Upon receiving an honorary doctor of laws degree
University of Victoria
March 27, 2013
One future for food is the emergence of a food fascism. Not just this absolute uncontrollable power by a handful of corporations, but also the abuse of law against innocent farmers who are saving seeds. We’ve created a whole global movement on seed freedom because friends in Europe are being sued if they’re saving seeds; friends in Latin America are being sued for saving seeds.
They tried to pass a law like that in 2004 in India, but I’ve learned good lessons from Gandhi, and Gandhi told us that as long as the superstition exists that unjust laws must be obeyed, so long will slavery exist. In South Africa he resisted apartheid and said, “We will not be divided by race.”
And in India, the British, realizing that in tropical climates we need a lot of salt, thought they would make a lot of money if they could make salt a monopoly. They passed a law saying no one can make salt except the British. And Gandhi walked to the beach, picked up the salt from the sea and said, “Nature gives it for free. We need it for our survival. We will continue to make salt. We will not obey your law.”
Taking inspiration from that, I started seed saving in 1987. Every farmer who we work with takes a simple pledge that we’ve received this amazing biodiversity in seeds from nature and our ancestors. We owe it to future generations to protect the richness of diversity, the integrity of the seed, and therefore we cannot obey any law that makes our seed saving a crime because it violates our ecological duty.
And since we have to obey a higher law, the law of Gaia, the law of the planet, the law of social justice, the law of protecting the rights of future generations, we do not recognize patents on seed. How can you put a toxic gene into a plant and say, “I’m the creator”? GMO is “God Move Over. I’m God.”
Very often when we think of food we don’t think of the seed. Most young children don’t even know food begins in seed, and that’s a literacy we will have to begin creating.
Through Navdanya we’ve done it across the country. More than 500,000 farmers have joined our programs for seed sovereignty and food sovereignty. And for just remembering some simple things: that seed is not an intellectual commodity you buy every year. It’s in the seed, if it’s open pollinated, to renew itself in abundance. You plant one seed; the seed will give you thousands.
The Idle No More movement is saying, “We won’t allow our knowledge, our cultures, our history to be wasted. We won’t allow our future to be wasted because the dominant system is a culture of waste.” It’s a culture of waste because it is throwing away 50 percent of the food. There’s nothing efficient about it. How could something that uses 10 times more energy than it produces as food be called efficient?
And in the meantime we are destroying the planet. In my book Soil Not Oil, I concluded that 40 percent of the greenhouse gases come from an industrialized, globalized system of agriculture. This is the big chunk of the ecological problem. It’s also a big chunk of the human health problem. A billion people are hungry. Two billion are suffering from diseases of obesity, such as diabetes, none of which existed till a bad food system became the dominant system. And then add to it the cancers, the allergies, everything else that comes from the toxics that are going into our food system.
In our two and a half decades of work, we have found that the more biodiverse farms could be feeding two Indias. It doesn’t have to be the case that every fourth Indian is hungry, as is the reality today, and every second Indian child is wasted and stunted.
The model that says we are feeding the world is, in fact, creating hunger and malnutrition in the world because it’s not looking at nutrition. We could produce enough food for 14 billion, 20 billion humans on the planet. I’m not saying we must have those numbers, but we can increase the availability of nutrition and healthy food by intensifying biodiversity, ecological processes, love and care; it’s a very important ingredient in food.
And by intensifying knowledge: the knowledge of farmers, the knowledge of processors, the knowledge in universities of food systems as a whole. So far all that has been intensified is toxic chemicals, which means more disease and more ecological problems; capital inputs, which mean more debt, more mortgages, more destruction of family farms, carelessness and violence.
Every time an industry will tell you, “I’m bringing a new technology that doesn’t need the farmer to think,” I always say, “No, we want thinking farmers. We don’t want careless farmers.”
And we don’t want a culture of ignorance about food, about how food is grown, how soil works, how biodiversity relationships work, what happens when you mess around with food. We are in a deep ocean of ignorance. All of chemical fertilizers are based on three nutrients: NPK [nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium]. Every element of the periodic table is needed in the soil, in our bodies and in the plant.
The myth of cheap is the second big myth. Comes up all the time: Organic is a luxury. Local is a luxury. Ecological is a luxury. But how is it that seeds that cost 8,000 to 10,000 percent more give you cheap food? How is it that a food system subsidized with $400 billion — that’s more than $1 billion a day — is called cheap? You wouldn’t need any cutbacks if you got rid of those agribusiness subsidies.
And finally, of course, the challenge is democracy. We won’t be able to create another food culture, another food economy, if they do not reinvigorate our democracies, from the local to the regional to the global level. The dictatorship over the earth has to have an alternative, and that alternative will come from our gardens and our farms, our kitchens and our tables.
Can you imagine what an opportunity we’ve been given that every day we can create a revolution? Every day, three times, by making the right choices.
We have no excuse to be passive observers, to see our beautiful earth destroyed, to see our health and our children’s health destroyed. It is too basic an issue for us to not be part of the change we want to see.