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A talk on food sovereignty

The guest of honour, Dr. Vandana Shiva./ Dominik Hundhammer
The guest of honour, Dr. Vandana Shiva./ Dominik Hundhammer

Take the time to learn about stopping Monsanto

Author: Eric Armit

* Editor’s note: The talk mentioned above will have already happened by the time this issue hits the press, but was sent to press before the talk.

I’m very excited about Dr. Vandana Shiva coming to the University of Regina to speak in the Education Auditorium. The title of her talk is called “Earth Democracy.” Though I don’t know exactly what she is going to talk about, I’m assuming it will be about the issues she has been most involved with. Dr. Shiva is a physicist and activist involved in issues such as water, biodiversity, food sovereignty and protecting the rights of local communities and their economic livelihood. She is very much opposed to big multi-national corporations monopolizing resources such as water and food.

Dr. Shiva has helped movements stand up against multi-national corporations monopolizing resources, such as Coca-Cola and Monsanto, in her home country of India. She has helped lead rural communities against Coca-Cola, who is extracting millions of litres of water daily from the major rivers in India for the bottled water industry. As a result, Coca-Cola dispossesses rural Indians of their drinking water, which is given to wealthier people who can pay for it. Coca-Cola does not conserve the water, but instead sucks rivers dry.

Food sovereignty is becoming an important global issue. Animal and crop husbandry is more centralized than before, with corporations taking over control of all aspects of food production processes. In crop production, corporations control each input from seed to fertilizer. Most people depend on some form of agriculture for food, particularly seed crops such as grains (wheat, rice, corn) and legumes (soybeans and peas). For thousands of years, small-scale farming was the main form of agricultural production. Today, crop production consists of large-scale systems where corporations own most of the inputs and grow crops for regional, national, and international markets. Consequently, they push out smaller producers, who cannot compete against them.

Corporations such as Monsanto, by introducing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), are causing farmers to adopt more monoculture practices and become dependent on Monsanto for agricultural inputs. Monsanto claims their seeds will yield more nutritional and abundant crops and many people believe that GMO food is the only way to feed the world. But there are significant negative consequences. Farmers who use GMO seeds cannot save them, something done with seeds for centuries, forcing them to buy Monsanto seeds every season. They must also buy inputs from Monsanto, such as the herbicide that is used on the crops. This makes the farmer dependent on the corporation. If the farmers have a poor yield, they become indebted to Monsanto. Some of these debts have become so unbearable that many Indian farmers have committed suicide.

Another consequence is the loss of seed biodiversity. Farmers have developed a variety of seeds through artificial selection and have saved these seeds over millennia. Over the years, farmers have developed seeds that grow into plants that can thrive in variable environments. Monocultures pushed by Monsanto can diminish and possibly eliminate this diversity.

An interesting aspect to this dilemma that only recently I was made aware of is the imposition of this economic model by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Corporations write their own rules, which member countries must adhere to. Therefore, member countries must also adopt economic policies that favour corporations. Even if they elect new governments who say they will stop corporate-driven policies, these countries’ hands are tied and no change is possible. To counter this, Dr. Shiva has helped found Navdanya, a network of seed keepers and organic producers across 17 states in India. They help communities establish seed banks and develop sustainable agricultural practices, which helps farmers and communities maintain food sovereignty.

Food sovereignty, biodiversity, and clean, affordable, accessible drinking water are all issues of concern for people on a global level. Dr. Shiva gives a very good argument to the other side of the globalization policies that the world’s wealthier countries push for. International trade and cooperation are important and can be beneficial, but not as a network dominated by a few corporations that gain all the profits. Dr. Shiva argues for economies built from the ground up by communities. This can lead to better democracy and fair trade policies.

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