It’s still an hour before Dr. Vandana Shiva is supposed to walk onstage in the Glenn Miller Ballroom at CU Boulder’s UMC, but already the seats are a third of the way full. A diverse crowd, some are in two piece suits while others are in puffy down vests and dirty climbing pants, chatting and friendly with hugs being exchange throughout the room. By the time six o’clock rolls around, the 200 or more seats are entirely filled, and people are ready to listen.
Dr. Vandana Shiva is an activist on the global stage, having worked with policy makers from her home of India as well as the U.K. and within the United Nations. While she holds a Ph.D in Physics, the majority of her work is within food, environmental, and social justice. She is strongly anti-globalization, anti-corporation, and pro-democracy. She is the author of many books including Soil Not Oil, and Monoculture Mind. She started a seed-saving agency in India, and works to promote the ideals of the freedom movement of Ghandi: self-sufficiency, civil disobedience, and peaceful resistance.
After several introductions from the university groups responsible for bringing her to the CU campus on World Water Day, Dr. Shiva was welcomed onto the stage with a round of standing applause. As the audience sat, the lights dimmed, and all focus was drawn toward the speaker.
Dr. Shiva began her talk by highlighting the importance of the idea that man is not separate from nature, stating that the myth of separation is the key to the conquest of nature and cultures. Her ideas and perspectives come almost always from the observation of colonialism in India, when the British went out to “conquer” India as much for its resources as for its culture and people. To her, “There has never existed a separation of ecological sustainability and social justice. To destroy one is to destroy the other.”
She went on to inform and discuss the development of the “Green Revolution” in 1970s India, describing the way in which modern industrial agriculture evolved out of surplus of chemicals from the Vietnam War, which indirectly led to a wave of tragedies in India, including a massive pesticide leak that killed 7,000 people. In 1987, the Global Agreement on Trade and Tariff allowed companies such as Monsanto to uphold the patented rights to their “intellectual property” on the global scale, which led to the seemingly purposeful dependency of Indian farmers on Monsanto-developed seed.
After witnessing the way in which farmer’s dependency on Monsanto was leading to crippling debt, dishonor, and eventually suicide, Shiva began to teach herself how to save and collect seed. She did not have any idea how to save seed at first, but, she said, “You can do anything you need to once you start to learn.” Her initiative has turned into the seed-saving organization Navdanya, which helps provide Indian farmers alternatives to Monsanto seed and helps to preserve heirloom variety seeds developed in India over generations. She has also been able to start her own farm in India for biodiversity research, using her findings to help promote biodiverse farming on a larger stage. She hopes to help prevent the sovereignty of “greedy corporations” and bring back the original definition of the word “wealth” to mean “well-being,” and even more so, “well-being for all.”
Dr. Shiva’s passion and strong sense of justice has made her one of the more famous leaders in the global environmental movement. Her influence has been seen in the policies of many governments, and she is currently working with the government of Bhutan to help create a plan to make their society “100% Organic.” She ended her speech by reminding her audience of two things: “Long before markets, there was nature. Long before markets, there was society. We may have different color skin, different languages, different religions, but food treats us all the same, and the earth treats us all the same.”
Dr. Vandana Shiva was brought to speak at the CU Boulder campus on March 22, 2017 by The Community Events Board, EYE Resist, and the CU Environmental Justice Center.
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