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Vandana Shiva Fights Patents on Seeds

Vandana Shiva Fights Patents on Seeds

Vandana Shiva, the Indian scientist, and activist stands for social justice and uncompromising sustainability. The Alternative Nobel Prize winner gained worldwide attention through her fight against the agricultural giant Monsanto. But Vandana Shiva does not only want to fight patents on seeds and give the seeds back to the farmers who grow them. She is a well-known critic of globalization, speaks out publicly against the concentration of wealth, and fights for better coexistence on earth.

Vandana Shiva: From Physicist to Activist

A public lecture and press conference by Vandana Shiva and meeting with young farmers, NGOs and activists (2013)

Before Vandana Shiva became a world-renowned social activist, she studied physics in India and Canada. As early as the 1970s, she became involved in the first Indian environmental movement, the Chipko movement. It was mainly supported by Indian women who were fighting against commercial deforestation. In the 1980s, two major events finally led her to look into agriculture. Several tons of poisonous gas escaped into the atmosphere from a US pesticide factory in Bhopal, India. The worst chemical accident in history occurred, killing thousands of people. Also, riots broke out in Punjab, a predominantly agricultural area. Industrial fertilizer, pesticides, and new seeds from the USA promised higher yields for the local farmers, but at the same time led to dependence on large corporations and fatal environmental damage.

Fighting Patents on Seeds and Protecting Diversity

As a critic of globalization, Shiva was active against the monopoly position of transnational agricultural corporations like Monsanto, which were trying to exert increasing influence on Indian agriculture. In her home village of Dehadrun, she founded the institute “The Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology”, which observes the influence of the world market on Indian farmers. In 1991 Shiva founded the organization Navdanya, which stands for the protection of the biological diversity of seeds. Navdanya collects regional varieties and saves them from extinction. In addition, the organization promotes organic farming methods and protects farmers from dependence on patented seeds.

Seeds Belong to Those Who Grow Them

Shiva refers to what is happening in agriculture as “bio-imperialism“. Companies make seeds their property by making them easier to patent through the use of genetic engineering. Shiva’s life work has largely been devoted to fighting patents on seeds and she strongly criticizes this practice:

“Some Western companies remind me of a doctor who performs a c-section and claims he also made the child.”

The preservation of indigenous seeds in the hands of local communities and chemical-free agriculture with local markets are among Vandana Shiva’s most important goals. Her vision of ideal agriculture is based on fair trade and solidarity-based commerce, as well as on biodiversity and organic farming. For her commitment to environmental protection, women’s rights, and sustainability, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, considered the Alternative Nobel Prize.

Oneness vs the 1%

But Vandana Shiva’s activism is not only focused on agriculture: In 2019 she published her book “Oneness vs The 1%“. The 1%, is the symbol for the concentration of wealth according to the rules of neoliberal economies. She calls billionaires like Bill Gates bio-pirates, who act mainly in their own interests. Their engagement serves primarily to acquire resources and to collect and sell data. In an interview, she makes it clear:

“They cause all this destruction in the name of feeding the world, but has the world been fed? We need to take a step back to understand the true meaning of economy and ecology.”

Vandana Shiva: “The earth belongs to all of us, not to corporations like Monsanto”

On the occasion of Earth Day 2020, her organization Navdanya called for making peace with the earth. A global economy based on the myth of limitless growth and appetite for the earth’s resources, as corporations like Monsanto practice, is at the root of the current health crisis and future crises. It is important to learn to adequately protect the rights and ecological spaces of different species and peoples again. We must move from an economy of greed, competition, and violence to an economy of care: for the earth, for the people, and for all living species.

In an online interview with Right Livelihood College, Vandana Shiva talks about her visions for the future. In her opinion, one of the many reasons for the current crisis is our lack of respect for the environment. People should stop focusing on consumption in order to become true earth-citizens. When Vandana Shiva was asked about long-term changes for the time after the crisis, she says:

“We have to realize that we are not alone on this planet and that we have a responsibility towards others. We have a duty not to take more than our share, because when we are all connected, we all have a share.”

This article was republished from Scoop.me

Ecofeminism: Women’s Rights are Nature’s Rights

Ecofeminism: Women’s Rights are Nature’s Rights

What is Ecofeminism? 

Ecofeminism is a branch of feminism that recognizes the relationship between the destruction of the environment, and the marginalization of women. According to ecofeminists, the exploitation of nature and the oppression of women are inextricably connected, symptoms of the same foundational energy: masculine dominion and exertion of power.  

One of the strongest cases for this assertion can be found in the very words of the “Father of Modern Science” himself, Francis Bacon. Bacon, a major figure of the scientific revolution, is credited with developing the scientific method. 

Around the end of the 16th century, Bacon wrote at great length about human dominion over nature in a manner that squarely identifies nature as feminine and the pursuit of knowledge as masculine. In an excerpt from Restoring the Soul of the World: Our Living Bond with Nature’s Intelligence, author David Fideler examines the “shocking” imagery Bacon uses to illustrate how humans would subjugate nature.

Of his proposed scientific method of inquiry, Bacon said it wouldn’t “merely exert a gentle guidance over nature’s course,” but would “have the power to conquer and subdue her, to shake her to her foundations.” As a result, nature would be rendered the “slave of mankind,” ushering in a “truly masculine birth of time,” will be ushered in.

As Fideler points out, Bacon seems guided by the notion that the “only reason for experimentation in the first place is to gain power over the world.” 

Colonial Rejection of Nature As a Goddess

Bacon was not the only scientist of his time to view nature as a conquest. 

In the Yes Magazine article “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Forest,” ecofeminist and environmental advocate Vandana Shiva uses Robert Boyle, a 17th-century chemist and governor of the Corporation for the Propagation of the Gospel Among the New England Indians, as an example of how indigenous perspectives on nature were suppressed by colonizers. She writes: 

He attacked their perception of nature “as a kind of goddess” and argued that “the veneration, wherewith men are imbued for what they call nature, has been a discouraging impediment to the empire of man over the inferior creatures of God.”

For Shiva, this worldview transforms the earth from a vibrant, living being, to “dead matter” that justifies the exploitation and manipulation of nature. “After all,” she writes, “if the Earth is merely dead matter, then nothing is being killed.” 

This notion of separateness between man and nature turned earth into “empty land, ready for occupation,” paving the way for the Industrial and Green Revolutions. 

The Masculinization of Agriculture 

Agriculture and the rise of sedentary villages and towns were feminine creations. But civilization and warfare were not; they spelled the end for the Great Mother.  William Erwin Thompson, The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality and the Origins of Culture

In rural farming communities, women are the primary custodians of crop varieties. In her essay “Monoculture, Monopolies, Myths and the Masculinization of Agriculture,” Shiva writes that “women farmers have been the seed keepers and seed breeders for over millennia,” and play a central role as “knowers, producers, and providers of food.” 

Today, agricultural globalization has allowed for multinational corporations to gain control of land, knowledge, and innovation belonging to indigenous communities, and the women at the forefront, in developing countries. Biotechnology corporations such as Monsanto destroy biodiversity in these communities through monocropping, the practice of growing large amounts of a single crop in a field, which has been shown to have detrimental effects on the land. They have replaced renewable, diverse seed varieties with GMOs and hybrid seeds. 

Through Intellectual Property Right systems, which favor Western notions of private property, corporations patent and monopolize seeds and traditional knowledge systems that those communities have relied on for decades, destroying the livelihoods of farmers in the process. 

From the ecofeminist perspective, this maltreatment of the earth and its stewards is a feminist concern. Genetic engineering and Intellectual Property Right regimes will rob Third World women of their “creativity, innovation and decision-making power in agriculture” says Shiva. In their book Ecofeminism, Shiva and Maria Mies say that it is the “same masculinist mentality which would deny us our right to our own bodies and our own sexuality, and which depends on multiple systems of dominance and state power to have its way.” 

Shiva characterizes agricultural globalization as masculine due to the “war mentality underlying military-industrial agriculture.” The destruction of biodiversity and farmers’ rights to exchange and share seeds is intrinsically violent, she argues, against “nature’s biodiversity and women’s expertise.” 

The Western worldview equates femininity with passivity, and therefore something to be dominated, says Shiva in her book Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. But in the Third World, women and nature are “associated not in passivity but in creativity and the maintenance of life,” she writes. 

Western women, who lack the harmonious communion with nature their Third World sisters experience, may find it difficult to “perceive commonality between their own liberation and the liberation of nature,” write Shiva and Mies. The Western women’s movement still operates within a capitalist, patriarchal paradigm, fastening its “hopes on the progress of science and technology.” 

Reclaiming the Commons

Dr. Vandana Shiva has dedicated her life to protecting biodiversity, farmers, and small communities. Since the mid-90s, she has promoted traditional knowledge and livelihoods, sustainable agriculture, and biodiversity conservation. She is the founder of Navdanya, a network of seed keepers and organic producers that provide training in sustainable agriculture. 

Reclaiming the Commons is the latest in over 20 books authored by Shiva on biopiracy and environmental justice. It presents details on the specific attempts made by corporations to secure patents on nature, and the legal action taken against them. It is the first detailed legal history of the international and national laws related to biodiversity and international property rights.

Learn more

Sources

https://womenjusticeecology.wordpress.com/2009/07/04/dr-vandana-shiva-and-feminist-theory/

http://www.compilerpress.ca/ElementalEconomics/Articles/Shiva%20Monocultures,%20Monopolies,%20Myths%20and%20the%20Masculinization%20of%20Agriculture%201999.pdf

http://www.thesouloftheworld.com/the-new-experiment-putting-nature-on-the-rack/

https://www.yesmagazine.org/issue/nature/2019/05/03/vandana-shiva-seed-saving-forest-biodiversity/

Image credit: Bernard Gagnon

Biopiracy: When Corporations Patent Nature

Biopiracy: When Corporations Patent Nature

Since the early 20th century, multinational corporations have repeatedly claimed ownership of nature and indigenous knowledge systems from developing countries by means of patents, turning the biodiversity of the commons into private, commercialized property. This appropriation of indigenous resources for financial gain, with scarcely any recognition or compensation, is just one of the latest forms of colonialism, the centuries-old practice of affluent, technologically advanced nations exerting economic dominance over poorer, resource-rich countries. 

In the upcoming Synergetic Press title Reclaiming the Commons: Biodiversity, Indigenous Knowledge, and the Rights of Mother Earth, environmental activist and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva lays out in great detail the legal struggle to defend biodiversity against biopiracy and biocolonialism. 

Vandana Shiva at a 1993 rally protesting GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) in Bangalore

What is biopiracy? 

Biopiracy is when a corporation patents seeds and/or indigenous knowledge, gaining exclusive control over those materials. 

Through intellectual property laws created by Western nations, they can legally lay claim on plants and traditional applications of knowledge, despite the fact they have not innovated or invented anything. The burden of proof then lies on the affected community, which often does not possess the resources or legal knowledge to contest the claims. 

One glaring example of biopiracy the case of the neem tree, which has been an invaluable, “cure-all” resource in India for centuries, and can be sourced back to a number of ancient texts. One of its applications was agricultural – a potent insecticide, neem was fed to livestock to increase soil fertility. 

In the 20th century, the general American public became increasingly skeptical towards synthetic pesticides. Naturally, this sparked a corporate interest in neem, with the industry seeing lucrative potential in its natural appeal for American consumers. Since 1985, over a dozen US patents have been taken out on neem-based solutions and emulsions. As a result, prices skyrocketed, depriving local farmers of access to their traditional plant material, and making them dependent on the company owning the patent. 

Another example of biopiracy: a poster by Navdanya, an Indian-based non-governmental organization that promotes biodiversity conservation cofounded by Vandana Shiva, protesting corporations’ patent of rice.

Effects of biopiracy

Thanks to Western intellectual property right systems (IPRs), corporations (mostly pharmaceutical and agrochemical companies) have been able to scour biodiversity-rich countries for their resources and traditional knowledge, and gain exclusive monopoly rights to anything with commercial value via patent laws. This effectively restricts those communities from access to biological resources that have been part of their cultural heritage for centuries. 

Biopiracy has drastically affected the livelihood of farmers, who are cut off from the seeds they’ve relied on for centuries. Farmers are no longer allowed to exchange seed as they used to since that is now a crime under intellectual property laws. They are forced to buy seed from these corporations, rather than saving it, and generate profits for them. According to Shiva, most of the 300,000 farmer suicides in India happened as a result of Monsanto’s falsely claiming patents on cotton, and trapping farmers in debt through cotton royalties. 

It also has a destructive effect on the environment. Often, the biodiversity of the affected regions become eroded due to practices like monocropping, the practice of growing large amounts of a single crop on the same land. While this may be economically fruitful, it does not provide the diversity needed for a healthy diet or ecosystem. 

Hierarchy of knowledge systems

Throughout the long history of colonialism, and into the present day, Westerners have regarded indigenous knowledge systems of medicine and agriculture as primitive and inferior. Hundreds of years of rich and diverse traditional medicine systems, like Ayurveda, homeopathy, and Traditional Chinese Medicine, are dismissed as unscientific – unless, of course, their knowledge is found to be useful, in which case they are appropriated and legitimized without credit. 

There also exists a fundamental tension between Western and indigenous ideas around ownership. Private property is a keystone of Western society. Traditional IPRs, which are shaped by major Western nations, reflect this individualistic value system and work in favor of corporations that seek to monopolize and control any resource that turns a profit. In contrast, indigenous perspectives are more communally oriented, recognizing the land and water to be a sacred heritage shared by everyone. 

The national sovereignty and basic needs of these regions are compromised in the name of free trade and commerce. The World Trade Organization, an intergovernmental organization that regulates international trade, has created systems of law that benefit the multinational corporations, and harm small communities. 

In this 2003 Guardian article, Shiva writes: 

The trade-related intellectual property rights (Trips) agreement is the most far-reaching of all the WTO agreements and threatens to hurt us most. It has changed the law related to patents, copyright, design, and trademarks from national to global levels and redefined vital issues of farmers’ rights to seeds and citizens’ rights to medicine as trade issues. It has also expanded patentability to cover life forms, even though living organisms are not invention. For the US, which forced the changes through, these were matters of commerce. For us, intellectual property rights are matters of national sovereignty and basic needs.

Defending against biopiracy 

There have been some positive steps made towards defending against biopiracy. 

The Convention on Biological Diversity, a multilateral treaty signed in 1993, was created with the goal of “conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.” 

Since then, there have been two supplementary agreements made to the convention. One is the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, effective 2003, which “aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity.” The other is the Nagoya Protocol, effective 2014, which “aims at sharing the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources in a fair and equitable way.”

There have also been legal cases between corporations and indigenous people in which the latter were ruled in favor. 

In 2019, PepsiCo sued 4 farmers for 10 million rupees each for growing a variety of potatoes registered by the company. They claimed their intellectual property rights were being infringed upon under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act, 2001. However, according to the actual details of the act, the farmers were well within their rights to harvest the seed. Pepsico used false claims and intimidation tactics to nearly ruin the lives of farmers who earned a fraction of what they were being sued for annually. 

Reclaiming the Commons

Dr. Vandana Shiva has dedicated her life to protecting biodiversity, farmers, and small communities. Since the mid-90s, she has promoted traditional knowledge and livelihoods, sustainable agriculture, and biodiversity conservation. She is the founder of Navdanya, a network of seed keepers and organic producers that provide training in sustainable agriculture. 

Reclaiming the Commons is the latest in over 20 books authored by Shiva on biopiracy and environmental justice. It presents details on the specific attempts made by corporations to secure patents on nature, and the legal action taken against them. It is the first detailed legal history of the international and national laws related to biodiversity and international property rights. 

Learn more about Reclaiming the Commons


Sources

The neem tree – a case history of biopiracy
by Vandana Shiva
https://twn.my/title/pir-ch.htm

Points of Law in the Pepsico Potato Case

https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/points-of-law-in-the-pepsico-potato-case/article27060326.ece#

Biocolonialism: Examining Biopiracy, Inequality, and Power
by Ashleigh Breske

https://spectrajournal.org/articles/10.21061/spectra.v6i2.a.6/

Living on the Frontline
by Vandana Shiva

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2003/sep/08/wto.fairtrade8

The Convention on Biological Diversity

https://www.cbd.int/convention/

Seeds of Sustenance & Freedom vs Seeds of Suicide & Surveillance 

https://www.navdanya.org/bija-refelections/2019/09/07/seed-of-sustenance-freedom-vs-seeds-of-suicide-surveillance/

Protect or Plunder: Understanding Intellectual Property Rights by Vandana Shiva
https://www.amazon.com/Protect-Plunder-Understanding-Intellectual-Property/dp/1842771094

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