By: HARSHINI VAKKALANKA, The Hindu
Two things happened in 1984, begins environmental activist Vandana Shiva. One was Operation Blue star and the second, the riots following the assassination of the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. “Something happened before Operation Blue Star and that story doesn’t get told, that is the story of the Green Revolution,” said Shiva, who was in town to speak at the International Women’s Conference at the Art of Living International Centre.
“And I wanted to understand why there was violence in Punjab when the Green Revolution had been given a Nobel peace prize. The Bhopal tragedy also happened in the same year. I did a study on the story behind the Green Revolution and it became the Violence of the green revolution. I did it for the Untied Nations and thanks to the publication of the article, I started to get invited to agriculture meetings.”
Vandana recalls that her work in agriculture began in the late 80s though her organization was registered a little later. “I went to a conference on biotechnology, on the future of food. It was by an industry which had no product in 1987. There were no GMO products then. They were talking about having to do genetic engineering in order to take patents because and they said patents, ownership and royalty collection was their real interest.”
These multi-nationals, which are actively involved in agriculture today, said Shiva, were the old war chemical industries, who then became the agro chemical industry and are now the seed industry through biotechnology.
After that meeting in 1987, Vandana decided she was going to keep a track of free trade, patents and GMOs. “More importantly, I decided that I was going to save the seeds. That’s why I started Navdanya. I was in Bangalore from 1979 to 1982, first in the Indian Institute of Science and then in the Indian Institute of Management, as a result of which I organized the farmers not just of Karnataka, but nationally.”
When corporates take patents, she says they are not creating anything. “You cannot invent a plant, you can only introduce a toxic gene and introducing a toxic gene is pollution not invention.”
Vandana insists most patents taken by corporates, are based on bio-piracy. “They patented the neem and we had to fight that for 11 years. They patented the basmati which comes from my valley in Dehradun, we fought that. Monsanto patented an old wheat variety with low gluten or no gluten we had to fight that.”
There are 900 patents on Indian Ayurvedic knowledge and plants, she says, we are talking about a major theft of our traditional knowledge and biodiversity. “Sovereignty over our knowledge is vital, otherwise we will be doing with every crop what happened with Bt.”
“They said genetic engineering is necessary to deal with hunger, but it does not increase yields.”
What we have learnt today, says Vandana, is that native seeds are not inferior, and are in fact often superior to genetically modified seeds.
“Native wheat will not give you gluten allergy, but the new wheat will. So if you look at nutrition, out varieties are good. But there is no fixed yield in nature and yet it’s not that local seeds are low-yielding varieties. Local varieties give you twice as much if you fertilize the soil,” she explains. “What we found is that through local seeds, organic farming, and crop diversity can double the food production for the country. We are saying this on the basis of our own farms and the farms of our members. So there need not be food scarcity in the country.”