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Caring in Agriculture

by Vandana Shiva 

Global agribusiness destroys 

the beauty of traditional 


Science and technology are supposed to improve our lives. Yet dominant traditions  of knowledge generation and dissemination, and technology development are becoming major sources of violence against humans and other species.

Violence is built into the very metaphors of organizing knowledge. The tools for genetic engineering are 'gene-guns'. Plants and insects are enemies, to be exterminated by 'Roundup', 'Avenge', 'Squadron', 'Prowl'. Even temporary infections like foot-and-mouth disease (fmd) are perceived as a 'fearful plague', a 'demon', a 'serial killer', a 'predator at large'.

The violence in our dominant knowledge systems emerges from the fear of everything that is free and alive. It emerges from lack of awareness of impacts of the modes of thought on nature and people, and it is reinforced by the ignorance of alternatives - of alternative ways of knowing and other knowers.

The fear of freedom of autonomous, self-organizing systems, beyond control and manipulation, and the lack of awareness of alternatives are what has spurred the UK's 'war' against its farm animals in which more than 3,000,000 animals have been shot and burned in a massive military operation in the countryside to clean up rural areas of an infection that is not fatal and is curable. In the mountain villages of my native Garhwal, fmd is called 'Khurpaka'. It is cured using the plant diversity of our forests and farms - the bark paste of the bhojpatra, the root paste of buckwheat, the young shoots of peach.

Diseases and infections are part of human, plant and animal life. Zero-tolerance to disease generates zero tolerance to life. That is why millions of farm animals can be killed in the illusory search for a disease-free world.

Yet our systems of technology and trade are creating and spreading disease. Globalization has been identified as one reason for the rapid and wide spread of the fmd infection. And the super-inventiveness of grinding up diseased and infected cows as cattle feed has been identified as being at the root of Mad Cow Disease. Cows are herbivores, not carnivores. Feeding them meat is violence. Feeding them infected meat in the form of 'scientific' feed is multiple violence, a violence that has triggered a chain reaction in the food chain and infected humans.

'Improved feed' and 'improved seed' are supposedly technological miracles. Hybrid seeds are also a 'technological breakthrough' with promises of high yield. But they cannot be saved, and are vulnerable to pests and disease. As hybrid seeds have flooded India under globalization, farmers have had to borrow money to buy seeds and pesticides. They have had to dig tube wells to irrigate the hybrid crops. Pesticide use has gone up by 2,000% since hybrid cotton seeds entered India. Within a year or two, farmers are deep in debt. They are committing suicide by drinking the same pesticides that got them into debt. A technological miracle has led to a human disaster. Across India one estimate is that 200,000 farmers have committed suicide.
This human disaster is however a corporate opportunity. The faster small farmers disappear, the more the dependence on chemicals, genetic engineering and mechanization will grow.

How ecological destruction is being transformed into an opportunity for corporate control over agriculture is brutally exemplified in the case of the Canadian farmer, Percy Schmeiser. Percy has been growing canola from seed he saved over fifty years. In 1997, Monsanto's Roundup Ready Canola was introduced in his region. It contaminated his canola crop. Monsanto hired Robinson Investigation to secretly collect canola samples from Percy's fields. On the basis of samples collected Monsanto sued Percy for stealing their genes.

On March 29th, 2001, Judge Andrew Mackay ruled that it did not matterhow the genes came to be in Percy's field: he had infringed Monsanto's patent No. 1,313,830. The pollen and seeds arriving in Percy's fields through genetic pollution was considered an act of theft by Percy. So, Percy's property rights to his field get no protection, but Monsanto's intellectual property rights to seed and genes are 'sacred'.

In environmental law and policy, there is a rule called 'The Polluter Pays Principle'. But with the Mackay decision in the case of Monsanto v. Percy Schmeiser, the courts have ruled that the polluter will be paid. Spreading pollution has thus become the genetic engineering industry's latest means of taking over ownership and control of crops and farms.

The 'Precautionary Principle' is at the heart of ecological security. Precaution requires that unless there is proof of safety, we should err on the side of caution. That is why consumer groups, environmental organizations and farmers' associations are calling for a freeze on the commercialization of genetic engineering. The Precautionary Principle also calls for the search and promotion of alternatives. Yet the genetic engineering industry is rushing untested products to the marketplace, even where safer and better alternatives exist.

Hundreds of sources of Vitamin A exist in nature's biodiversity, selected and improved by women farmers over centuries. Dhania, bathna, fenugreek, drumstick, amaranth, mango, papaya, pumpkin are some of the plants rich in vitamins. But these plants are invisible to those who are engineering 'golden rice' as a solution to Vitamin A deficiency (vad). If all the money being spent on 'golden rice' and the scientists promoting it were to be spent on distributing open pollinated variety seeds of fruits and vegetables to farmers, we would not just get rid of vad and anaemia, we would reverse the erosion of biodiversity and the ecological problems of drought, desertification, pests and diseases that are associated with it.

Syugenta and Monsanto are rushing ahead with the mapping and patenting of the rice genome. If they could, they would own rice and its genes, even though the 200,000 rice varieties that give us diverse traits have been bred and evolved by rice farmers of Asia collectively over millennia. Their claim to inventing rice is a violence against the integrity of biodiversity and life-forms; it is a violence against the knowledge of Third World farmers.

THESE ISSUES ARE at the heart of nonviolence, of ahimsa, of doing no harm. Ahimsa in science-technology involves respect for and protection of life's diversity; it involves respect and recognition of diverse knowledge systems - on their own terms.

Respect for biodiversity entails a shift to production systems which maintain life on Earth and do not push it to extinction - the life of soil organisms, of water systems, of plant and animal diversity. A nonviolent agriculture would do no harm to bees, butterflies and earthworms. It would also not falsify the productivity of industrial monocultures which waste water and energy, need expensive and harmful chemicals, and wipe out life's abundance. The violence to knowledge is built into the pseudo-productivity of genetic engineering. A negative economy is being projected as growth, a culture of scarcity is being projected as abundance. A system of destruction is being projected as creation.

Another level of violence is being imposed through monopoly rights that are criminalizing farmers and transform agriculture into police states. We need a movement of compassion and caring in agriculture, a movement that celebrates saving and sharing of seed. That is why I started the Bija Vidyapeeth - the School of the Seed - where, beginning in October 2001, we will start courses on Education for Earth Citizenship in collaboration with the Schumacher College in England. 

Vandana Shiva is a physicist and author of 

Monoculture of the Mind. 

Bija Vidyapeeth can be contacted at 

A-60 Hauz Khas, New Delhi, 110 016 India. E


Reprinted by Permission.

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