Natural Foods Merchandiser

Economy needs to grow organically

The 20th century economy was driven by fossil fuels, and look where that got us, said Vandana Shiva, Ph.D., during her Saturday afternoon presentation. In order to repair today’s financial crisis, the 21st century needs to be devoted to a biodiverse, natural economy, she said.

Shiva, named a Time magazine environmental hero in 2003, has had plenty of time to think about how to fix the economy and repair the global environment through her work as director of the Research Foundation on Science, Technology and Ecology. As a pioneer of the Indian organic movement, a leader in the International Forum on Globalization and author of many books, she said “a large part of my work is finding, for everything toxic, a substitute in biodiversity--and there is a substitute for everything.”

Shiva said there are several reasons why a natural economy is a good solution. First of all, industrialized agriculture is much more expensive than organic agriculture. Genetically modified Indian cotton, for instance, costs 10 times more to produce than farmers earn from the sale of the cotton, she said. “In areas where Bt cotton has been introduced, they now have the highest rate of farmer suicides” because the farmers can’t earn a living.

“The petroeconomy has created a system of dictatorship over our lives,” she said. “You get cheap jeans by annihilating life--the Indian farmer kills himself to produce the cheap cotton; the Chinese worker kills himself to manufacture the jeans.”

Industrialized agriculture is also contributing to climate change that is devastating countries and their economies, Shiva said, citing statistics that fertilizer use, emissions from intensive livestock farming and forest thinning contributes to 40 percent of the climate problem.

“Monsanto says they are inventing the genes for climate resilience, and a lot of governments are falling for this. But these traits already exist in nature--all they’re doing is pirating it.” She said because genetic engineering is in an early stage, it can only focus on single-gene traits, whereas climate resilience is complex and needs multigene engineering.

Shiva’s Navdanya seed company is creating banks of seeds to address climate change--drought-resistant varieties, for instance--that she said are more effective than GE climate-resistant seeds.

Shiva said another economic problem is biopiracy--“this phenomena of taking natural knowledge and patenting it,” that has been wrongly embraced by governments. “If this economy has to grow, then this economy needs to be free of patent monopolies,” she said to applause from the audience.

“We can’t afford natural, organic products to be a tiny niche. They will have to become the economy,” she said. “The more we build natural economies and not the fictitious economies that collapse overnight like Wall Street, the more we build democracy. Working with nature means building a new culture for the 21st century--a culture of peace, a culture of democracy and a culture of joy.”

Vicky Uhland
Contributing writer
Natural Foods Merchandiser

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