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India is steeped in a synthesized controversy created by Monsanto on the first GMO crop supposedly approved for commercialization. Engaged in litigation on many fronts, Monsanto is trying to subvert India's patent laws: Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Right Act, Essential Commodities Act and Competition Act. It is behaving as if there is no Parliament, no democracy, no sovereign laws in India to which it is subject. Or it simply doesn't have any regard for them.

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In another theatre, Monsanto and Bayer are merging. They were one as MoBay (MonsantoBayer), part of the poison cartel of I.G. Farben. The controlling stakes of both corporations lie with the same private equity firms. The expertise of these firms is in war. I.G. Farben, Adolf Hitler's economic powerhouse and pre-war Germany's highest foreign exchange earner, was also a foreign intelligence operation. Hermann Schmitz was president of I.G. Farben, Schmitz's nephew Max Ilgner was a director of I.G. Farben, while Max's brother Rudolph Ilgner ran the New York arm as vice-president of Chemnyco.

Paul Warburg, brother of Max Warburg (board of directors, Farben Aufsichtsrat), founded the U.S. Federal Reserve System. Max Warburg and Hermann Schmitz played a central role in the Farben empire. Other "guiding hands" of Farben Vorstand included Carl Bosch, Fritz ter Meer, Kurt Oppenheim and George von Schnitzler. Each of them was adjudged a "war criminal" after World War II, except Paul Warburg.

Monsanto and Bayer have a long history. They made explosives and lethally poisonous gases using shared technologies and sold them to both sides in the two world wars. The same war chemicals were bought by the Allied and Axis powers, from the same manufacturers, with money borrowed from the same bank.

MoBay supplied ingredients for Agent Orange in the Vietnam War. Around 20 million gallons of MoBay defoliants and herbicides were sprayed over South Vietnam. Children are still being born with birth defects, adults have chronic illnesses and cancers, due to their exposure to MoBay's chemicals. Monsanto and Bayer's cross-licensed Agent Orange resistance has also been cross-developed for decades. Wars were fought, lives lost, nations carved into holy lands — with artificial boundaries that suit colonization and resource grab — while Bayer and Monsanto sold chemicals as bombs and poisons and their brothers provided the loans to buy those bombs.

More recently, Bayer CropScience AG and Monsanto are believed to have entered into a long-term business relationship. This gives Monsanto and Bayer free access to each other's herbicide and paired herbicide resistance technology. Through cross-licensing agreements, mergers and acquisitions, the biotech industry has become the I.G. Farben of today, with Monsanto in the cockpit.

The global chemical and GMO industry—Bayer, Dow Agro, DuPont Pioneer, Mahyco, Monsanto and Syngenta—have come together to form the Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII) to try and become bigger bullies in this assault on India's farmers, environment and democratically-framed laws that protect the public and the national interest. This is in addition to Association of Biotechnology-Led Enterprises (ABLE), which tried to challenge India's seed price control order issued under the Essential Commodities Act in the Karnataka high court. The case was dismissed.

The new group is not "seed industry;" they produce no seeds. They try to stretch patents on chemicals to claim ownership on seeds, even in countries where patents on seeds and plants are not allowed. This is the case in India, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and many other countries.

All Monsanto cases in India are related to Monsanto un-scientifically, illegally and illegitimately claiming patents on seed, in contempt of India's laws, and trying to collect royalties from the Indian seed industry and farmers. The FSII is an "I.G. Farben 100-Year Family Reunion," a coming together of independent and autonomous entities.

The Farben family chemical cartel was responsible for exterminating people in concentration camps. It embodies a century of ecocide and genocide, carried out in the name of scientific experimentation and innovation. Today, the poison cartel is wearing G-Engineering clothes and citing the mantra of "innovation" ad nauseam. Hitler's concentration camps were an "innovation" in killing; and almost a century later, the Farben family is carrying out the same extermination—silently, globally and efficiently.

Monsanto's "innovation" of collecting illegal royalties and pushing Indian farmers to suicide is also an innovation in killing without liability, indirectly. Just because there is a new way to kill doesn't make killing right. "Innovation," like every human activity, has limits—set by ethics, justice, democracy, the rights of people and of nature.

I.G. Farben was tried in Nuremberg. We have national laws to protect people, their right to life and public health, and the environment. India's biosafety and patent laws and the Plant Variety Act are designed to regulate greedy owners of corporations with a history of crimes against nature and humanity.

Industry is getting ready to push its next "gene," the GMO mustard (DMH-11). The GMO mustard, being promoted as a public sector "innovation," is based on barnase/barstar/gene system to create male-sterile plants and a bar gene for glufosinate resistance. In 2002, Pro-Agro's (Bayer) application for approval of commercial planting of GM mustard based on the same system was turned down.

Although banned in India, Bayer finds ways to sell glufosinate illegally to Assam's tea gardens and the apple orchards of Himachal Pradesh. Sales agents show the sale of glufosinate under the "others" category to avoid regulation. These chemicals are finding their way into the bodies of our children without government approval. Essentially, all key patents related to the bar gene are held by Bayer Crop Science, which acquired Aventis Cropscience, which itself was created out of the genetic engineering divisions of Schering, Rhone Poulenc and Hoechst. Then Bayer acquired Plant Genetic Systems and entered into cooperation agreement with Evogene, which has patents on genome mapping.

Before any approval is granted to genetically-engineered mustard, the issue of limits to patentability needs to be resolved on the basis of Indian laws and patents on plants and seeds and methods of agriculture must not be allowed. Deepak Pental, a retired professor and GMO-Operative, will not commercialize GMO mustard seed. His officers at Bayer/Monsanto/MoBay will.

Given our experience with GMO cotton, The Ministry of Environment & Forests is considering the option of putting in place guidelines for socio-economic assessment to judge proposed GMO varieties on the basis of factors such as the economy, health, environment, society and culture.

At the core of socio-economic assessment is the issue of monopolies and cartels, and their impact on small farmers. Even though patents on seeds are not allowed, for more than a decade and a half, Monsanto has extracted illegal royalties from Indian farmers, trapping them in debt and triggering an epidemic of farmers' suicides. Monsanto's war on India's foot soldiers—farmers—is a war being waged by the Farben family, on our Earth family.

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Vandana Shiva

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Dr. Vandana Shiva

What happens to the seed affects the web of life. When seed is living, regenerative and diverse, it feeds pollinators, soil organisms and animals—including humans. When seed is non-renewable, bred for chemicals, or genetically engineered with toxic Bt or Roundup Ready genes, diversity disappears.

In recent years, beekeepers have been losing 25 percent of their hives each winter. According to a scientific study in 2008, bees and pollinators contribute more than €153 billion annually to agriculture. Chemically-farmed soils, sprayed with herbicides and pesticides kill the beneficial organisms that create soil fertility and protect plants.

Organic seeds and organic farming do not just protect human health; they protect the health and wellbeing of all.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The Rise of Monocultures

With industrial seeds and industrial agriculture, the diversity of plants and crops disappears. India had 200,000 rice varieties before the "green revolution" in the 1970s, which relied on pesticides and fertilizers to avert famine in India. This diversity was replaced by monocultures.

Today the fastest expanse in acreage is of genetically engineered corn and soya, because they are patented and corporations can collect royalties from farmers. When seed freedom disappears and farmers become dependent on genetically modified organism (GMO) seeds, they in effect become seed slaves.

According to the National Bureau of Crime Records, more than 284,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide since seed monopolies were established in India. Gandhi spun cotton for our freedom. Today GMO Bt cotton has enslaved our farmers in debt, and pushed them to suicide. And 95 percent cotton seed is controlled by one company: Monsanto.

When culture is eroded, biodiversity is eroded. And when control over seeds becomes big business, diversity disappears faster. Diversity is a product of care, connection and cultural pride.

Greed Versus Care

The tribals and peasants who gave us rice diversity wanted to evolve a rice for lactating mothers, a rice for babies, a rice for old people. They wanted to have rices that would survive droughts and floods and cyclones, so they evolved climate-resilient rices. In the Himalaya, different rices are needed for different altitudes and different slopes. The intimacy and care that go with belonging to a place and a community allows diversity to flourish.

Greed promotes carelessness and drives control, and control is facilitated by uniformity and monocultures. You cannot control diversity, you can only co-evolve and co-create with it.

A will to control becomes a will to destroy diversity, through what I have called the monoculture of the mind. And the expansion of corporate control over seed and plants is the main reason for the disappearance of diversity in our fields and in our food.

Undermining Health and Nutrition

Corporations first controlled agriculture through the chemical inputs for the green revolution. External chemical inputs demand uniformity and monocultures. In an ecological system, wheat and mustard and chana grow in a mixture, as an internal input self-organizing system is based on diversity and co-operation. When ecological inputs are replaced with external inputs, diversity becomes a problem, and monocultures become an imperative. Chemically-fertilized crops start competing with one another and different external inputs have to be applied to different crops.

This is how the green revolution destroyed our rich diversity of rice and wheat. Millets, which we at Navdanya call forgotten foods, were driven out of our farms and from our plates on totally unscientific criteria of being called inferior grains, even though in health and nutrition terms they are superior to green revolution and hybrid rice and wheat.

Indigenous rice and wheat varieties are superior in nutrition to the new varieties. Native rices have a low glycaemic index, while industrial rice has a high glycaemic index. When all that the poor get is industrial rice, they also get diabetes. India is now the capital of diabetes, which is intimately linked to the disappearance of diversity.

Not only does living, organic seed have more quality, nutrition and taste; farming systems that are based on biodiversity produce more nutrition and "health per acre", as the Navdanya study has shown. Seed freedom is the answer to hunger and malnutrition. One billion people today are hungry and two billion are obese because agriculture is out of balance with nature. Half of humanity is denied wellbeing through food.

Globalization and the Disappearance of Diversity

Globalization means an expanded and aggressive assault on the diversity of our crops and foods is taking place. There are three forces driving the disappearance of diversity, and all are connected to corporate control over seed and food.

The first is the entry of big business in the seed market, with uniform commercial, industrial hybrids and GMOs, and the consequent displacement of local diverse varieties evolved by farmers. Local farmers grew different water melon varieties, and water melons were seasonal fruits. Today you get only one oblong variety everywhere, all year round, because watermelon seeds are now commercial hybrids sold by corporations, which can only breed and sell uniformity.

The second factor in the disappearance of diversity is long-distance trade. Diversity goes hand in hand with local, decentralised food systems. Long-distance trade replaces freshness and softness with hardness, so fruits can travel. You may have noticed how soft jacket oranges have disappeared and been replaced with varieties that cannot be peeled. Corporations are advising the Indian government that bananas and mangoes need a makeover to travel longer, and stay longer on shelves.

The third factor is industrial processing. When McDonald's wants potatoes for French fries, only Russell Burbank will grow. Pepsi's Lay's chips cannot use indigenous potato diversity—such as the tomri that we grow in the mountains. Ketchup requires tomatoes with pulp, not juice. So the juicy, tasty tomatoes disappear, and hard and tasteless tomatoes replace them.

The Italians have continued to grow good, diverse tomatoes since and have managed to get the Mediterranean diet on the Unesco heritage list. Every cuisine in every part of India deserves to be recognized as a cultural heritage.

Navdanya has been making its contributions to protecting biodiversity and food heritage. But the issue is too important not to be taken up by every citizen in their daily lives. We are what we eat. When we are careless with food we are careless with ourselves. Will we only wake up when the last peasant and the last seed disappears?

Originally posted in The Guardian.

Visit EcoWatch’s GE FOODS page for more related news on this topic.

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Vandana Shiva

My ecological journey started in the forests of the Himalaya. My father was a forest conservator, and my mother became a farmer after fleeing the tragic partition of India and Pakistan. It is from the Himalayan forests and ecosystems that I learned most of what I know about ecology. The songs and poems our mother composed for us were about trees, forests and India’s forest civilizations.

My involvement in the contemporary ecology movement began with “Chipko,” a nonviolent response to the large-scale deforestation that was taking place in the Himalayan region.

In the 1970s, peasant women from my region in the Garhwal Himalaya had come out in defense of the forests.

Logging had led to landslides and floods, and scarcity of water, fodder and fuel. Since women provide these basic needs, the scarcity meant longer walks for collecting water and firewood, and a heavier burden.

Women knew that the real value of forests was not the timber from a dead tree, but the springs and streams, food for their cattle and fuel for their hearths. The women declared that they would hug the trees, and the loggers would have to kill them before killing the trees.

A folk song of that period said:

These beautiful oaks and rhododendrons,
They give us cool water
Don’t cut these trees
We have to keep them alive.

In 1973, I had gone to visit my favorite forests and swim in my favorite stream before leaving for Canada to do my Ph.D. But the forests were gone, and the stream was reduced to a trickle.

I decided to become a volunteer for the Chipko movement, and I spent every vacation doing pad yatras (walking pilgrimages), documenting the deforestation and the work of the forest activists, and spreading the message of Chipko.

One of the dramatic Chipko actions took place in the Himalayan village of Adwani in 1977, when a village woman named Bachni Devi led resistance against her own husband, who had obtained a contract to cut trees. When officials arrived at the forest, the women held up lighted lanterns although it was broad daylight. The forester asked them to explain. The women replied, “We have come to teach you forestry.” He retorted, “You foolish women, how can you prevent tree felling by those who know the value of the forest? Do you know what forests bear? They produce profit and resin and timber.”

The women sang back in chorus:

What do the forests bear?
Soil, water, and pure air.
Soil, water, and pure air
Sustain the Earth and all she bears.

Beyond Monocultures

From Chipko, I learned about biodiversity and biodiversity-based living economies; the protection of both has become my life’s mission. As I described in my book Monocultures of the Mind, the failure to understand biodiversity and its many functions is at the root of the impoverishment of nature and culture.

The lessons I learned about diversity in the Himalayan forests I transferred to the protection of biodiversity on our farms. I started saving seeds from farmers’ fields and then realized we needed a farm for demonstration and training. Thus Navdanya Farm was started in 1994 in the Doon Valley, located in the lower elevation Himalayan region of Uttarakhand Province. Today we conserve and grow 630 varieties of rice, 150 varieties of wheat and hundreds of other species. We practice and promote a biodiversity-intensive form of farming that produces more food and nutrition per acre. The conservation of biodiversity is therefore also the answer to the food and nutrition crisis.

Navdanya, the movement for biodiversity conservation and organic farming that I started in 1987, is spreading. So far, we’ve worked with farmers to set up more than 100 community seed banks across India. We have saved more than 3,000 rice varieties. We also help farmers make a transition from fossil-fuel and chemical-based monocultures to biodiverse ecological systems nourished by the sun and the soil.

Biodiversity has been my teacher of abundance and freedom, of cooperation and mutual giving.

Rights of Nature On the Global Stage

When nature is a teacher, we ­co-create with her—we recognize her agency and her rights. That is why it is significant that Ecuador has recognized the “rights of nature” in its constitution. In April 2011, the United Nations General Assembly­—inspired by the constitution of Ecuador and the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth initiated by Bolivia—organized a conference on harmony with nature as part of Earth Day celebrations. Much of the discussion centered on ways to transform systems based on domination of people over nature, men over women, and rich over poor into new systems based on partnership.

The U.N. secretary general’s report, “Harmony with Nature,” issued in conjunction with the conference, elaborates on the importance of reconnecting with nature: “Ultimately, environmentally destructive behavior is the result of a failure to recognize that human beings are an inseparable part of nature and that we cannot damage it without severely damaging ourselves.”

Separatism is indeed at the root of disharmony with nature and violence against nature and people. As the prominent South African environmentalist Cormac Cullinan points out, apartheid means separateness. The world joined the anti-apartheid movement to end the violent separation of people on the basis of color. Apartheid in South Africa was put behind us. Today, we need to overcome the wider and deeper apartheid—an eco-apartheid based on the illusion of separateness of humans from nature in our minds and lives.

The Dead-Earth Worldview

The war against the Earth began with this idea of separateness. Its contemporary seeds were sown when the living Earth was transformed into dead matter to facilitate the industrial revolution. Monocultures replaced diversity. “Raw materials” and “dead matter” replaced a vibrant Earth. Terra Nullius (the empty land, ready for occupation regardless of the presence of indigenous peoples) replaced Terra Madre (Mother Earth).

This philosophy goes back to Francis Bacon, called the father of modern science, who said that science and the inventions that result do not “merely exert a gentle guidance over nature’s course; they have the power to conquer and subdue her, to shake her to her foundations.”

Robert Boyle, the famous 17th-century chemist and a governor of the Corporation for the Propagation of the Gospel Among the New England Indians, was clear that he wanted to rid native people of their ideas about nature. He attacked their perception of nature “as a kind of goddess” and argued that “the veneration, wherewith men are imbued for what they call nature, has been a discouraging impediment to the empire of man over the inferior creatures of God.”

The death-of-nature idea allows a war to be unleashed against the Earth. After all, if the Earth is merely dead matter, then nothing is being killed.

As philosopher and historian Carolyn Merchant points out, this shift of perspective—from nature as a living, nurturing mother to inert, dead, and manipulable matter—was well suited to the activities that would lead to capitalism. The domination images created by Bacon and other leaders of the scientific revolution replaced those of the nurturing Earth, removing a cultural constraint on the exploitation of nature. “One does not readily slay a mother, dig into her entrails for gold, or mutilate her body,” Merchant wrote.

What Nature Teaches

Today, at a time of multiple crises intensified by globalization, we need to move away from the paradigm of nature as dead matter. We need to move to an ecological paradigm, and for this, the best teacher is nature herself.

This is the reason I started the Earth University/Bija Vidyapeeth at Navdanya’s farm.

The Earth University teaches Earth Democracy, which is the freedom for all species to evolve within the web of life, and the freedom and responsibility of humans, as members of the Earth family, to recognize, protect, and respect the rights of other species. Earth Democracy is a shift from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism. And since we all depend on the Earth, Earth Democracy translates into human rights to food and water, to freedom from hunger and thirst.

Because the Earth University is located at Navdanya, a biodiversity farm, participants learn to work with living seeds, living soil, and the web of life. Participants include farmers, school children, and people from across the world. Two of our most popular courses are “The A-Z of Organic Farming and Agroecology,” and “Gandhi and Globalization.”

The Poetry of the Forest

The Earth University is inspired by Rabindranath Tagore, India’s national poet and a Nobel Prize laureate.

Tagore started a learning center in Shantiniketan in West Bengal, India, as a forest school, both to take inspiration from nature and to create an Indian cultural renaissance. The school became a university in 1921, growing into one of India’s most famous centers of learning.

Today, just as in Tagore’s time, we need to turn to nature and the forest for lessons in freedom.

In “The Religion of the Forest,” Tagore wrote about the influence that the forest dwellers of ancient India had on classical Indian literature. The forests are sources of water and the storehouses of a biodiversity that can teach us the lessons of democracy—of leaving space for others while drawing sustenance from the common web of life. Tagore saw unity with nature as the highest stage of human evolution.

In his essay “Tapovan” (Forest of Purity), Tagore writes: “Indian civilization has been distinctive in locating its source of regeneration, material and intellectual, in the forest, not the city. India’s best ideas have come where man was in communion with trees and rivers and lakes, away from the crowds. The peace of the forest has helped the intellectual evolution of man. The culture of the forest has fueled the culture of Indian society. The culture that has arisen from the forest has been influenced by the diverse processes of renewal of life, which are always at play in the forest, varying from species to species, from season to season, in sight and sound and smell. The unifying principle of life in diversity, of democratic pluralism, thus became the principle of Indian civilization.”

It is this unity in diversity that is the basis of both ecological sustainability and democracy. Diversity without unity becomes the source of conflict and contest. Unity without diversity becomes the ground for external control. This is true of both nature and culture. The forest is a unity in its diversity, and we are united with nature through our relationship with the forest.

In Tagore’s writings, the forest was not just the source of knowledge and freedom; it was the source of beauty and joy, of art and aesthetics, of harmony and perfection. It symbolized the universe.

In “The Religion of the Forest,” the poet says that our frame of mind “guides our attempts to establish relations with the universe either by conquest or by union, either through the cultivation of power or through that of sympathy.”

The forest teaches us union and compassion.

The forest also teaches us enoughness: as a principle of equity, how to enjoy the gifts of nature without exploitation and accumulation. Tagore quotes from the ancient texts written in the forest: “Know all that moves in this moving world as enveloped by God; and find enjoyment through renunciation, not through greed of possession.” No species in a forest appropriates the share of another species. Every species sustains itself in cooperation with others.

The end of consumerism and accumulation is the beginning of the joy of living.

The conflict between greed and compassion, conquest and cooperation, violence and harmony that Tagore wrote about continues today. And it is the forest that can show us the way beyond this conflict.

Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.

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Vandana Shiva wrote this article for What Would Nature Do?, the Winter 2012 issue of YES! Magazine. Shiva is an internationally renowned activist for biodiversity and against corporate globalization, and author of Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply; Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace; Soil Not Oil; and Staying Alive. The last section of this essay was adapted by the author from “Forest and Freedom,” written by Shiva and published in the May/June 2011 edition of Resurgence magazine. Shiva is a YES! contributing editor.