Indian agroecologist Vandana Shiva is one of the world's foremost critics of monocultural food production.
A hero to peasant farmers in her country, she received her PhD from the University of Western Ontario in the late 1970s before becoming a thorn in the side of agrochemical giant Monsanto, which was swallowed up by Bayer in 2018.
One of her mantras is that biodiversity feeds the world—and eliminating it and the seeds that produce it are causing famine, farmers' suicides, and ecological catastrophe.
Tonight at 7:01 p.m., Shiva will join famed Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki in an online conversation as part of Vancouver's Indian Summer Festival.
In advance of this landmark event—which comes the day after International Biodiversity Day—the Georgia Straight asked Shiva five questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can read her answers below.
Georgia Straight: What impact COVID-19 is having on poor people in rural areas of India?
Vandana Shiva: Livelihoods of half of India have been destroyed as the lockdown, announced with a four-hour notice at midnight, shut down the economy. Farmers who had been displaced from agriculture because of corporate globalization of agriculture and WTO rules—and who had moved to cities to build highrises and superhighways, and work on precarious jobs in ever-growing cities—were turned into throwaway people. They are still on the roads, walking back to their villages. My commitment is to create living economies where no one goes hungry and no hands are without work.
GS: How would you rate the BJP national government's response to the pandemic?
VS: Identical to all others, except the suddenness of the lockdown.
GS: What is the most important lesson that the world should take from the spread of the novel coronavirus?
VS: As I have written in my "Ecological Reflections on the Corona Virus", the most important lesson we should take from this crisis is that we are not separate from nature. What we do to nature, we do to ourselves. One Planet, One Humanity, One Health, interconnected in our diversity, is the lesson we should take.
GS: What parallels, if any, do you see in how this situation is playing out in India and in North America?
VS: There is no difference except that India has larger numbers of poor people and also a much wider range of alternatives to the colonizing economy. And compassion for us still guides our relationships in society, especially among the poor. The governments of India and North America have used the crisis to undermine environmental laws and Indigenous people’s rights, and so have accelerated the destruction of the planet. They have also deregulated the economies of the billionaires. While 40 million Americans became unemployed, the American billionaires who are the new global rulers became richer by $434 billion.
GS: What advice do you have for civil society groups as they try to respond to the pandemic?
VS: Be resilient, stay well, stay healthy. Be compassionate to your fellow citizens and do not let physical distancing become social distancing, a separation in our hearts and minds. Do not let temporary measures meant to deal with a pandemic become permanent measures for a billionaire-run surveillance economy, mining our data, and turning our bodies and minds into the next raw material, the next colony. Start discussing what economy we should have in the future. What health system. What education system. What food system. Start discussing how we control and regulate the tech billionaires. The New Deal had three components: bringing the robber barons under democratic and social control, stopping the Dust Bowl, and addressing the Great Depression through creating work in conservation through a conservation corps. We are in a similar moment today—of robber barons out of control, planetary destruction threatening our present health and future survival, and millions without work and livelihoods. We need to regulate Big Money, Big Oil, Big Ag, Big Pharma, Big Tech, Big Finance. And we need to create new regenerative economies that are free of corporate control, and which create work through regenerating the earth, the soil, biodiversity, bees, and pollinators. Growing a garden and local food economies are the first in the Post-COVID transition. They also help us sow seeds of freedom.