Talking with Vandana Shiva – environmental activist


This is her introduction.

Haegwan Kim (HK); Why did you start your activity in the field of ecology?

Vandana Shiva (VS); I took steps that drew me to commit my life to protect ecological systems because when I was still a child and a student, I got involved in a movement called Chipko, which means to hug. And in my region women came out and said we’ll hug the trees, and you’ll have to kill us before you kill the trees. It was a movement to protect the forests. I became involved in this because I’m from that area; my father was a forest conservator. So for me this was a very natural thing too.

And then in 1984 we had the Bhopal disaster, which you might have heard of, which killed 3,000 people one night and since then 25,000. And it was also the year when, in Punjab, we had the rise of terrorism. All these pesticides and fertilisers were being used for what was called the Green Revolution, the chemical agriculture. This was given a Nobel Peace Prize, and I said but this is creating war and violence. So I decided to study what this agriculture was, and I decided to commit myself to promoting sustainable agriculture, protecting biodiversity, so that we could protect life on earth including human life. And that’s why I started Navdanya then.

HK; There are many people out there who want to change the world for the better, including you and me. But the ways to change the world are actually various, and from them you picked up the ecology. So I presume there is sort of special thing in the field of ecology. Could you tell me a little bit about its effect on our society?

VS; The most important thing is that ecology and natural resources and nature are the most important source of livelihood on the planet. 70% of people derive their livelihood from the land, from the forest, from the seas. So when these systems collapse, when there are no more forests, you have no livelihood. When the fish disappear in the ocean, the fishermen have no catch. This is what’s happening with the British Petroleum spill right now, all the fishermen have lost their jobs. So the oil spill is an ecological issue but turns into an economic issue of destruction of livelihoods. So the first reason ecology’s important is it’s the main support for economy.

The second reason ecology is important is that without the natural resources that nature gives, we wouldn’t have food, we wouldn’t have water. We don’t create them. Nature creates them and recycles them and rebuilds them and reuses them. And if we have to have sustainable support for life then we will have to protect ecology.

HK; That’s very interesting. We’re witnessing, in the 21st century, the rise of science and technology. Can you tell me how do you make the most of these tools for your activity?

VS; The point is there are different kinds of sciences and different kinds of technology. For example, in agriculture we have the science of agri-ecology. But we also have the technology of genetic engineering. They’re based on very different principles, very different assumptions, and they lead to very different consequences, In fact, genetic engineering doesn’t help anybody. It pollutes the biodiversity, it’s pushing our farmers into debt and to suicide. In India, there have been 200,000 farm suicides and 84% of them are linked to genetically engineered Bt cotton and the debt that this led to. Because through the Bt cotton Monsanto has established a monopoly in the market, and with a monopoly in the market, it charges what prices it wants to for seed. This leads to debt.

So it depends on what the technology is, whether it will benefit nature, it’ll benefit people, or it will destroy nature and it will destroy people. I think it’s wrong to talk of technology in the abstract; one must always talk about the tools in the context of nature and society.

HK; Can you tell me a little bit about the future action of Navdanya?

VS: Yes, the future actions we will continue to spread more seed saving and seed banks. And we welcome all supports from anyone, anywhere in the world who cares about life in the future to help us. We will continue to train farmers to shift away from the addiction to chemicals, to shift away from dependence on GMOs, to promote organic farming. I’ve just been invited by the government of Bhutan to help Bhutan become a fully organic country. Navdanya is committed to doing that, if it takes us three years, we’ll do it for three years, the training.

Another very important aspect for us is the fact that land is necessary for agriculture. But increasingly land is being grabbed for mining, for highways, for factories. And no land will be left for agriculture. So we have built a strong movement in defence of land, in defence of land sovereignty. In fact, this year, we are building a movement called Bhoomi, which means land, both nationally and internationally. At the national level we are supporting the struggles of tribals and nationals resisting land grab, because it is land grab. And internationally we are working to spread the idea of the declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth that originated in Bolivia on International Mother Earth Day, April 22nd this year. Because we believe we need a paradigm shift: we focus too much on the rights of corporations, we focus too much on the culture of greed. We now need to shift to nature and mother earth, and shift to a culture of conservation.

HK; I’ve often heard of that the huge gap between rich and poor in India, do you have any opinion on that? Do you plan to make anything happen?

VS; Yes, at the level of poverty our activities, the Navdanya model of farming, helps increase farmers’ incomes between five to ten times, which means it reduces poverty tenfold. It also reduces the gap between the rural and urban areas because we link them directly to food. And we get the urban areas to respect the farmer who’s grown the food, to respect the food itself.

But there’s another level at which our activities are building a real democracy, because in a democracy there should not be huge inequality. Democracy is also about equity, because if everyone has a say then why should some people have too little and starve; and some people have so much that they have to build 85-storey houses with ten floors just for parking. It’s obscene. So we are building what I have called and Earth Democracy from the ground up, which means we get communities to feel powerful to say we can do this, we are the decision makers about what happens to our land, what happens to our water, what happens to our biodiversity. And that movement of living democracy has had many achievements.

HK; How about the issue about feminism in India?

VS: India is a land full of opposites and contradictions. We have more living goddesses than any other part of the world. We have more doctors and scientists among women than most other countries. But we also have huge subjugation of women, and both sides are there. The Women’s Movement is strong in India, very, very strong, and I think it will grow stronger in the future.

HK; As my research is on the law of success, can I ask your definition of success?

VS: For me success means following my conscience.

HK; Do you have any personal objective at the moment?

VS; I have objectives and I work towards them, but for me the principle that guides my work is more important than the outcome.

HK; So progress is more important than the goal?

VS; The path is more important, yes.

HK; You’ve made many leverages for making differences in our society. What is the most important thing to make a difference?

VS; I think the most important for making a difference is for every person to realise they are significant, and they have power, and they just have to unleash that power, it’s lying latent within people.

HK; Could you give me your advice to be successful in general life?

VS; I think my advice to anyone who wants to be successful is do what brings you satisfaction, follow your heart, follow you skills, follow your aspirations. Don’t do things just because someone else will get impressed, because over time that empties your soul.

Haegwan Kim
Haegwan Kim is a writer who was born in Osaka, Japan in 1989 and grew up near Tokyo where went to a Korean school for 12 years.
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