Q&A: Vandana Shiva, environmental activist and writer

'Co-operation with nature, her laws, her limits has to become the next step of the co-operative movement to address climate chaos, water emergency, and the threat of extinction'

Vandana Shiva is an Indian scholar, environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate, and anti-globalisation author. She founded Navdanya (an NGO working to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources) in 1991 and is one of the keynote speakers at the ICA’s Global Conference, which takes place in Kigali, Rwanda, this month.

You are speaking at the ICA’s Global Conference in Rwanda, looking at how co-ops can help to achieve a more solidarity-based and participatory society. Do you see a role for co-ops in helping to meet Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of the self-sufficient rural economy?

Gandhi understood and practised non violence – Ahimsa – at a very deep level. We are social beings, we are members of the Earth community. Co-operation is the principle on which nature and community are organised. In a Gandhian perspective, co-operation is the lived commitment to non violence at the collective level. Competition as an imposed ideology and construct is violent because it disrupts relationships and undermines our capacity to co-operate on the principles of solidarity, mutuality and participation.

How does Navdanya promote organic farming and fair trade? Are any of the farmers you work with members of co-operatives?

Co-operation is the very basis of the Navdanya movement. Our foundation is the creation of community seed banks to reclaim seeds and biodiversity as a commons, and resist the privatisation and monopolisation of seed by corporations through intellectual property rights. The big chemical companies have been trying to control and own the seed, and trying to make the saving and sharing of seed among farmers illegal. We believe that farmers have a fundamental duty and right to save seeds, and through seed sovereignty build food sovereignty. We practise and promote participatory and evolutionary breeding based on the recognition of farmers as breeders. And farmers create collectives as producers of organic food, joining hands to practise economic and market sovereignty. Biodiversity-based organic farming as practised by Navdanya members can feed two times India’s population. And Navdanya members practising seed sovereignty, food sovereignty, knowledge sovereignty and economic sovereignty and solidarity earn 10 times more than farmers growing chemically intensive commodities with costs of inputs and costs of produce determined by big corporations. In the corporate model, farmers spend more than they earn, and are getting trapped in debt. More than 300,000 debt trapped farmers in India have committed suicide since 1995. Navdanya works for a hunger-free, suicide-free India.

Do co-ops need to adopt a more radical approach when it comes to climate change and the destruction of nature?

We are members of the Earth family. Co-operation with nature, her laws, her limits has to become the next step of the co-operative movement to address challenges of climate chaos, water emergency, and the threat of extinction. Co-operation now has to become our common commitment to thrive as one humanity on one planet.

You have fought against the monopoly of seeds in the hands the global corporations. Could the co-operative model be an alternative – such as in the case of IFFCO, India’s largest fertiliser manufacturer?

Community seed banks are an important aspect of the alternative to the corporate monopoly on seed. Some co-operatives have been successful in keeping seeds free of corporate control. This movement needs to grow bigger and spread worldwide.

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