Vandana Shiva’s Address to the Reimagining Work Conference

Vandana Shiva’s Address to the Reimagining Work Conference 

click for youtube or transciption below by Sabrina Sideris

Detroit, Michigan – October 30, 2011

My health has prevented me from being with you. I was so looking forward to this new, exciting wave of transformation that’s overtaking the world, a new hope out of the despair. And you in Detroit who’ve seen total destruction of the old city, you are giving birth to a new place, a new city. I wanted to come and see the gardens of Detroit. I will one day. But today we’ll have to make due with this communication.

“Today, I realize that we’ve created a world that needs far more of our mental and intellectual and emotional attention than all the careers that we have had.”

I used to be a simple physicist working with quanta, working with transitions. Today, I realize that we’ve created a world that needs far more of our mental and intellectual and emotional attention than all the careers that we have had. That’s why I left my university career. And as I got involved with grassroots movement, as I got involved with the environmental movement, something started to stand out so blatantly.


One, the issue of production: where does production take place? Who produces? What is work? Women’s entire work was defined into non-work. All of the work of the Third World in our sustenance economies where we produce everything we need was defined as not existing. They were turned into non-economies. And the amazing work of nature in recycling the water, the photosynthesis, the pollination, the ocean currents, the climate, the biodiversity – all of that work was also turned into non-work. And all of this was done with a very false assumption that lies behind Gross National Product and Gross Domestic Product. And this assumption is called a production boundary: if you produce what you consume then you don’t produce. This is how independent economies, economic automony, nature’s work, women’s work, people’s work in sustenance and care, have all been denied their status as creative, productive activity. Only when you buy what you consume and you sell what you produce, growth takes place. You can chop a forest down, growth takes place.

But when my sisters of Chipko in the seventies, whom I joined as a volunteer,

came out to the Himalaya and said, “We will hug the trees, we won’t let you cut these trees because these trees are our mothers. They give us soil. They give us water. They give us pure air. They give us our livelihoods,” they were arrested for blocking revenue generation. Killing forests and killing life is rewarded. Protecting life is criminalized because growth has been made the new sacred. But growth doesn’t measure anything but commodification, financial flows, commercialization. And this perversion has gone so extreme today where fictitious monies being multiplied through speculation on Wall Street, multiplying itself many times over in a day, generating the super-profits for the banks, and, as a result inviting people to occupy Wall Street — I’m so glad young people have taken this leadership. We’re often told this movement has no leadership. It’s leadership to challenge the absolute power of the banks and the civility of our governments, which are willing to put $16 trillion in bank bailouts, trillions of dollars in wars, billions of dollars in subsidies to agricultural chemicals and poisons. And all that contributes to growth, but the fictitious growth. All of it is destroying life. All of it is threatening human well-being.

“Killing forests and killing life is rewarded. Protecting life is criminalized because growth has been made the new sacred.”

I’ve worked very closely with the government of Bhutan, and the Prime Minister invited me, the past year, to help make Bhutan 100% organic. They are 70% organic but they want to drive out all chemicals. And as the Prime Minister said when he invited Navdanya to help go organic, he said, “Growing organic is the real way of growing happiness.” And Bhutan has thrown away the concept of Gross National Product, Gross Domestic Product. They are focusing on Gross National Happiness.

We, in the feminist movement, have focused on making women’s work visible. Women ran re-generative economies. Women ran economies that are renewable every day, all the time, everywhere. But their work in renewability was defined as non-work. First we had it replaced with industrial production and now we have it replaced by speculation – financial speculation.

And we can see this cannot carry on. The economic system is collapsing, dragging with it people who are losing their homes, their jobs, their livelihoods. The financial system has taken entire countries into a sink. Look at Greece. Look at Spain. With the 15M movement, the Indignados are saying, “We’ve had enough. We will not pay for the bank’s bailout.” Or even Iceland, a prosperous country, and Ireland. And Italy could be the next country. And of course in the Third Word, it means more hunger, it means more unemployment.

And it’s the women and children who pay the highest price. Every second child in India today, in spite of our very high growth, is so severely malnourished they’re called “wasted.” Every third woman in India is suffering from malnutrition and anemia. All this is so unnecessary because nature, women, people can produce together much more than the industrial system produces. We’ve done a report called “Heath per Acre/Nutrition per Acre” showing that if you measure agriculture in terms of nutrition, ecological systems — predominantly run by women on small farms — produce much more food. Industrial systems use 10 units of energy to produce 1 unit of food-as-energy. That’s a robbery of 9 units. Some of it goes to pollute the air, give us climate change. 40% of all greenhouse gasses are coming from a non-sustainable industrial agriculture and globalized trade in food. The kind of agriculture we practice in Navdanya — and I hope some of you will come and visit us — is an agriculture that requires no external input. We save our own seeds so no royalties flow out to giants like Monsanto. We conserve the water and the soil and we produce much more food, and 2-3 times higher incomes for the small and marginal farmers.

There’s a second boundary that has been fictitiously created. I call this the creation boundary. The corporations strutted around and said, “We create life, therefore we must have patents on life.” Some friends have joked that genetic engineering and patenting, GMOs are basically saying GM, “Oh God, move over.” Life patenting for me is so obscene. That’s why in 1987, when I first heard the corporations say that’s the way they were going to make their money – collecting royalties. And, they talked about how they wanted to make it a crime for farmers to save seeds. Monsanto had a direct hand in writing the WTO agreement on trade-related intellectual property rights which forces patenting of life forms of the world. And Monsanto representatives have acknowledged, “We were the patients, the diagnostician, the physician, all in one. We defined the problem and the problem was that farmers save seed. And we defined the solution and the solution is, farmers should not be allowed to save seed.” A patented seed can’t be saved; saving it is a crime. And this is why Monsanto goes after farmers if they’ve saved seed. Now of course for the companies this means brilliant super-profits: they are seeking a $1 trillion market. But they’re stealing the knowledge, the creativity of nature on the one hand, and women who’ve been the traditional seed-treaters for millennia on the other hand.

I have fought many cases of biopiracy. A beautiful tree called the neem gives a natural pesticide in India. When the Bhopal disaster took place in ’84, I started a neem campaign. Ten years later, I find it had been patented, fought the case with the president of the Greens in Europe and the presidents of the international organic movement, Magda Aelvoet and IFOAM [the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements] — 3 of us, 3 women — fought a case for 11 years, and defeated the U.S. government and a big chemical company called Thermo Trilogy. Today the neem is free again. All the wheat — Monsanto patented an old wheat variety. And the basmati, the beautiful aromatic rice from my valley in Dehradun, was patented by a Texas company that said they had created and invented this rice. And now they’ve taken 1,600 patents on crops that are resilient to climate change. They haven’t created these crops. They’ve stolen them from our farmers who have bred draught tolerant crops, and flash-flood tolerant crops. First the corporations gave us climate change, now they’re stealing our biodiversity in the name of being inventors and creators. That’s another campaign we have, to save seeds that can resist and be resilient to climate.

But most important of all, our movement celebrates knowledge sovereignty and knowledge democracy. The capitalist patriarchs try to come over to India and put boundaries, a production boundary that says, “All of you who work for the welfare of humans and protection of nature don’t work.” A creation boundary to say, “Nature doesn’t create, people don’t create, we are god, we are the inventors of life – give us royalty.” In India the claim to royalty has meant an 8,000% increase in cotton seed which Monsanto controls, 95%. It has meant farmers have gone into deep debt and farmers can’t pay back that debt because the harvest is not what Monsanto promised. And the cost of pesticides are very high — 13 times more pesticides used in a crop that was meant to resist pests and kill pests.

So we have a new phenomenon in India we’d never seen before – indebted farmers are committing suicide on such a large scale that we’ve lost a quarter million of our farmers. They leave behind widows. Most of the time the widows don’t know that their husbands were borrowing from the very agents of Monsanto and bringing seed home on credit. A GM cotton seed and a non-GM seed doesn’t look any different. It’s only when the royalty payment comes that we realize that this is not the same as the open seed, the living seed, the seed that can be saved again and again and again.

“We are reclaiming the commons together. We are reclaiming creativity and work together. There is a life beyond Wall Street. There is a life beyond GDP and GNP.”

And as if this is not enough, as if a quarter million farmers being killed isn’t enough, as if 70% of the bees being terminated with toxic BT crops and pesticides is not enough, Monsanto is planning to bring a terminator technology because if there is no fertile seed and all seed is sterile, for everything we will depend on them. That is the ultimate dictatorship – when there is dictatorship over life itself, and that’s why alternatives have become an imperative. That’s why I’ve created the movement Navdanya for saving seeds, for protecting organic farming, and for creating fair trade.

We are creating living economies—economies that celebrate the life in nature, that celebrate our creativity, nature’s creativity. We will not be turned into disposable species, along with hundreds of thousands of other species that have been pushed to extinction. Humanity has a will to a future. You’re showing that in Detroit. The Occupy Wall Street movement is showing it in every town and square. We are reclaiming the commons together. We are reclaiming creativity and work together. There is a life beyond Wall Street. There is a life beyond GDP and GNP. There is a life beyond patents on life. And it’s that life and freedom that we will create, we will look back to this age, look at these giant corporations that have become a cancer on the planet, and laugh and say, they were the economic dinosaurs of our times. There will be other formations – each of you is contributing to it, and I hope some day some of you will come and visit us, come to our farm, join us at the beach. Because we must learn from each other solidarity and love.

“We are creating living economies — economies that celebrate the life in nature, that celebrate our creativity, nature’s creativity.”

Dr. Vandana Shiva is an Indian philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco-feminist. She left academics to start the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, a participatory, public interest research organization. She is also the founder of the Navdanya movement to protect biodiversity, defend farmers’ rights and promote organics. A world-renowned scientist, Dr. Vandana Shiva provides direction, inspiration and support to environmental activists.

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