THE CASE OF THE SUICIDAL FARMER by vandana Shiva
I live twenty miles from a store. We have no water or food.
My children are dying. They sent us GMO seeds but
they require very expensive fertilizers and pesticides.
Recently, I was visiting Bhatinda in Punjab because of an epidemic of farmer suicides. Punjab used to be the most prosperous agricultural region in India. Today every farmer is in debt and despair. Vast stretches of land have become waterlogged desert. And as an old farmer pointed out, even the trees have stopped bearing fruit because heavy use of pesticides has killed the pollinators - the bees and butterflies.
And Punjab is not alone in experiencing this ecological and social disaster. Last year I was in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh where farmers have also been committing suicide. Seed companies to buy hybrid cottonseeds referred to by the seed merchants as “white gold”, who were supposed to make them millionaires, have lured farmers who traditionally grew pulses and millets and paddy. Instead they became paupers.
Their native seeds have been DISPLACED with new hybrids, which cannot be saved, and need to be purchased every year at high cost. Hybrids are also very vulnerable to pest attacks. Spending on pesticides in Warangal has shot up 2000 per cent from $2.5 million in the 1980s to $50 million in1997. Now farmers are consuming the same pesticides as a way of killing themselves so that they can escape permanently from unpayable debt!
The corporations are now trying to introduce genetically engineered seed, which will further increase costs and ecological risks. That is why farmers like Malla Reddy of the Andhra Pradesh Farmers' Union had uprooted Monsanto's genetically engineered Bollgard cotton in Warangal. On March 27th, 25-year-old Betavati Ratan took his life because he could not pay pack debts for drilling a deep tube well on his two-acre farm. The wells are now dry, as are the wells in Gujarat and Rajasthan where more than 50 million people face a water famine.
The drought is not a "natural disaster". It is "man-made". It is the result of mining of scarce ground water in arid regions to grow thirsty cash crops for exports instead of water prudent food crops for local needs.
It is experiences such as these, which tell me that we are so wrong to be smug about the new global economy. I will argue in this lecture that it is time to stop and think about the impact of globalization on the lives of ordinary people. This is vital to achieve sustainability.
Seattle and the World Trade Organization protests last year have forced everyone to think again. Throughout this lecture series people have referred to different aspects of sustainable development taking globalization for granted. For me it is now time radically tore-evaluate what we are doing. For what we are doing in the name o globalization to the poor is brutal and unforgivable. This is especially evident in India as we witness the unfolding disasters of globalization, especially in food and agriculture. Who feeds the world? My answer is very different to that given by most people.
It is women and small farmers working with biodiversity who are the primary food providers in the Third World, and contrary to the dominant assumption, their biodiversity based small farms are more productive than industrial monocultures.
The rich diversity and sustainable systems of food production are being destroyed in the name of increasing food production. However, with the destruction of diversity, rich sources of nutrition disappear. When measured in terms of nutrition per acre, and from the perspective biodiversity, the so-called "high yields" of industrial agriculture or industrial fisheries do not imply more production of food and nutrition.
Yields usually refer to production per unit area of a single crop. Output refers to the total production of diverse crops and products. Planting only one crop in the entire field as a monoculture will of course increase its individual yield. Planting multiple crops in a mixture which will have low yields of individual crops, but will have high total output of food. Yields have been defined in such a way as to make the food production on small farms by small farmers disappear. This hides the production by millions of women farmers in the Third World -farmers like those in my native Himalaya who fought against logging in
the Chipko movement, who in their terraced fields even today grow Jhangora (barnyard millet), Marsha (Amaranth), Tur (Pigeon Pea), Urad(Black gram), Gahat (horse gram), Soya Bean (Glycine Max), Bhat (GlycineSoya) - endless diversity in their fields. From the biodiversity perspective, biodiversity based productivity is higher than monoculture productivity. I call this blindness to the high productivity of diversity a "Monoculture of the Mind", which creates monocultures in our fields and in our world.
The Mayan peasants in the Chiapas are characterised as unproductive because they produce only 2 tons of corn per acre. However, the overall food output is 20 tons per acre when the diversity of their beans and squashes, their vegetables their fruit trees are taken into account.
In Java, small farmers cultivate 607 species in their home gardens. In sub-Saharan Africa, women cultivate 120 different plants. A single home garden in Thailand has 230 species, and African home gardens have more than 60 species of trees.
Rural families in the Congo eat leaves from more than 50 species of their farm trees. A study in eastern Nigeria found that home gardens occupying only 2 percent of a household's farmland accounted for half of the farm's total output. In Indonesia 20 percent of household income and 40 per cent of domestic food supplies come from the home gardens managed by women.
Research done by FAO has shown that small biodiverse farms can produce thousands of times more food than large, industrial monocultures.
And diversity in addition to giving more food is the best strategy for preventing drought and desertification. What the world needs to feed a growing population sustainably is biodiversity intensification, not the chemical intensification or the
intensification of genetic engineering. While women and small peasants feed the world through biodiversity we are repeatedly told that without genetic engineering and globalization of agriculture the world will starve. In spite of all empirical evidence showing that genetic engineering does not produce more food and in fact often leads to a yield decline, it is constantly promoted as the only alternative available for feeding the hungry.
That is why I ask, who feeds the world?
This deliberate blindness to diversity, the blindness to nature’s production, production by women, production by Third World farmers allows destruction and appropriation to be projected as creation.
Take the case of the much-flouted "golden rice" or genetically engineered, Vitamin A rice as a cure for blindness. It is assumed that without genetic engineering we cannot remove Vitamin A deficiency. However, nature gives us abundant and diverse sources of vitamin A. If rice were not polished, rice itself would provide Vitamin A. If herbicides were not sprayed on our wheat fields, we would have bathua,amaranth, mustard leaves as delicious and nutritious greens that provide Vitamin A.
Women in Bengal use more than 150 plants as greens - Hinche sak (Enhydrafluctuans), Palang sak (Spinacea oleracea), Tak palang (Rumexvesicarious), Lal Sak (Amaranthus gangeticus) - to name but a few.
But the myth of creation presents biotechnologists as the creators of Vitamin A, negating nature's diverse gifts and women's knowledge of how to use this diversity to feed their children and families.
The most efficient means of rendering the destruction of nature, local economies and small autonomous producers is by rendering their production invisible.
Women who produce for their families and communities are treated as`non-productive' and `economically' inactive. The devaluation of women’s work, and of work done in sustainable economies, is the natural outcome of a system constructed by capitalist patriarchy. This is how globalization destroys local economies and destruction itself is counted as growth.
The globalization of non-sustainable industrial agriculture is literally evaporating the incomes of Third World farmers through a combination of devaluation of currencies, increase in costs of production and a collapse in commodity prices.
Farmers everywhere are being paid a fraction of what they received for the same commodity a decade ago. The Canadian National Farmers Union put it like this in a report to the senate this year:” While the farmers growing cereal grains - wheat, oats, corn – earn negative returns and are pushed close to bankruptcy, the companies that make breakfast cereals reap huge profits. In 1998, cereal companies Kellogg's, Quaker Oats, and General Mills enjoyed return on equity rates of 56%, 165% and 222% respectively. While a bushel of corn sold for less than $4, a bushel of corn flakes sold for $133 ... Maybe farmers are making too little because others are taking too much."
And a World Bank report has admitted that "behind the polarization of domestic consumer prices and world prices is the presence of large trading companies in international commodity markets."
While farmers earn less, consumers pay more. In India, food prices have doubled between 1999 and 2000. The consumption of food grains in rural areas has dropped by 12%. Increased economic growth through global commerce is based on pseudo surpluses. More food is being traded while the poor are consuming less. When growth increases poverty, when real production becomes a negative economy, and speculators are defined as” wealth creators", something has gone wrong with the concepts and categories of wealth and wealth creation. Pushing the real production by nature and people into a negative economy implies that production of real goods and services is declining, creating deeper poverty for the millions who are not part of the dot.com route to instant wealth creation.
Women - as I have said - are the primary food producers and food processors in the world. However, their work in production and processing is now becoming invisible.
Recently, the McKinsey corporation said: "American food giants recognize that Indian agro-business has lots of room to grow, especially in food processing. India processes a minuscule 1 per cent of the food it grows compared with 70 per cent for the U.S...".
It is not that we Indians eat our food raw. Global consultants fail to see the 99 per cent food processing done by women at household level, or by the small cottage industry because it is not controlled by global agribusiness. 99% of India's agro processing has been intentionally kept at the small level. Now , under the pressure of globalization, things are changing. Pseudo hygiene laws are being uses to shut down local economies and small scale processing.
In August 1998, small scale local processing of edible oil was banned in India through a "packaging order" which made sale of open oil illegal and required all oil to be packaged in plastic or aluminum. This shutdown tiny "ghanis" or cold pressed mills. It destroyed the market for our diverse oilseeds - mustard, linseed, sesame, groundnut, coconut.
And the take-over of the edible oil industry has affected 10 million livelihoods. The take over of flour or "atta" by packaged branded flour will cost 100 million livelihoods. And these millions are being pushedinto new poverty.
The forced use of packaging will increase the environmental burden of millions of tons of waste. The globalization of the food system is destroying the diversity of local food cultures and local food economies. A global monoculture is being forced on people by defining everything that is fresh, local and handmade as a health hazard. Human hands are being defined as the worst contaminants, and work for human hands is being outlawed, to be replaced by machines and chemicals bought from global corporations. These are not recipes for feeding the world, but stealing livelihoods from the poor to create markets for the powerful.
People are being perceived as parasites, to be exterminated for the” health" of the global economy. ( MY NOTE: corona Virus might be the start of a purge)
In the process new health and ecological hazards are being forced on Third World people through dumping of genetically engineered foods and other hazardous products.
Recently, because of a W.T.O. ruling, India has been forced to remove restrictions on all imports.
Among the unrestricted imports are carcasses and animal waste parts that create a threat to our culture and introduce public health hazards such as the Mad Cow Disease. The US Center for Disease Prevention in Atlanta has calculated that
nearly 81 million cases of food borne illnesses occur in the US every year. Deaths from food poisoning have gone up more up more than four times due to deregulation. Most of these infections are caused by factory-farmed meat. The US slaughters 93 million pigs, thirty seven million cattle, two million calves, six million horses, goats and sheep and eight billion chickens and turkeys each year.
Now the giant meat industry of US wants to dump contaminated meat produced through violent and cruel methods on Indian consumers. The waste of the rich is being dumped on the poor. The wealth of the poor is being violently appropriated through new and clever means like patents on biodiversity and indigenous knowledge.
As humans travel further down the road to non-sustainability, the become intolerant of other species and blind to their vital role in our survival.
In 1992, when Indian farmers destroyed Cargill's seed plant in Bellary,Karnataka, to protest against seed failure, the Cargill Chief Executive stated, "We bring Indian farmers smart technologies which prevent bees from usurping the pollen". When I was participating in the United Nations Biosafety Negotiations, Monsanto circulated literature to defend its herbicide resistant Roundup ready crops on grounds that they prevent” weeds from stealing the sunshine". But what Monsanto calls weeds are
the green fields that provide Vitamin A rice and prevent blindness in children and anemia in women.
A worldview that defines pollination as "theft by bees" and claims biodiversity "steals" sunshine is a worldview which itself aims at stealing nature's harvest by replacing open, pollinated varieties with hybrids and sterile seeds, and destroying biodiverse flora with herbicides such as Roundup. The threat posed to the Monarch butterfly by genetically engineered bt crops is just one example of the ecological poverty created by the new biotechnologies. As butterflies and bees disappear, production is undermined. As biodiversity disappears, with it go sources of nutrition and food.
The world can be fed only by feeding all beings that make the world. In giving food to other beings and species we maintain conditions for our own food security. In feeding earthworms we feed ourselves. In feeding cows, we feed the soil, and in providing food for the soil, we provide food for humans. This worldview of abundance is based on sharing and on a deep awareness of humans as members of the earth family. This awareness that in impoverishing other beings, we impoverish ourselves and in nourishing other beings, we nourish ourselves is the real basis of sustainability.
The sustainability challenge for the new millennium is whether global economic man can move out of the worldview based on fear and scarcity, monocultures and monopolies, appropriation and dispossession and shift to a view based on abundance and sharing, diversity and decentralization, and respect and dignity for all beings.
Sustainability demands that we move out of the economic trap that is leaving no space for other species and other people. EconomicGlobalisation has become a war against nature and the poor. But the rules of globalization are not god - given. They can be changed. They must be changed. We must bring this war to an end.
As Gandhi had reminded us: "The earth has enough for everyone's needs, but not for some people's greed".
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
**Sujata Gupta, the Tata Energy Research Institute: I'd like to hear your views on sustainable use of scarce inputs like water for agriculture. What I gathered from your lecture was total condemnation of the market system. Vandana Shiva: Let me first respond by saying - I love markets. I love my local market where local "subgees" are sold, and one can chat with the women. The tragedy really is that the market is being turned into the only organizing principle for life, and Wall St is being turned into the only source of value, and it's the disappearance of other markets, other values that I am condemning. In terms of water,
the solution to water conservation and scarce water management is not putting it in the hands of those who can afford to buy the last drop, but to put it in the hands of the community, to use it sustainably within the limits of renewal. The water must be returned to the communities and managed as a commons - it has to be taken beyond the marketplace.
**Professor Marva, University of Delhi: Can there be sustainable development without sustainable population? Vandana Shiva: I think non-sustainable population growth is a symptom and product of non-sustainable development. It's not that population grows by itself as a separate phenomena - you look at the data - Indian population had stability till 1800 - colonization, dispossession of land started to make our population grow. Highest growth rates of population in England came after the enclosures of the commons. It's the loss of resources of the people that generate livelihood and the replacement of resources by labor to be sold on markets in an uncertain daily wage market that triggers population growth. Population growth is a result of non-sustainable development.
Gulgit Choudhury, Ram Organics: I have worked earlier with Monsanto. I have a simple question to ask you. Suppose you were given the opportunity to develop parameters of a social governance, which ensures sustainability - what would you suggest for countries like India.?Vandana Shiva: We are in fact involved for the last few years -generating the kind of criteria through participatory democracy building- through ensuring that people at every level have the information, through ensuring that communities are organized, to manage collectively the resources that can only be sustained collectively. If I have the
money and power to drill a deep tube well I can make dry my neighbor’s shallow well and she will usually be a very poor woman. And therefore the only way a village can conserve its ground water is to do what the"Paani Panchayath" did in Harash - ensure that water is used within limits. Systems of governance have to begin with where people feel the impact, and therefore we do require the rebuilding of decentralized direct democracy. I do not see growers as isolated individuals because the consequences of their action are felt by their neighbors. If I am growing b.t. corn on my field I kill the monarch butterfly of my neighbor’s field. Communities, collectives are cohesiveness of societies are important to talk about not individual growers, and that’s the bottom rung of decision making to which both which corporations as well as governments need to be accountable - that is the experiment that started after Seattle and that experiment in accountable localization to ensure that decisions are made at appropriate place and production is carried out at the appropriate level is really the new enterprise of democracy that societies are involved in around the world, even while globalization threatens our lives.
Finally, we had this from last year's Reith lecturer Anthony Giddens -addressing you Vandana he says - "I congratulate you on your challenging presentation. I have to say though I don't agree with much of it. Isn’t it a contradiction in terms to use the global media to put a case against globalization?"
Vandana Shiva: I don't think BBC is a product of the economic globalization regime that the World Trade Organization gave us or the new recent trade liberalization has given us. I think it was created inl922 and international integration, international communication is not what economic globalization is about. Corporate concentration, corporate control is what recent economic globalization is about and in fact the BBC is a counter-example to that because the real example of globalize media and communication is Time Warner, now bought up by American onLine, Disney, and the News Corporation.
**Prof. Vinod Chowdhury, reader in economics at St. Stephen's College: It strikes me as very extraordinary that Vandanaji should have such a one sided approach. And I'm saying that with due respect to the sheer vivacity of her presentation. Vandanaji seems to believe that there are two clearly antithetical paradigms. One is a paradigm that essentially is based on decentralization, democratization - all the good things in life - - women are cared for, poor people are cared for - this, that and the other. And other is terribly evil. Everything's wrong with it. Now surely life cannot be like that Vandanaji may I plead with you to please consider third paradigm, where we take bits and pieces from here and there and get an eclectic, practical approach, and I support BoopinderSingh Hooda - the President of the Haryama Congress who asked you - and you didn't answer that - what is the alternative at a time when no country can opt out of the WTO - it's not a piece of paper madam - it is a commitment that countries have to make or they will be pariah countries and we cannot afford to be a pariah country - please react? Vandana Shiva: I did react to him. And I said rewriting those rules -rewriting those rules that are one sided. In fact it's the WTO rules that are totally one sided because they really only protect the interest of one sector of the global community which is the global corporations ,not in the local industry, not even local retail business, not small farmers anywhere, not in the north and not in the south. And those rules can be rewritten. That is the point I'm trying to make. Do not treat WTO rules in the Uruguay Round Treaty as the final word on how trade should be carried out. Those rules are being reviewed. What we have called for in Seattle is a more democratic input in what sustainable and just rules would look like for agriculture on intellectual property rights, in the area of services, in the area of investments, the four new areas which were brought in. Before that - no one had problems with the GATT. The old GATT was about real trade in real products beyond national boundaries. The new GATT with the Uruguay round - is about invading in every space of our everyday lives ... and if you are a woman you do have a somewhat different point of view. That's why we talk of gender. If you’re poor, you will have a different point of view from the rich. To have different points of view because of differences in location in society’s not a problem. It is opportunistic though to take a little element of the perspective of the rich , a little element of the perspective of the poor and put it into a little jigsaw of opportunistic statements. Societies live by coherent principles, organizational systems, values and worldviews. And what we are calling for is to balance out that one-sided idea that we live by commerce alone.
**Rovinder Raki, student: You seem to eulogize the fairness and efficiency of traditional agricultures, societies and production patterns. But the reality is that the farmers were exploited in these societies by moneylenders and feudal lords. With the market reaching these societies that exploitative social system certainly declines. Now what I have to ask you is what restrains you from appreciating this sanitizing effect of the market? Vandana Shiva: Well the sanitizing effect of the market does end up treating people like germs. Wipe them out. And it is that view of dispensability, the disappearances of the small that I was trying to draw attention to in my lecture. There has always been exploitation, and I agree with Mr Hooda, but no exploitation before this period of current, economic globalization, ever organized itself in ways that it could totally dispense with the exploited. Even the slave system needed the slave. Even the worst of British rule which created the Bengal famine, (note: due to the Brits exporting all the rice, a food staple, in 1943, the price of rice quadrupled. No peasant in India could buy it and 3 million people died. This was the worst of a dozen famines in India, brought on By Brits exporting the food staples. The same occurred in Ireland under Brit rule. For details, of the BENGAL FAMINE, NOT THE IRISH ONE, CLICK THERE..
This famous BENGAL famine led to the "Faybehaga" movement, which rose against the exploitation. Much help was needed to keep the peasants alive. Most died. For the first time we have a system where no-one needs the peasants, unless we realize that as societies we need them, that we've reached a period where people are actually talking in India, in other countries that you can get rid of small producers. It's assumed that everything, real growth, real prosperity is going to come out of cyber space, but as you can see, you can have the best of IT technologies floating above the carcasses of people dying in Rajisthan and Gujerat right now -- and it will not help them out. We have to pay attention to the ecological base of our survival and the needs of all. I personally am committed to feeling and believing that the smallest of species and the smallest of people have as much a right to live on this planet with dignity as the most powerful corporation and the most powerful individual. STUDY NOTE: Also, Read up on the “RUSSIAN FAMINE “
"When we tolerate what we know to be wrong--when we close our eyes and ears to
the corrupt because we are too busy, or too frightened -- when we fail to speak
up and speak out -- we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice."--
Robert Francis Kennedy
"Let them call me a rebel and I welcome it; I feel no concern from it; but I
should suffer the misery of demons should I make a whore of my soul". - Thomas Paine
"By far the most dangerous foe we have to fight is apathy -- indifference from
whatever cause, not from a lack of knowledge, but from carelessness, from
absorption in other pursuits, from a contempt bred of self satisfaction."--
It is easy enough to tell the poor to accept their poverty as God's will when you
yourself have warm clothes and plenty of food and medical care and a roof over
your head and no worry about the rent. But if you want them to believe you -- try
to share some of their poverty and see if you can accept it as God's will
yourself!"-- Thomas Merton
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
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