Vandana Shiva and the sacredness of seed

Vandana Shiva is a renowned physicist, environmental activist, and author. She is founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, a participatory, public interest research organization. She travels worldwide speaking passionately about the dangers of genetic engineering, biopiracy and seed patenting, and the importance of sustainable agriculture and preserving seed varieties. She spoke on these topics at the Organicology conference held in February in Portland, OR.

To Vandana Shiva, seed is sacred. In Hindi, seed is bija or “containment of life.” “Seed is created to renew, to multiply, to be shared, and to spread. Seed is life itself,” Ms. Shiva said.

Corporations such as Monsanto have reduced seed to private property. “They say that seed shouldn’t renew without their permission,” she said.

Ms. Shiva said the time-honored practice of seed saving is “a problem to Monsanto and other major seed companies who want to turn seed into a non-renewable resource.” The United Nations’ Trade-related Agreement on Intellectual Property would stop seed saving. “This is a description of dictatorship,” she said. “Where is democracy?”

Ms. Shiva described attempts by US companies and organizations to patent Indian plants such as neem, basmati rice, and an ancient wheat variety. “This is piracy from nature and cultures that preserve knowledge. Seed is not an invention.”

The Green Revolution, which introduced high-yielding seeds and agricultural chemicals to India in the 1960s, has resulted in lower yields and depleted soils, says Ms. Shiva, echoing similar comments made by Great Britain’s Prince Charles last year. She said the Green Revolution redesigned seeds and plants to make them more adaptive to agricultural chemicals.

Seed varieties should be bred for nutrition and taste, she said.

Ms. Shiva’s organization, Navdanya, is preserving seed varieties in 46 seed banks across India and on an organic farm in Uttranchal, north India. Navdanya aims to support local farmers, rescue and conserve crops and plants that are being pushed to extinction and make them available through direct marketing.

“GM is cruelty to seed”
The new Green Revolution is genetically engineered crops, and these are causing even greater damage, Ms. Shiva said. “The areas where (genetically engineered) Bt cotton is the most concentrated is where there are the highest rates of farmer suicides.”

From 1997 to 2007, more than 182,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide due to crop failures and excessive debt from purchasing expensive pesticides and GM cotton seed.

Biotechnology companies such as Monsanto deny the link between GE cotton and farmer suicides but Ms. Shiva is convinced of it.

She said Bt cotton is also destroying soils, citing a statistic showing that it has destroyed 26% of microorganisms in soil.

“I would call GM a cruelty to seed,” she said.

Farmers who switched to growing organic cotton earn ten times more than they did growing Bt cotton, according to Ms. Shiva.

Independent researchers who find negative impacts of GE foods on human health and the environment are harassed. “Every time independent science is done, it is called junk science. Biotechnology is a new religion, and we are asked to blindly accept it,” she said.

She predicted that Monsanto’s seed dominance wouldn’t last. “I will live to see the end of Monsanto.”

Finally, Ms. Shiva again emphasized the importance of seed. “Seed is the biggest issue around democracy in food. Seed is a common resource, and we have to protect it for future generations.”

© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report April 2009