded an honorary doctor of laws from the University of Victoria, she received two standing ovations—before she had even spoken a word.

“She’s done so much for the world,” one student explained while applauding.

Named an “environmental hero” by Time magazine, Shiva is working to change the way the world thinks about food security, globalization, biodiversity and environmental sustainability. She is a community leader, activist, scholar and author of 12 books.

In her lecture, “The Future of Food,” Shiva described how multinational corporations are hijacking local food production. “There isn’t freedom when five companies control 75 per cent of the seed supply,” Shiva explained. And we have “a culture of producing—and pushing—bad food.” In Shiva’s opinion, it’s time we addressed our “ignorance about food.”

Although she spoke of worldwide issues, she drew some examples from India, her home country.

According to Shiva’s research, 270,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide since the government allowed multinational companies like Monsanto to enter the Indian seed market in the 1990s.

“Seed is the first link in the food chain,” said Shiva. If you control the seed, you control the food. And, Shiva warned, there’s huge profit to be made in large-scale food production. Shiva explained that the genetically modified organisms (GMOs) supplied to farmers by corporations require pesticides and fertilizers to grow. These “uniform seeds,” which limit food diversity, are more expensive and fail to produce crops more frequently than do seeds native to a region.

She went on to say that GMOs also have patents protecting them from being saved and reused for future crops, so farmers must continually purchase new seeds from the corporations. If farmers reuse the seeds, they risk being sued for stealing a company’s “intellectual property.” According to Shiva, government bodies support the patents and laws protecting these corporations, which hurts farmers financially, provides people with unhealthy food and undermines democratic principles.

Shiva’s solution? A return to traditional methods of farming. She began seed saving in 1987 and helped found Navdanya, a network of seed savers and organic farmers. Navdanya—its name means “Nine Seeds”— helps establish seed banks across India, promotes fair trade networks and trains farmers in sustainable agriculture.

Shiva shared their pledge: “We have received this amazing biodiversity in seeds from nature and our ancestors. We owe it to future generations to protect the richness of diversity, the integrity of the seed, and therefore we cannot obey any law that makes our seed saving a crime.”If you missed the lecture, a video of Shiva’s presentation is available, along with video recordings of other 50th anniversary signature events, at www.uvic.ca/anniversary/videos/.


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Keywords: President’s Distinguished Lecture, environment, biodiversity

People: Vandana Shiva

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