Dr. Vandana Shiva, Director
Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology
The Workshop on "Women's Knowledge, Biotechnology and International
Trade -- Fostering a New Dialogue into the Millenium"
The International Conference on "Women in Agriculture"
June 28 - 2 July 1998
MONOCULTURES, MONOPOLIES, MYTHS AND THE
MASCULINISATION OF AGRICULTURE
by Dr. Vandana Shiva
I am writing this statement from beautiful Doon Valley in the Himalaya
where the monsoons have arrived, and our Navdanya (Nine Seeds -- Our
National Movement on Conservation of Biodiversity) team is busy with
transplanting of over 300 rice varieties which we are conserving alongwith
the rich diversity of other agricultural crops. Our farm does not use any
chemicals or external inputs. It is a self-regenerative system which
preserves biodiversity while meeting human needs and needs of farm animals.
Our 2 bullocks are the alternative to chemical fertilisers which pollute
soil and water as well as to tractors and fossil fuels which pollute the
atmosphere and destabilise the climate.1
One of the rice varieties we conserve and grow is basmati, the aromatic
rice for which Dehra Dun is famous.
The basmati rice which farmers in my valley have been growing for centuries
is today being claimed as "an instant invention of a novel rice line" by a
U.S. Corporation called RiceTec (no. 5,663,454).2 The "neem" which our
mothers and grandmothers have used for centuries as a pesticide and
fungicide has been patented for these uses by W.R. Grace, another U.S.
Corporation.3 We have challenged Grace's patent with the Greens in
European Parliament in the European Patent Office.
This phenomena of biopiracy through which western corporations are stealing
centuries of collective knowledge and innovation carried out by Third World
women is now reaching epidemic proportions. Such "biopiracy" is now being
justified as a new "partnership" between agribusiness and Third World
women. For us, theft cannot be the basis of partnership. Partnership
implies equality and mutual respect. This would imply that there is no
room for biopiracy and that those who have engaged in such piracy apologise
to those they have stolen from and whose intellectual and natural
creativity they want to undermine through IPR monopolies. Partnership with
Third World women necessitates changes in the WTO/TRIPs agreement which
protects the pirates and punishes the original innovators as in the case of
the U.S./India TRIPs dispute.4 It also requires changes in the U.S.
Patent Act which allows rampant piracy of our biodiversity related
knowledge. These changes are essential to ensure that our collective
knowledge and innovation is protected and women are recognised and
respected as knowers and biodiversity experts.5
Women farmers have been the seed keepers and seed breeders over millenia.
The basmati is just one among 100,000 varieties of rice evolved by Indian
farmers. Diversity and perenniality is our culture of the seed. In Central
India, which is the Vavilov Centre of rice diversity, at the beginning of
the agricultural season, farmers gather at the village deity, offer their
rice varieties and then share the seeds. This annual festival of "Akti"
rejuvenates the duty of saving and sharing seed among farming communities.
It establishes partnership among farmers and with the earth.
IPRs on seeds are however criminalising this duty to the earth and to each
other by making seed saving and seed exchange illegal. The attempt to
prevent farmers from saving seed is not just being made through new IPR
laws, it is also being made through the new genetic engineering
technologies. Delta and Pine Land (now owned by Monsanto) and the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA) have established new partnership through a
jointly held patent ( No.5723785) to seed which has been genetically
engineered to ensure that it does not germinate on harvest thus forcing
farmers to buy seed at each planting season. Termination of germination is
a means for capital accumulation and market expansion. However, abundance
in nature and for farmers shrinks as markets grow for Monsanto. When we
sow seed, we pray, "May this seed be exhaustless". Monsanto and the USDA
on the other hand are stating, "Let this seed be terminated so that our
profits and monopoly is exhaustless".
There can be no partnership between the terminator logic which destroys
nature's renewability and regeneration and the commitment to continuity of
life held by women farmers of the Third World. The two worldviews do not
merely clash - they are mutually exclusive. There can be no partnership
between a logic of death on which Monsanto bases its expanding empire and
the logic of life on which women farmers in the Third World base their
partnership with the earth to provide food security to their families and
There are other dimensions of the mutually exclusive interests and
perspectives of women farmers of the Third World and biotechnology
corporations such as Monsanto.
The most widespread application of genetic engineering in agriculture is
herbicide resistance i.e. the breeding of crops to be resistant to
herbicides. Monsanto's Round up Ready Soya and Cotton are examples of this
application. When introduced to Third World farming systems, this will
lead to increased use of agri-chemicals thus increasing environmental
problems. It will also destroy the biodiversity that is the sustenance and
livelihood base of rural women. What are weeds for Monsanto are food,
are fodder and medicine for Third World Women.
In Indian agriculture women use 150 different species of plants for
vegetables, fodder and health care. In West Bengal 124 "weed" species
collected from rice fields have economic importance for farmers.6 In the
Expana region of Veracruz, Mexico, peasants utilise about 435 wild plant
and animal species of which 229 are eaten.7
The spread of Round Up Ready crops would destroy this diversity and the
value it provides to farmers. It would also undermine the soil
conservation functions of cover crops and crop mixtures, thus leading to
accelerated soil erosion. Contrary to Monsanto myths, Round Up Ready crops
are a recipe for soil erosion, not a method for soil conservation.8
Instead of falsely labelling the patriarchal projects of intellectual
property rights on seed and genetic engineering in agriculture which are
destroying biodiversity and the small farmers of the Third World as
"partnership" with Third World women, it would be more fruitful to redirect
agricultural policy towards women centred systems which promote
biodiversity based small farm agriculture.
A common myth used by Monsanto and the Biotechnology industry is that
without genetic engineering, the world cannot be fed. However, while
biotechnology is projected as increasing food production four times, small
ecological farms have productivity hundreds of time higher than large
industrial farms based on conventional farms.9
Women farmers in the Third World are predominantly small farmers.10 They
provide the basis of food security, and they provide food security in
partnership with other species. The partnership between women and
biodiversity has kept the world fed through history, at present, and will
feed the world in the future. It is this partnership that needs to be
preserved and promoted to ensure food security.
Agriculture based on diversity, decentralisation and improving small farm
productivity through ecological methods is a women-centred, nature friendly
agriculture. In this women-centred agriculture, knowledge is shared, other
species and plants are kin, not "property", and sustainability is based on
renewal of the earth's fertility and renewal and regeneration of
biodiversity and species richness on farms to provide internal inputs. In
our paradigms, there is no place for monocultures of genetically engineered
crops and IPR monopolies on seeds.
Monocultures and monopolies symbolise a masculinsation of agriculture. The
war mentality underlying military-industrial agriculture is evident from
the names given to herbicides which destroy the economic basis of the
survival of the poorest women in the rural areas of the Third World.
Monsanto's herbicides are called "Round up", "Machete", "Lasso" American
Home Products which has merged with Monsanto calls its herbicides
`Pentagon', `Prowl', `Scepter', `Squadron', `Cadre', `Lightening',
`Assert', `Avenge'. This is the language of war, not sustainability.
Sustainability is based on peace with the earth.
The violence intrinsic to methods and metaphors used by the global
agribusiness and biotechnology corporations is a violence against nature's
biodiversity and women's expertise and productivity. The violence intrinsic
to destruction of diversity through monocultures and the destruction of the
freedom to save and exchange seeds through IPR monopolies is inconsistent
with women's diverse non-violent ways of knowing nature and providing food
security. This diversity of knowledge systems and production systems is
the way forward for ensuring that Third World women continue to play a
central role as knowers, producers and providers of food.11
Genetic Engineering and IPRs will rob Third World women and their
creativity, innvoation and decision making power in agriculture. In place
of women deciding what is grown in fields and served in kitchens,
agriculture based on globalisation, genetic engineering and corporate
monopolies on seeds will establish a food system and worldview in which men
controlling global corporations control what is grown in our fields and
what we eat. Corporate men investing financial capital in theft and
biopiracy will present themselves as creators and owners of life.
We do not want a partnership in this violent usurpation of the creativity
of creation and Third World women by global biotechnology corporations who
call themselves the "Life Sciences Industry" even while they push millions
of species and millions of small farmers to extinction.
a) Cultivating Diversity:Biodiversity Conservation and the
Politics of the Seed", Research Foundation for Science,
Technology and Natural Resource Policy (RFSTNRP),
New Delhi, 1993
b) Sustaining Diversity:Renewing Diversity and Balance
Through Conservation", RFSTNRP, New Delhi, 1994
c) The Seed Keepers", RFSTNRP, New Delhi, 1995
2. Vandana Shiva, " Biodiversity and IPRs: Lessons from Basmati
Biopiracy" and "The Basmati Patent:What it Implies? How
Should India Respond? Briefing Papers prepared for the
Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological
Diversity held in Bratislava, May 1998
3. Vandana Shiva, K.Vijayalakshmi, K.S. Radha, "Neem: A User's
Manual" RFSTNRP, New Delhi and CIKS, Madras, 1995
4. Vandana Shiva, "W.T.O,. Rules Against Democracy and Justice in
the U.S.- India TRIPs Dispute", Briefing paper prepared
for the Conference of Parties to the Convention on
Biological Diversity, Bratislava May 1998)
5. Vandana Shiva, Afsar H.Jafri, Gitanjali Bedi, Radha
Holla-Bhar, "The Enclosure and Recovery of the Commons",
Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology
(RFSTE), New Delhi, 1997
6. Hope Shand, "Harvesting Diversity", RAFI, 1997.
7. UNDP, Agroecology: Creating the Synerginism for a Sustainable
8. Speech delivered by Hendrik Verfaillie, President, Monsanto at the
Forum on Nature and Human Society, National Academy of
Sciences, Washington D.C.-- October 30, 1997
9. Vandana Shiva, "Betting on Biodiversity: Why Genetic
Engineering Will Not Feed the Hungry", RFSTE, New
a) Vandana Shiva, "Betting on Biodiversity: Why Genetic
Engineering Will Not Feed the Hungry", RFSTE,
New Delhi, 1998
b) Vandana Shiva, "Globalisation of Agriculture, Food
Security and Sustainability, RFSTE, New Delhi,
11. Vandana Shiva, "Most Farmers in India are Women", FAO, 1991
a) Vandana Shiva, "The Violence of Green Revolution:Third World
Agriculture, Ecology and Politics", TWN, Malaysia, 1991 and
the Other India Book Store, Goa, 1993
b) Vandana Shiva, "Monocultures of the Mind:Biodiversity,
Biotechnology and the Third World", TWN,
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