Feature

For the love of grain

Green Lifestyle

Hearing seed-saver Dr Vandana Shiva – known as the Gandhi of Grain – talk, will take you on an emotional roller-coaster of a journey, and bolster your passion to help take on the injustices of the world. And, she says, it all starts with a single seed.

Dr-Vandana-Shiva

Hear Dr Shiva talk at WOMADelaide from 6–9 March, at The Planet Talks. Stay tuned for our intimate backstage meeting with Dr Shiva, and click here to see the lucky Green Lifestyle reader who will be joining us at the festival.

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True passion comes from a deep love. And deep love for everything on the Earth; for all life, all species, all people, is something that Dr Vandana Shiva embodies.

“When you see harm to anyone you love, you act, you don't sit by as a passive witness – if your child is going to be harmed, you jump to protect your child,” Dr Shiva tells me.

“Now that is the passion we need for the planet on all our biodiversity just now.”

Activism of love
Dr Shiva says the first eco-epiphany that made her 'jump' was “seeing the streams and forests that I grew up with disappear”.

That's when she joined a movement called Chipko, India's non-violent resistance to the growing problem of deforestation, in the 1970s. “Many women came out and said we're going to hug the trees, because you can't cut these trees down.”

“So, my activism began with this act of love.”

At the time, Dr Shiva continued with her 'day job', a research academic on quantum physics theory. But gradually, her ecological activism started to take priority.

The Chipko movement was successful – logging was banned in sensitive areas, and the movement triggered the new environmental laws of India.

“You know, everything we built in the last 40 years came out of that, and now everything that we built is being dismantled, so we've got to do it all over again!” she says, followed by a very jovial laugh.

That's one thing that really stands out about Dr Shiva; despite the constant, exhausting struggle to encourage people to work with nature rather than against it, she remembers to laugh – and she does it a lot.

Dr Shiva chuckles again when she tells me that her favourite seed is millet. “I love the millet, both because they were neglected and like an orphan in our food system, as well as because they are very nutritious – and, the millets in fact send me the message 'black is beautiful'. Hahaha!”

Hearing Dr Shiva laugh from her heart is truly uplifting. I'm impressed that she's happy to share her sense of humour with me, a complete stranger, despite the fact that she deals with such serious issues, and has endured so much hardship. Dr Shiva has seen the crops of poverty-stricken farmers ripped out by corporations, looked into the eyes of the widows of suicidal farmers in India, and bared the brunt of scathing unfounded attacks of her work. So there's hope for all of us to be able to follow our passions, and come out the other end laughing, too.

When asked if she's also seen positive actions happening around the world, her response is definitive; “A lot, a lot, a lot!”

“The beauty of humanity is we are all diverse, and when we work together in a network, then all the competences and skills needed for the defense of the Earth and human beings comes into place.”

Seed-saving lifestyle
The world has much to learn from Dr Shiva's approach to living – for a start, on how we make daily decisions, and ground ourselves in the small, simple actions that make a difference. This is why she advocates so strongly for seed saving.

“Lifestyle has sadly been presented as if it's about consumerism. But a lifestyle should nourish life, and therefore I believe everyone on the planet should become a seed saver.”

“In a way a lifestyle-choice based on consciousness is throwing yourself between the attack and what you love.”

“A lot of people think you can only be a seed saver if you're a farmer, and that's not true. In fact, most seed savers who might have started huge movements came from cities who realised how important diversity of seed was.

“Just like we can't afford to allow any one culture to disapear, we can't allow any one seed to disappear, because each seed embodies millions of years of nature's evolution, and thousands of years of evolution of humanity.”

Dr Shiva often sits with her colleagues at the environmental-NGO she co-founded in 1984, Navdanya, to save seeds with them. She says seed saving incredibly rewarding and encourages everyone to try it.

“Everyone should say 'this is the seed I'm going to save', and take a pot, and have it in your windowsill, or on your balcony – that's the least you do. One seed, one pot, and say 'I'm going to give you the love that you deserve. I adopt you.' And, then when that seed gives you seeds, to share those seeds with neighbours, and have a conversation over the seed.”

“As one of my colleagues from Navdanya says each seed is like a baby – you've got to give it the love you give a baby.”

Navdanya's aim is to provide direction and support to environmental activism, and it's also helped to create 120 community seed banks in India. “In September we'll be doing a whole one month course called The A to Z of agro-ecology and organic farming, where one week is dedicated to seed saving.”

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