This week’s list
Farmer Rick grows only organic fruits and vegetables on his farm. In the plot next to his, nothing grows there unless Rick’s neighbor says so.
The “clean” conventional farmers next door call Rick’s organic methods “dirty farming.” Each winter their fileds sit idle for months at a time. Without the use of cover cropping and its benefits in returning nutrients and fertility back to the soil, the soil remains exposed and eroded. Instead, monoculture is applied each spring and increase the risk of fungus, disease, and specilaized predators, which conventional farming combats with pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.
Wine has been made for thousands of years with two ingredients, grapes and time. At Cecchin winery in Mendoza, Argentina they continue to make this drink in the same manor, respecting the biodiversity of the local environment.
The Perennial Plate is an online weekly documentary series dedicated to socially responsible and adventurous eating. Chef and Activist, Daniel Klein and Filmmaker Mirra Fine are traveling the world exploring the wonders, complexities and stories behind the ever more connected global food system.
The diversity of life on our planet is critical for maintaining the basic planetary life support systems we rely on every day. Ecosystem services, or the resources nature provides us free of charge, like drinking water, crop pollination, nutrient cycling and climate regulation, all rely on biodiversity. For instance, the diversity of insect and avian pollinators is crucial to global agricultural productivity, ensuring plants produce harvestable crops for human use.
“We recognize that our bio-region, our domestic eco-culture, has a unique set of circumstances defined by climate and soil. Some things flourish here while others are diminished in life force. We seek out seeds that thrive. We love them, live from them, share in their thriving. We also thrive to find things marginal and work to strengthen them with the intentions that there be more biodiversity for us to live from (which runs in opposition to the principles of monoculture).”
Richard and Shanan are seed collectors and bioregionalists. This means they believe that seeds adapt, that plants and animals make decisions based on a region’s living biology. Seeds are selected based on their color, maturation, size, the strength of the greens they produce, as well as their flavor and endurance. They grow and gather in soils with specific under and over stories, defined climates, and pests, which impacts a seed’s regenerative capabilities. By virtue of their address, their seeds are bioregionally adapted to their local environment. In a sense, it is a deep locavorism.
Dr. Vandana Shiva is a scientist and environmentalist from India. She combines resistance to giant corporations seeking to privatize and own seed and water with building alternatives so that the basis of life stays in the commons and supports all life.
Q: When seed diversity is lost it can’t be regained. This leads some communities to create seed banks. Can you explain what a “seed bank” is?
A seed bank is a refuge for seeds, but also a refuge for farmers. It’s first based on collecting all the diversity that will grow in that region. We call our seed banks “community seed banks” because Navdanya is dedicated to reclaiming seeds as a commons and not allowing it to be defined as an invention and property of Monsanto. Usually these seeds are in remote places, where the destructive power of these corporations or of the Green Revolution has not reached.
The second thing is to conserve seeds then plant them as living seed banks every year. We have set up 110 community seed banks in India since we’ve started our work and have over 2,000 varieties saved in our center in Belgaum. If you come today you will see 200 varieties of wheat being harvested; if you come in June you will see 700 varieties of rice being planted. But the rice of Belgaum doesn’t grow in the East or the South, so in each of these places we have community seed banks; these seeds get distributed according to each farmer’s needs.
When the super cyclone happened in Orissa, we were able to distribute salt tolerant rice seeds and therefore farmers were able to cultivate after the salt came in from the sea.
When the tsunami happened in Tamil Nadu in 2004, the farmers in Orissa were able to gift two truckloads of salt tolerant seeds to the Tamil Nadu farmers. That’s how seed banks function.
Q: Could you explain what the term “agrobiodiversity” mean?
Agrobiodiversity means biodiversity in agriculture. It means all the plants—cultivated and uncultivated—all the animals, all the insects and all the soil microbes. All of that is agrobiodiversity.
Q: Do women have a different perspective than men when they look at agriculture, especially sustainable agriculture?
Whoever practices differently has a different perspective. If women are left to feed children and also grow crops that feed those children, they’ll have a different perspective. They will relish the biodiversity that is for food. If men are locked into the market and only want to grow commercial crops, they will have a different perspective. It’s not through genetics that we get these different perspective but through work, engagement, and relationships.
Q: You talked about creating a more accountable system and a more sovereign approach to agriculture. Can you envision an alternative food system in the United States? If so, what would that system look like?
An alternative food system in the United States would look like what every sustainable system looks like—diverse. It’s about working with the earth, working with diversity, and growing food for food and not for a commodity. It is by its very nature decentralized because diversity and decentralization go hand in hand, and because decentralization is vital to create food democracy. Democracy doesn’t get created in centralized structures; it gets created in decentralized structures. That means creating closer links with those who produce and those who eat. We are seeing these emerging initiatives. We’re also seeing the final attempt to crush those initiatives, whether it is sanitary laws saying you can’t have any cheese making at home, free-range animals or local food production. There are new seed laws called compulsory registration laws, which in effect are criminalizing diversity and farmers who have their own seeds. It’s happening in Europe; it’s happening in Mexico. We stopped it from happening in India by doing what Gandhi taught us to do—the Satyagraha, or the fight for truth and noncooperation. They haven’t been able to pass the seed law yet, so the criminalization of the local, the diverse, and the sovereign are the last set in this contest of creating another food system.
Dr. Vandana Shiva, completed her Ph.D on the Foundations of Quantum Theory on the topic ”Hidden Variables and Non Locality in Quantum Theory” from the University of Western Ontario in Canada. After spending three years doing interdisciplinary research at the Indian Institute of Science and Indian Institute of Management, in 1982 she left an academic career to start the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and ecology (RFSTE), a public interest research organization focusing on critical ecological issues of our times.
She has, over the past 35 years dedicated her life to the protection of nature and defense of people’s rights to nature’s resources – forests, biodiversity, water, land.
Dr. Vandana Shiva combines the highest of holistic, systems science with activism; she combines resistance to giant corporations seeking to privatise and own seed and water with building alternatives so that the basis of life stays in the commons and supports all life.
Her passion for the protection of biodiversity began in the 1970’s with the Chipko Movement (the hug the trees movement started by the women of Uttarakhand). Chipko also became the ground for seeing the links between nature’s protection and provisioning of basics needs of food, water and energy for the poor, as well as the links of women and ecology. This led her to develop her philosophy of ecofeminism and founding the movement “Diverse Women for Diversity”. Her contributions to women and environment have been globally recognized. She was identified as one of the top ten feminist of the world by Forbes magazine in 2010 and one of the 100 most influential feminist by Guardian of U.K in 2011. She was honoured by the State of Uttarakhand on 8th March, 2011 (International Women’s Day) with a State Award.
In 1984, as a result of the tragedy of Punjab (extremism took the life of 30,000 people) and the tragedy of Bhopal (a gas lead from Union Carbides’ pesticide plant killed 3000 people in one night and 30,000 since then) Dr. Shiva focused her attention on the violence of industrial farming (also called the Green Revolution) and the need to build non-violent ecological alternatives. She questioned the paradigm of the Monocultures of the Mind, and created diversity centered paradigm for though and action.
In 1987, Dr. Shiva founded Navdanya (which means both “nine seeds” as well as “new gift”) to start saving seeds as an alternative to the corporations rushing to patent and genetically engineered seeds and using the WTO to impose GMO’s and seed monopolies on all countries.
Navdanya is based on the philosophy of saving and sharing seeds and knowledge. It is therefore committed to not allowing the duty of saving seeds to be converted into a crime through Intellectual Property Rights on seeds.
For free sharing and saving seeds, Navdanya has set up more than 110 community seed banks in 16 states of India to defend seed as a commons, and to defend the rights of farmers to seeds. Navdanya works with 650,000 farmers to defend their seed sovereignty and food sovereignty. The movement for GMO free zones was started by Navdanya in 6000 villages, as was the movement for documenting traditional knowledge of biodiversity in Community Biodiversity Registers (CBRs) and using these CBR’s to declare biodiversity and knowledge sovereignty. Navdanya is the largest small farmer network of organic producers in India.
Dr. Shiva is recognized as the leading expert on the issue of intellectual property in the area of biodiversity and seed. Her research and books are used in universities worldwide. The University of Western Ontario gave her a honorary doctorate for her contributions in this area.
Dr. Shiva has played a pioneering role in challenging patents on life, since life is not an invention. She has also successfully challenged the biopiracy patents on Neem, Basmati and Wheat. Currently she is campaigning against the biopiracy patents on climate resilient crops on the basis of the report “Biopiracy of Climate Resilient Food Crops : Gene Giants Stealing Farmers Innovation of Drought Resistant, Flood Resistant, Salt Resistant Varieties”. These movements have been spread to the global level and have started a new trend for recovery of the biological and knowledge commons.
Dr. Shiva has played an important role in building the movement for GMO free food and agriculture. In 1997-98, when Monsanto illegally introduced Bt. Cotton in India, Dr. Shiva through the RFSTE sued Monsanto in the Supreme Court of India. This stopped commercial sale up to 2002. The monopoly on cotton seed, first through hybrids and then through Bt. Cotton has pushed farmers into debt and then to suicide. 200,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide since 1997.
Besides carrying out studies and organising public hearing to make farmers suicides visible, Navdanya organized seed pilgrimages, from the North to the South, from the East to the West, to distribute open pollinated varieties of indigenous seeds to farmers. The Seeds of Hope campaign has helped farmers increase their incomes ten fold compared to farmers using GMO cotton.
In 1993, when the U.S sued Europe in WTO because of GMO bas, Dr. Shiva launched a Global Citizens GMO Challenge. The campaign handed over one million signatures to the WTO at the Hong Kong Ministerial. Dr. Shiva has supported anti-GMO movements in U.K, Spain, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, USA, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Kenya, South Africa, Ethiopia.
In 2011 Navdanya coordinated a Global sscientists and Citizen’s Report on the State of GMOs titled The GMO Emperor has no Clothes.
In 2012 Navdanya started a Global Citizen’s Campaign on Seed Freedom . 120 Individuals and groups came together to produce a Report on Seed Freedom.
Complex issues related to the Agricultural Agreement and the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement of the WTO have been demystified by Dr. Shiva for farmers movements in India and the world. From 1991 to 1995, she tirelessly travelled across India’s villages translating the GATT Agreement to local communities. In 1993, she organized a protest of 500,000 farmers in Bangalore in India to stop the GATT (General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs), the precursor of WTO.
Dr. Shiva has been called on by Governments for advise on biodiversity and agriculture policies. She is on the Scientific Committee advising the Government of India, The Regione of Tuscany in Italy, President Zapatero of Spain. The Prime Minister of Bhutan has invited her to advise him for promotion of sustainable agriculture. The King of Bhutan has invited her to be a member of an International Group of Experts to synthesise the emerging thinking on an Alternative Development paradign.Dr. Shiva serves on the National Board of Organic Standards for India and is member of the expert group on Environment of the Planning Commission.
What is unique about Dr. Shiva is she effortlessly combines scientific research with action, resistance with constructive creative action to build alternatives and grassroots involvement with global transformation.
As a thinker and public intellectual, she has contributed to a paradigm shift from violent predatory, exploitative science, technology and economic organization to non-violent, compassionate, cooperative systems of knowledge, production and consumption.
The Bija Vidyapeeth, the school of the seed,/ The Earth University founded by Dr. Shiva in 2001 has emerged as a global learning centre for living sustainably, equitably and peacefully on this beautiful and fragile planet Earth.
The Navdanya biodiversity conservation center in Doon Valley is recognized by the Government of Uttarakhand as a center for excellence for training in sustainable agriculture.
Dr. Shiva has authored 15 books and won numerous awards.
The term “industrial crop” generally refers to an agricultural product that is grown as a commodity and/or as the raw material for industrial goods, rather than for direct human consumption. However, many food crops are also grown in an intensive, industrial manner. Some of the hallmarks of industrial crop production include:
Medlock Ames works with nature rather than against it by acknowledging the presense of animals and respecting their habitat. By doing so, he allows both the vineyard and the surrounding wildlife to thrive.
Ames utilizes the sheep’s natural love for eating weeds to clear beneath the vines each year. Without sheep, a weed that dies and falls on the ground takes a long time to decompose and return its nutrients to the soil. If that same weed passes through the gut of a sheep, it returns its nutrients to the soil immediately and adds much greater soil fertility. In this way, targeted grazing results in cycling nutrients back into the soil.
From the animals’ point of view, the wildlife corridor provides unimpeded access to food, water and much larger habitat: the 3,000+ acre Pepperwood Preserve just to the East. From Ames’ point of view this means that they won’t have hungry deer invading the vineyard as it allows them to pass through the expansive preserve without issue.
Medlock Ames protects the wildlife by creating a balance between the vineyard and the surrounding natural habitat. If every acre of this vineyard was planted there would be no habitat for wildlife. These beasts would be forced to invade the vineyard, ultimately causing negative impacts for all. By carefully preserving and promoting natural habitats, Medlock Ames works with nature.
Chef Ann Cooper is the Renegade Lunch Lady. She is an internationally recognized author, chef, educator, public speaker, and advocate of healthy food for all children. She is also the founder of Food Family Farming Foundation, a nonprofit organization created to empower schools to serve nutritious whole food to all students. F3 supports positive change through educational training programs, direct services, a web portal and collateral resources. Chef Cooper envisions a time soon when being a chef working to feed children fresh, delicious, and nourishing food will no longer be considered “renegade.”
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