Vandana Shiva talks to Big Picture about the threat agri-business poses to nature’s
12th September, 2004
The disappearance of biodiversity is a threat to security at the ecological level because
without diversity there is no ecological stability. Biodiversity is the ground for adaption,
it is the ground for mutuality. It is the ground from which systems can deal with the
vulnerability and resilience that climate change is going to bring us; and that pest and
disease bring to productions systems etc.
The disappearance of biodiversity is also an economic security threat. It is an economic
security threat because biodiversity systems lend themselves to being worked with
creatively through human cooperation. This means they generate more livelihoods, they
generate more employment and they enable more people to live off the land. The
damaging effects of monoculture do not stop at the disappearance of diversity of other
species. Monoculture production systems, by their very nature, are replacing biodiversity
and human energy with fossil fuels and toxic chemicals. And that necessarily means less
livelihoods on the land. It is no accident that small farmers are disappearing everywhere.
Therefore, the disappearance of species in nature goes hand in hand with the
disappearance of small producers in our rural ecosystems.
The disappearance of biodiversity is also a political security threat. This is not well
enough understood by people who deal directly with security issues and peace issues. It
makes for absence of peace because it creates threatened communities. It also makes for
absence of peace because centralized systems, depending on fossil fuel flows across
thousands of miles, want to defend the interests of the corporations wanting to claim
markets worldwide. Grain corporations like Cargill, for example, need WTO free trade
rules to create seed markets around the world. Patent laws are equally coercive in this
regard. These are the imperatives of the defence of centralized economic systems that
result in the extinction of biodiversity. However, these markets can only remain in place
through a huge deployment of militarized defence.
That, I believe, is what is being witnessed in the world today. It is not an accident that
immediately after the so-called end of the Iraq war, which we know hasn’t ended, the first
contract went to Bechtel – US$650m. The food programme went to the likes of the
Cargills. Out of the destruction of the local production systems came market
opportunities for global corporations. But they require massive defence and as Thomas
Friedman of the New York Times correctly said “for the spread of McDonalds around the
world, you have to have the McDonald Douglasses1.”
India is a microcosm of what is happening around the world. India is a billion people.
And India is a billion people who have looked after themselves from the land of India, the
McDonald Douglass is a large American defence contractor.
biodiversity of India, the water of India. Now all of these resources are being mined by
global corporations. That means that in every way, in every corner of India, ordinary
people and local communities are pitted against the likes of Coca-Cola, for example, who
are trying to extract water. In 55 places they set up plants and each plant is mining 1.5
million litres. A group of women got together in Kerala because Coca-Cola was
exhausting water supplies in an area with a ten mile radius. We worked together. We
mobilized a national movement in their support. That plant has since closed. We have
created movements around other plants. Different people are taking leadership. A
digamber Jain monk, (these are the Jain that wear no clothes because they believe even
clothing is violence), is leading the campaign against a Pepsi plant in the centre of India.
Such struggles which will never be reported by the Financial Times or the Herald
Tribune, but we don’t care because we are shaping the future of our history.
Basmati, the famous rice from my valley, is another example. The name means “the
queen of aroma.” We know we received it through generations of breeding. Some stories
tell us that the first varieties of Basmati were brought from Afghanistan to India. When
we plant our Basmati seed, we say thank you to nature. We say thank you to the
particular soils of our area which bring forth the aroma, because you can take the same
seed to another soil and the aroma won’t be there. And we say thank you to Afghanistan
or whoever evolved it first. A company in Texas, called Rice Tech, claims to have
invented the aroma, the plant, its height, the grain and the methods of cooking. We have
fought that battle and we’ve had their patent overturned. We are now dealing with
Monsanto, which claims to have invented an ancient wheat variety which was basically
pirated from India. And I know we will overturn that patent too.
We shouldn’t have to be doing this. We shouldn’t have to be telling the world “no, wheat
is not Monsanto’s property.” We do not want to live in a world where when people say
“give us this day our daily bread,” we are saying a prayer to Monsanto! We do not want
to be reduced to that situation. Building on Gandhi’s legacy, we have made a difference
because we’ve been able to identify globalization not as human solidarity but as corporate
take over of vital resources. We’ve managed to stop Coca-Cola in places. We’ve also
managed to prevent Suez from carrying out plans to privatize the Ganges River. At least
for two years now they have not been able to do so and I hope that we can make sure that
it never happens. What we have been witnessing is corporations trying to own the Earth,
life on Earth and living processes as if they were their monopoly, their property and their
commodity. When in the Republican Convention President Bush talks about the
“ownership society,” that’s what he’s talking about. A world where everything is private
property, everything is owned. But most of the things on this planet are common
property, including that little Bee that was buzzing around me just now. The entire web of
life is a shared life-support base. That is what we are attempting to defend. Our
movement against global corporations globally makes a very simple statement: our world
is not for sale. When we fight Suez on the banks of the Ganga, the people take the water
and say “our Mother Ganges is not for sale.”
Dr. Vandana Shiva is a physicist, ecologist and environmental activist. She is the
founding director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in
India and is a leader in the International Forum on Globalization.