‘Organic is the Future’

The seed bank at Navdanya, and (right) Vandana Shiva at the
organic farm. Courtesy: Sapna Gopal

By Sapna Gopal
HIMALAYAS, India, Jan 30 2020 (IPS)

Vandana Shiva, a pioneer of organic farming in India, is
incensed by the 2019 draft law to compulsorily register all seeds
used by farmers. On a wintry afternoon, at her farm Navdanya in the
Himalayan foothills, the noted ecologist spoke on the future of the
organic farming movement in India. Excerpts:

Q: What is your view on the Himalayas? How different
from the plains is it as a terrain?

A: Agriculture in the Himalayas is diverse
because every valley is different, every slope is different, every
altitude is different – the North and South faces are different.
So, biodiversity is even more important for mountainous regions and
for the Himalayas in particular. This is because the difference
between Himalayas and other mountains is, for instance in the Alps,
there is snow in the winter and there is no agriculture during that
time – our peak agriculture season is the monsoon and we get it
in four months. So, to not consider biodiversity while planning
agriculture is a recipe for ecological disaster as it was for
forestry which is why the Chipko movement started – which is how
I started my ecological life, 45 years ago.

Q: Do you think there is a revolution in organic farming
in India? Do you think the demand for organic produce is much more
now and there’s heightened awareness in this regard? If yes, is
this good news for the Indian market and the overseas
market?

A: There are three levels on which the
awareness on organic is growing — we have all worked for 35 years
to build this movement. Beginning with a network of people
concerned, we started Samvardhan, from Gandhi’s ashram in the
early 80s. Then, my book, Violence of the green revolution, is the
work that made me realise that we had to give up chemicals and move
to organic. So, in a lot of places, it is a revolution happening
because the green revolution has destroyed water (since it uses ten
times the water). As a result, people are shifting, because
there’s no way we can continue to deplete the last drop of water.
Farmers are also shifting because the cost of chemical agriculture
is so high that it is trapping farmers in debt – 77% of them are
in debt. This is for input purchase, not for marriages or wastage
of money, but for input of agriculture that’s based on chemicals.
Also, it is capital intensive and the fact is that there are
400,000 suicides among indebted peasants in India [over the last
few decades]. All these are helping farmers wake up to the fact
that this kind of agriculture is not for them.

Then, there are people in the cities who are realising that most
of their health problems are related to food and we know that
chronic diseases are food related. This being the case, it’s
better to shift to organic since it is the best medicine. As
Ayurveda says, annam sarvodayi [food as universal upliftement],
so that is the shift.

Over the years, I have worked with many states and we have
helped around seven of them make a shift towards organic policies.
They include Uttarakhand, Kerala (where the movement is very strong
and is spreading very fast), Madhya Pradesh, Sikkim (the first 100%
organic state in the world), Bihar and Odisha. Now, the government
in Odisha has declared an organic policy and our colleagues in
Odisha are on the board of the organic policy team. Ladakh as a
region (before all the political changes), declared itself
organic.

Outside India, the government of Bhutan is totally committed to
moving towards organic, and we have helped give advice. So, it is a
movement that must grow because there is no other way to farm. In
any case, the big companies that draw the chemicals are saying, we
don’t need farmers now. We will do farming without farmers. And
worse, they are also saying, we don’t need food either – we
will just cook together constituents in the lab – so between no
farmer and no food, the alternative that will work, for the farmer,
for the earth, for the people who have to eat, will be organic. So,
no matter how much of a denial takes place, this is the future.

Q: Do you think there is a problem in terms of
certification for organic farmers? Are there some policies which
could help address this issue?   

A: In the first instance, I remember going into
the commerce ministry and saying, why on earth are organic
standards being set by the commerce ministry? Our certification is
too heavily driven by European standards. I was on the National
Organic Board and we said that farmers can’t afford this – so,
what was done was that we created group certification. In fact,
Navdanya works through group certification — 100 farmers get
together and then the overheads come down. In 2018, the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) tried to
take over the organic standards and were going to make it
impossible for any farmer to distribute food, even locally, without
certification cost. I recollect fighting it out and saying, “No,
where farmers are growing food either for themselves or those they
know and directly selling it, the state will not enter in that
domain, you don’t need certification, you need relationship,”
and we managed to get that exclusion in the national law.

However, it’s a permanent fight because there are those who do
want to destroy the small farmer. Which is why for us in Navdanya,
from the time I founded it, it is beej swaraj (seed sefl-rule)
and ann swaraj (food self-rule) – so, we have to
have swaraj (self-rule, freedom) in our seed  and in our
food.

We wrote the laws on seed, we got rid of patenting in our laws,
we wrote the farmers rights law. I have been part of drafting these
laws, 10 to 15 years ago, and we did a satyagraha against seed
law that would have made compulsory registration of seed, like
compulsory certification of food. However, they have come back with
a worse draft in 2019, something that was defeated in 2004. So, you
can see that the powers of the industry are strong.

Q: We have witnessed a lot of suicides by farmers in
India. Where does the solution lie?

A: The solution comes from understanding the
cause, which is debt. Due to debt, there is loss of the land of the
farmer. Of all the suicides that I have studied, if I have been in
a region where the farmer has committed suicide, the story always
goes that the latter went to his field to take one last look,
 bought pesticide, and drank it in his field.

Why doesn’t a farmer commit suicide in his home and why the
field? That is because in India, most smallholder farmers have
received that land through generations of farming and the day the
creditors, who are agents of the corporations, come to say that now
your land is ours because you did not pay the debt – if he says
he never mortgaged his land, he is told that he signed a paper –
the shock of being cheated, the disaster of feeling he has betrayed
mother earth, all his ancestors who had this land, is what leads to
these suicides.

So, why does the farmer get into debt? I watched this in the
area of BT Cotton – they are told to sign a piece of paper. The
seeds are given for free, but the farmer does not realise he is
being piled under debt. Worse, the seeds keep failing, because they
are not designed for a drought prone area and are hybrids. They
can’t be saved, they can’t control pests – therefore, all
these false promises that are made, compel the farmer to constantly
go back to the market and take more and more seed, not realising
that it is all on credit.

I think it is wrong for a government to say replace your seed
and take bad seeds – what kind of government is this? Forcing bad
seeds in the name of seed replacement for farmers – it is really
anti-national, which is why I do satyagraha against all this. The
government’s public breeding has stopped – I filed an RTI
(Right to Information petition) and wanted to know how many seeds
the Cotton Research Institute had released and why farmers are not
buying it. It was found that there wasn’t a single release in
Vidarbha.

When I did a study and did not see an alternative, I decided we
would bring back the old cotton seed. In villages where we work in,
60% of the (genetically modified) BT cotton has gone.

**This story was first published by Thirdpole.net. You can read
it here.

The post ‘Organic
is the Future’
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
‘Organic is the Future’