With an unending list of accolades and accomplishments up her sleeve, Dr. Vandana Shiva’s introduction already had the audience awestruck. Dr. Shiva was originally trained as a physicist, who used to “sleep and dream the quanta,” until her attention turned to agriculture after the two tragedies of 1984: the eruption of Punjab violence and the Bhopal gas tragedy.
At the time, she was working for the UN University over conflicts of resources where she did a study on the Green Revolution to discover that “green was not very green; it was basically the introduction of chemicals, which sadly were evolved during wars to kill people.” Chemical fertilisers are created similarly to explosives, by fixing atmospheric nitrogen using fossil fuels. Her research indicated that all pesticides are derivatives of Zyklon B, poison gas, and other hazardous toxins. As she delved deeper into her research, Dr. Shiva discovered that it appeared pests were being killed – but every insect had been declared as a pest and 75% of bees have disappeared as a result. Unfortunately, we are ingesting these pesticides, corrupting our bodies, and exposing ourselves to diseases.
Talking about her founding project, Navdanya Farm, she elaborated on the research and work they do. Navdanya Farm, when translated means “Nine Seeds Farm,” is a national movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, especially the native seed. They not only work towards saving seeds, but the farm grows 200 varieties of crops and 740 readyto- plant varieties of rice. Further to this, Navdanya has 120 community seed banks around the country that host 4,000 varieties of rice. Some varieties are tolerant to salt and were distributed after the 2014 Orissa cyclone-tsunami, while some are drought-resistant crops.
“75% of the problems in the world right now are related to the agriculture we do,” said Dr. Shiva, reiterating the importance of organic and ethical agricultural practices. Listing the disadvantages of chemical agriculture, Dr. Shiva not only attributed the drying up of rivers and desertification of land to the phenomenon, but even displayed how the refugee crises around the world are related to agriculture.
Chemical agricultural practices use up more water, thereby reducing the supply of groundwater, causing rivers to dry up. Soil water retention statistics display the gravity of the problem even better: To hold 80,000 litres of water in 1 hectare, soil composition must include at least 0.5% of organic matter. Dr. Shiva was requested to conduct a study for the Maharashtra government to recognise why, despite the constant supply of water, there just never seems to be enough. This is because of dry areas. A new study shows that 24 billion tonnes of soil is lost because we are exploiting soil and anticipates that, due to the misuse of land and drying up of lakes, climate change will displace 700 million people. Studies have also linked the Syrian and the Nigerian refugee crises to the desertification of land caused by their exploitation.
Quoting Ancient Vedic texts, Dr. Shiva declared, “In this handful of soil is your future. Take care of it, and it will take care of you. Destroy it, and it will destroy you.” In one of her many lectures, an audience member approached Dr. Shiva and reaffirmed, “If the root is ecological, the solution has to be ecological. No amount of bullets will bring livelihoods.” Dr. Shiva spoke about the concept of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,” a Sanskrit phrase meaning “the world is one family.” Though often quoted, we rarely live our lives in tandem with the expression.
She started the work of saving seeds because she strongly believes that, “it is obnoxious that a handful of the industry that made chemicals that could kill [can] turn [around] and pretend to be inventors of seed.” She believes that nobody can create the seed, the seed creates itself; GMO is simply a “God, Move Over Signal.”
Attending a meeting in Geneva in 1987, the attendees discussed intellectual property rights, ensuring that every seed was patented. That is when Dr. Vandana Shiva decided to dedicate her life to saving seed. Since then, she has been instrumental in breaking the illusion that the seed is an invention, ensuring it does not sink into our laws. She worked tirelessly for Section 3(J) of the Patents Act, which specifically states that plants (or any part thereof), including seeds and their varieties, are not patentable. She then urged our Rotarians to support the upholding of sovereign laws that advocate for our civilisational ethics and the recognition that we are all a part of the earth family.
Inspiring the Rotarians, Dr. Vandana Shiva ended her talk with a roaring standing ovation and a determination in the air to work towards a truly greener future.