Internationally renowned food activist, Dr. Vandana Shiva, just finished a 4-day tour of Nova Scotia (and Sackville, NB). Needless to say, it was a pretty exciting time for those involved in the food movement. She spoke at Mount Allison University, Dalhousie University, St. FX University, the NS Agricultural College, Truro Seedy Saturday, the Tatamagouche Centre and more. I had the privilege of attending the session at Mount Saint Vincent University, organized by Oxfam, the Participatory Action Research and Training Centre on Community Food Security, and us (Ecology Action Centre).
The session, “Dr. Vandana Shiva & Guests: A Feast of Conversation about Women, Men and Food”, started with a framing of gender issues, followed by a half hour talk by Dr. Shiva, and then allowed for small group discussions about what struck us from the talk. Dr. Patty Williams then gave a short presentation on food security in the Nova Scotia context. (Dr. Williams’ presentation included this great video.) We then heard from Dr. Shiva again, who addressed questions from the earlier round of small group discussions.
Dr. Shiva’s talk addressed gender issues, as they relate to food security, food sovereignty, and seed saving. Women have traditionally been the seed savers in communities. She spoke of her work in India, and in her discussions with women in rural areas, where she has found a huge diversity of seeds being saved by the women in those communities. Each woman has a small amount of this variety and that variety tucked away. All too often this local knowledge, the knowledge of the grandmothers of the community, is not valued.
In corporate agriculture what is measured is the growth of money, not the growth of plants, nutrition or health. Dr. Shiva recalled a comment from a woman at a rally, who was responding to the push from large corporations to use genetically modified seeds. The company said that these seeds were “Dollars in your pockets”. To this, the woman replied, “First of all, we wear saris; we don’t have pockets. And we don’t deal in dollars; we have rupees.” It is the women is these communities who are the backbone of the sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty movement.
The pervasiveness of genetically modified seed has had a huge impact on farmers in India. Ninety five percent of the cotton grown in India is genetically modified. While companies like Monsanto promise high yields and profits, this is not panning out. Often the husband purchases or borrows money to purchase this seed, without the wife’s knowledge. When crop yields are less than expected, many of these farmers sink into debt. For many, they see suicide by pesticide poisoning as the only way out. There have been a staggering number of farmer suicides in India due to farm debt – over 250,000 in the past decade. It is usually only after the death of the husband, that the widow finds out how much debt they were in. This often results in the widow losing the farm.
There were a number of interesting questions generated by the small groups discussions. In particular, I was interested in her response to the question about how she sustains herself in this difficult work. She responded with the advice to always be honest with yourself, because you have to live with you and she couldn’t live with silencing herself. She mentioned her very supportive family, in particular, her mother, who, when Dr. Shiva announced her plans to start the institute, said “Take the cow shed”, which became the first building. She also noted the importance of having a network of people who recognize the importance of the work. She also reminded us that we do not need billions of dollars to do this work – we need a culture of sharing, for the culture of sharing is a source of abundance. She cautioned against “monocultures of the mind”. A diversity of approaches, from farmers markets to research to the Occupy Movement and everything in between are needed to create a future of sustainable agriculture.
Navdanya, Dr. Shiva’s organization in India, works to promote seed saving, organic agriculture and food sovereignty in India. I’d encourage you to check them out. Missed Vandana Shiva in Nova Scotia? Listen to this CBC clip which aired on Information Morning this week.Yours in Food,