Dr Vanada Shiva, an internationally renowned activist, is an authority on organic farming and farmers’ movement.
Author of over 20 books on ecology and agriculture, she has been honoured with prestigious awards like the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize 2012, Sydney Peace Prize 2010, Right Livelihood Award 1993 for providing a new discourse on agriculture.
Her lectures are sold out anywhere from Albuquerque to Brussels in a matter of hours.
A member of various national and international committees, Shiva has championed for the rights of traditional methods of farming and rights of women, farmer and soil.
She has brought to the fore debates on genetically modified crops (GMO) crops, and even prevented their entry into India.
This year is the UN year of the soil and Shiva has started a yearlong campaign to spread awareness about the soil.
She has released her new book dedicated to soil called, Bhoomi and launched three major campaigns in the last few months; Sarson satyagarh, Anna Swaraj Andolan and the Food Smart City, Food Smart Citizen campaign.
Three months earlier, Shiva revived her Sarson satyagarh to fight against the corporate takeover of Indian mustard industry by the soybean lobby. In August, Anna Swaraj Andolan campaign began in Meerut demanding seed and grain sovereignty for India. The Food Smart City, Food Smart Citizen campaign is in progress in Uttar Pradesh and is promoting farmers to grow organic and healthy food and simultaneously linking them to consumers. The campaign is aimed at educating people about the link between food, diseases and farmer suicides in India.
From September, Shiva has scheduled a national gathering of farmers at her farm in Ramgarh, Dehradun after which she is starting the Touch the Soil campaign in October. The campaign will move through Delhi to Sabarmati and finally to Indore spreading awareness about soil. She hopes Indians will realise the importance of the soil and help our country advance toward food sovereignty and non-violent traditional agriculture.
Here are the excerpts from her interview with Hindustan Times:
You are up against some of the biggest corporate forces in the world, tell us what you fighting for?
What I am fighting for is an earth that can sustain us in all her integrity, creativity, beauty, productivity, generosity, where the rights of ordinary people to have a livelihood, save food and have democratic freedom are secured.
What is really at stake here?
So what’s at stake here is, of course, the two symptoms which we see and are only growing more serious: farmers suicides and organised crime. When I wake up I am looking forward to my day, but when I’m a farmer in debt, I see the government, instead of saying it will solve the problem of debt, dismissing them in the Parliament by saying they are having love affairs or are impotent. How do they (farmers) get up, how long do they take it?
Mexico after the same globalisation polices destroyed their corn, livelihoods were lost and their agro-economy lay in ruins. One-third of Mexico’s economy is now destroyed. It is because when the honest economy is destroyed by dishonest corporations, then the only way people will live is through crime.
In 2009, Syria had a drought and a million peasants lost their crops, livestock and moved into the city for survival.
The government was not ready for an influx and armed themselves. They threw famers in jails and mistreated them. This was the anti-Assad front. Then, the global powers sensing the changing regime, armed the famers and all this had led to the crisis.
It is a case of a war economy after the real economy. India is a patient economy, and Indians have a great forbearance before they break especially the farmers and the poor. Despite being in bad condition they continue to strife. But there is a point when they give up. The 300,000 farmers suicides is that point.
So far, only the farmers have suffered. But you also have too many unemployed youth and no livelihood for them, no future. Their fathers, who saw them through colleges and school, have had to pull them out. With all these conditions you are not creating an aspirational generation, you are creating an angry generation.
Let me tell you that when India will explode nothing can contain it. We have already seen what has happened with the tribals of Bastar. To make way for the corporate takeover, tribals were beaten up. They were arrested when they were exercising rights under the constitution democratically. Then there was more aggression poured in and today the area is known to us as the Naxalite regions. Every day there is violence in these areas. So we must take a lesson from the peaceful tribals and understand what can happen to the peaceful peasants of India if we remain silent.
And even if people don’t organise like the tribals, I am not saying there will be an organised resistance, but there will be a rise in organised crime.
Media and corporations have called you a propagandist, an anti-progress agent, but are you anti- profit? Please tell us what is profit for you?
Propagandist refers to someone who is pushing someone else’s agenda, and I’m promoting what I have learned from the Earth and the earth does not need propaganda. Profit in Hindi is Sublabh. We see it a lot on Diwali. So we should do Subhlabh and not the opposite.
All profit should reflect the cost to the earth. So, if I’m costing more to the earth then I should first pay for the harm done to the soil, society and ecology. Profits should have benefits for society. I’m not for the kind of profits that Pepsi makes where 1% goes to the farmers and then you charge them for pesticides and material, pushing them into a debt.
I have a whole fair trade network, and for me it is a not-profit because what I do as a service for famers is not my business. But after all the system must run. So I’m for fair profits, true profits, for profits that don’t lie.
So what is the relationship the growers and eaters need to form for a sustainable India?
We have launched the Food Smart City and Food Smart Citizen basically showing the connections between diseases such as heart attacks, cancer, farmer suicides and the food that we eat. The eaters and producer can have a direct link for a sustainable India aligned with sustainability, so that the farmer doesn’t have to exploit his soil, water and resources.
So eat as close to home as possible, know the farmer who grows your food, eat fresh, and help the farmer give you healthy food.
(The writer tweets as @indraSsingh )