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.


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.”

GM seeds & Biopiracy
Her passion for seed saving is the reason for her outspoken activism against Genetically-Modified (GM) seeds.

“The whole GM edifice is based on the criminalisation of seed saving.

“I realised that there was a major threat to seeds and an erosion of their diversity – a threat through genetic engineering and patenting of seed – and to me, that transfers into a threat to human freedom, because seed saving for me is about human duty and freedom.”

In one of the heartiest laughs of the interview Dr Shiva tells me how she thinks the global agricultural and chemical corporation Monsanto is a bit of a joke, really.

“In fact, I can say to Monsanto that they thought they'd take over the seeds of the world by the year 2000 – they really had announced they would take over all the seeds of the world by then – and when you think of all the positive examples, and when you realise they just have four crops with two traits, and they had to bully every government and bribe every government – I mean, what a pathetic economy if it's based on bribing and threats! Hahahaha!”

Dr Shiva has been outspoken about the situation of Steve Marsh in Australia – an organic farmer who has been in ongoing legal disputes with Monsanto over crop contamination.

“When GMOs contaminate a farm, instead of the polluter having to pay, the polluted has to pay! This is a perversion of environmental laws and responsibilities based on 'the polluter pays' – whether it's Steve Marsh in Australia, or it's Percy Schmeiser in Canada [see the film, David Versus Monsanto]. Monsanto is trying to put the logic of 'the polluter gets rewarded'!

She describes the practices of Monsanto as 'biopiracy'.

“Biopiracy is claiming as an invention that which exists in Indigenous cultures – because pre-chemical cultures, the non-industrial cultures, are all based on biodiversity. For example, the Aboriginal people of Australia knew every plant that they lived with, and every property of that plant. But now, it's very easy for anyone to take that knowledge and to patent it, and that is what is called biopiracy.

“Biopiracy is an epidemic. It's illegal, and it's a crime. I help to fight it legally, but I also deal with it at the level of making sure that the policies are put in place, laws are put in place.

“I come from Doon Valley where our Basmati rice is the same as a company in Texas that claims to have invented it... India has these ancient wheat varieties that don't contribute to allergies – wheat allergies have become so commonplace in the Western world, and Monsanto wanted a monopoly on this old Indian wheat.

“Your readers can go to the website of Navdanya to see a letter redrafted for President Obama, who is coming to India to bully us so that laws will not prevent biopiracy. The US have committed to allowing it's corporations to own everything on the planet, so there's an open letter to Obama on the website, and there's a very large section on biopiracy that you can also read and use.”

Despite criticism of her actions, including controversy last year involving a leaked report from the Indian Intelligence Bureau, as well as Prince Charles and Greenpeace, Dr Shiva is charging forward with her mission, coming to Australia to give a series of talks over the next few weeks.

I know that there's a very big issue that connects Australia and India right now, which is this giant coal mine by Indian company Adani and the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef... All of this Australian and Indian tax money is being mobilised for private profit of a very destructive kind.

“The concern for me is that fact that a globalisation based on greed must become a globalisation based on violence.

“The targeting of individuals who are acting from love for the Earth shows that those who hate the Earth hate people, and are afraid of love.

“When I made the commitment to give my life to the service of the Earth, which is 40 years ago – I knew it needs courage of a lifetime. And I didn't stop then, and I'm not going to stop now. Hahaha!”

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.