From Vandana Shiva
Excerpted from a lecture
to the Soil Association conference,
One Planet Agriculture, England
There is increasingly reference to the Carbon Economy and I kind of shudder when carbon is addressed because carbon is what we eat also. I’d rather talk and differentiate between the fossil fuel existence of carbon and the renewable existence of carbon in embodied sunshine transformed into all the edible matter we have.
I differentiate between the fossil fuel economy of agriculture and the biodiversity economy of agriculture. One is a killing economy and one is a living economy. Interestingly the word ‘carbon’ is increasingly used as an equivalence term across the board and then everyone is being made afraid of every form of carbon, including living carbon.
If we add up the amount of fossil fuels that are going into food; take production, Pimentel has done all the calculations. We are using 10 times more calories in production of food than we get out as food. And there was a Danish study done some years ago. I remember I was at the conference where the environment minister laid out these figures. For a kilogram of food traveling around the world, it’s omitting 10 kilograms of carbon dioxide. So you are wasting a 10-fold amount in the production and then generating a 10-fold amount of carbon dioxide, all of it totally avoidable because better food is produced when you throw the chemicals out…
The part of GATT that really troubled me was something called TRIPS within it – the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement – basically an agreement forcing every country to patent life. To me it was a scandal so I went back and started to save seeds and have ended up doing a lot of the work as a result of just, in a way, keeping seed free and in farmers’ hands and not transformed into the property of giant corporations like Monsanto. But even I could not have imagined what we would go through in the decade to come.
One of the things that has taken us totally by surprise is a new epidemic of farmers’ suicides. Indian peasants have been so resilient. I’ve been in villages after disasters of floods and droughts and hurricanes, you have one season of a loss of agriculture, one season of having to struggle, and you are right back again. You rebuild your hut and you’re back on the field and you borrowed some seeds from somewhere and you’re farming again.
But the new industrialised globalised agriculture is doing something different, because it’s not like a natural disaster which you know will not be there in a permanent way. The first step in the globalised agriculture is dependency on what I call non-renewable seed. We’ve even made seed the very embodiment of life and its renewability behave like non-renewable fossil fuel – once and no more. When non-renewable seeds have to be bought each year, that’s a higher cost. Then they are sold as a monopoly with intellectual property royalties linked to it. The genetically engineered BT cotton, for example, costs about 2-300 rupees for a kilogram to produce. But when Monsanto sells it for 4,000 rupees a kilogram the rest is all royalty payment.
The seeds aren’t tested, they aren’t adapted, the same seeds are sold across different climate zones, they obviously don’t perform well. Instead of 1,500 kilograms per acre, farmers get 200, 300, sometimes total failure; add to this the fact that even if they have 300 kilograms of a bad cotton variety because its fiber is of a very inferior quality. And new studies that we have done are showing that there are huge allergies linked to it because what is BT cotton but toxic? 1,800 sheep died last year feeding on the plants. Anyone working in a mill where this Bt cotton is being used is getting allergies. Farmers who are collecting the cotton ball are getting allergies.
Linked to the fact that this is inferior cotton is the fact that in the United States there are $4 billion of subsidies linked to cotton, and now with these so-called ‘open markets’ the price has started to come down. In India, they’ve dropped to half. So your costs of production have gone up two, three, four times, sometimes 10 times, sometimes 100 times depending on what you were farming, and meantime what you are earning at the end of it has fallen to a third.
It’s a negative economy. Farmers get into debt, it’s unpayable debt. The people giving them the credit are the same as the salesmen and the agents at the local level. I don’t know how many of you read the Economist – it has a special article on the farmers’ suicides in India. We have been doing reports since the first farm suicide happened in ‘97. The first report was a 10 pager because only one farmer has killed himself, now there’s 150,000 farmers.