At 7 p.m. sharp on Feb. 27, a hush falls over the Ondaatje lecture hall at Dalhousie University. The silence is electric as over 500 people wait in the Marion McCain Building while AV technicians fiddle with expensive-looking equipment in order to accommodate video and sound for the spillover crowd of 40 or so people in an adjacent room.
Vandana Shiva, hailed as one of the seven most influential women in the world, has come to speak on everything under the sun. "Thankfully," she said, "everything under the sun is all connected."
Shiva has enough accolades and accomplishments to make your head spin. Trained in physics, with a PhD in philosophy, Shiva has authored over 20 books and 500 papers, and has founded institutes like Navdanya, Women Environment and Development Organization, and the gender unit at the International Centre for Mountain Development.
The keystone of Shiva’s philosophy, and of her talk two nights ago, is an emphasis against corporate modalities of food production, such as biotechnology and genetic engineering, and for a global re-realization of the wisdom of traditional, small-scale farming practices.
Quoting Ghandi, Shiva said “the world has enough for everyone’s needs, but not for a few’s greed.” Around four billion people across the globe are without adequate food and water, said Shiva, and around half of those are farmers associated with food production. Not to mention that in India, the country where over 2,000 varieties of rice grow, one in four people go hungry.
Unsurprising, then, that Shiva said today's food crisis, like India's in 1942, "didn’t happen from a lack of food.”
So, if the problem is not the quantity of food, what is? Shiva believes that large-scale agricultural productions take food away from communities and create unsustainable food systems. For Shiva, the problem began when our ideas of food shifted: “the transformation [of food] from crop to commodity excludes the human right to food.”
She said this food exclusion is exacerbated further by agricultural biotechnology corporations, like Monsanto, that genetically modify seeds to make them resilient to a variety of crop ailments that may arise. However, once a seed variety is genetically modified, they are patented, forcing farmers to purchase seed season after season, rather than buying seed once and storing them. “Monsanto called for seed saving as a crime. That’s the day I knew we had a duty to save our seeds,” said Shiva.
Seeing that the rise of patented seeds is not only destructive to the farmers, Shiva believes that it is the reason for monoculture farms - a phenomenon that is undeniably destructive to the environment. With monocultures, said Shiva, come nutrient-depleted soils that do not hold as much water, thus requiring irrigation and more water use.
Bringing her point back full circle to the interconnectedness of everything under the sun, Shiva said “climate change aggravates the food and water crisis. Not only that, the climate crisis is driven by destructive food systems that created these crises.” While this interconnectedness makes for a seemingly complicated crisis, Shiva’s solution was painfully simple: “Local, living biodiversity-based economies.”
While Shiva said that steps are being made to achieve this kind of ecological harmony, she believes the end is a long way off. And when asked where she gathers her strength from for the journey, Shiva replied simply “[I] refuse to internalize fear, irrelevance, and insignificance.”