Whoever Controls the Food System Controls Democracy: Vandana Shiva’s Take on the Profit-Driven Food System

By Ronica Lu

On Thursday, June 28, the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project and the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition will release Eating Planet–Nutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet in New York City. Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights a contributing author of Eating Planet, and shares his views on how to fix the broken food system. Tune in on the 28th via livestream: we will be taking questions in real time from the audience, from the livestream, and from Twitter and Facebook.

Vandana Shiva is also the founder and director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy. (Photo credit: BarillaCFN)

The Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition’s recent publication, Eating Planet–Nutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet, features an interview with Dr. Vandana Shiva, an Indian activist and the founder of Navdanya—a movement for the conservation of biodiversity and rights of farmers.

According to Shiva, the rising number of hungry people, water scarcity, loss of biodiversity, climate change, and the loss of soil fertility are being caused by a profit-motivated model of farming. This model, which is practiced all over the world, tends to forget, she says, “the nutrition of the soil and nourishment of the people, and essentially produces non-food,” such as maize and soybeans. This non-food, according to Shiva, becomes junk food which perpetuates obesity and chronic disease and contributes to environmental problems.

Developing countries should act now to prevent climate change and disease from getting worse by treating small farmers as valuable social capital, according to Shiva. Small farms produce a large share of healthy food, she says, including indigenous vegetables and grains. If small-scale farmers imitate the large scale industrial farming of the West, says Shiva, livelihoods of farmers will be destroyed along with food security.

The value of biodiversity also needs to be recognized as real capital. A respect for land and farmers has been lost over generations and replaced by the technological advances in the Green Revolution and genetic engineering, according to Shiva. Farmers possess the knowledge and techniques that sustain harvest production, while conserving resources generation after generation.

Shiva argues that whoever controls our food system will control our democracy. And today’s food is being controlled through the control of seeds. Big agribusinesses such as Monsanto—who is one of the biggest players in seed patent and production—she says takes away the democracy of third world farmers to have their own seeds. In essence, the democracy of the people to choose the food they grow and know what’s in their food is relinquished. Food democracy means having seed sovereignty, the ability to grow and have ownership of food, and preventing the $400 billion of production subsidies that give industrial farming an unfair benefit.

The fact is that a large majority of people living in the developing countries worldwide— in China, India, Africa, and Latin America—are small farmers. To prevent farmers from being unable to feed themselves, being dispossessed, and indebted to agricultural business companies, it’s crucial to treat them as valuable social capital and holders of time-tested indigenous knowledge.

What other approaches should developing countries take towards agriculture to prevent the problem from getting worse?

 Ronica Lu is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project.

Tune in to the launch on the 28th via livestream: we will be taking questions in real time from the audience, from the livestream, and from Twitter and Facebook. You can also purchase your own copy of Eating Planet for $3.99 on Amazon or iTunes.

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