By: Sara Faruqi
Images of women as representing Earth are timeless.
In Ancient Greek the word gaia is the Greek Goddess personifying Earth. In Aboriginal mythology Eingana is the goddess and mother of all water, animals and humans. And in English we call her mother nature.
Just like a woman may sustain her child, the earth is what life sustains itself from, we eat, breathe and live off her.
So when corporations tell farmers they don’t need land or water – they need money – something is going wrong. This is what Vandana Shiva, an Indian eco-feminist, philosopher and environmental activist came to talk to Ryerson students about Friday.
She opened her talk by quoting a line from Avatar “If they are sitting on anything we want, they are our adversaries – (but) everyone is sitting on something we want” Shiva says.
The main point of her talk was how companies are selling back to us what nature has given us for free.
Shiva talked about the selling of genetically engineered seeds to farmers – and how this has caused Indian farmers to fall into debt – leading to the suicides of around 200,000 farmers over the last decade.
What is so wrong with these genetically engineered seeds versus farm saved seeds? According to Shiva, these corporate seeds cannot be saved for re-use. Not only that, they need fertilizers and pesticides – an added costs to small farmers in India.
In 1998, the World Bank’s structural adjustment policies forced India to allow the seed sector to open up to corporations like Cargill, Monsanto and Syngenta.
Shiva explains that these corporations prevent farmers from seed-saving through patents, thus farmers are forced to buy new seeds every planting season.
The seed is known as beej in India. Beej, says Shiva translates into “that in which life rises on its own forever and ever.
“The seed can never be exhausted, if the seed is exhausted than life is exhausted,” she says.
If these patents are not defeated than farmers are paying thieves she explains. She emphasized that what the Earth had given us is a common to every citizen in the world. However in this world which rewards greed, the corporation is the first citizen in a globalized economy.
These corporations are treating these seeds as something that is an exhaustible resource. Thus these genetically modified seeds introduced in India have led to the introduction of Monocultures and have increased the risk of crop failure, as diverse seeds once planted in a diverse eco-system are replaced by untested monocultured seeds.
One billion people live without enough food, – “half of humanity is suffering – but the earth didn’t create this scarcity,” she says.
Shiva emphasised that there can be no owners of the natural resources provided to people by the Earth, “corporations want to be owners of this earth, we will defend and protect these commons,” she says.
The solution to such problems, saya Shiva, is to shift back to ecological, localized ways of farming.
“The most deepest of human rights are dependent on the rights of earth,” says Shiva.
Yet somehow we keep hurting only that which has sustained us for so long, she who has allowed living of her so generously.