beauty of traditional
Science and technology are supposed to improve our lives. Yet dominant traditions
of knowledge generation and dissemination, and technology development are
becoming major sources of violence against humans and other species.
Violence is built
into the very metaphors of organizing knowledge. The tools for genetic
engineering are 'gene-guns'. Plants and insects are enemies, to be
exterminated by 'Roundup', 'Avenge', 'Squadron', 'Prowl'. Even temporary
infections like foot-and-mouth disease (fmd) are perceived as a 'fearful
plague', a 'demon', a 'serial killer', a 'predator at large'.
The violence in
our dominant knowledge systems emerges from the fear of everything that is
free and alive. It emerges from lack of awareness of impacts of the modes
of thought on nature and people, and it is reinforced by the ignorance of
alternatives - of alternative ways of knowing and other knowers.
fear of freedom of autonomous, self-organizing systems, beyond control and
manipulation, and the lack of awareness of alternatives are what has
spurred the UK's 'war' against its farm animals in which more than
3,000,000 animals have been shot and burned in a massive military
operation in the countryside to clean up rural areas of an infection that
is not fatal and is curable. In the mountain villages of my native Garhwal,
fmd is called 'Khurpaka'. It is cured using the plant diversity of our
forests and farms - the bark paste of the bhojpatra, the root paste of
buckwheat, the young shoots of peach.
and infections are part of human, plant and animal life. Zero-tolerance to
disease generates zero tolerance to life. That is why millions of farm
animals can be killed in the illusory search for a disease-free world.
our systems of technology and trade are creating and spreading disease.
Globalization has been identified as one reason for the rapid and wide
spread of the fmd infection. And the super-inventiveness of grinding up
diseased and infected cows as cattle feed has been identified as being at
the root of Mad Cow Disease. Cows are herbivores, not carnivores. Feeding
them meat is violence. Feeding them infected meat in the form of
'scientific' feed is multiple violence, a violence that has triggered a
chain reaction in the food chain and infected humans.
and 'improved seed' are supposedly technological miracles. Hybrid seeds
are also a 'technological breakthrough' with promises of high yield. But
they cannot be saved, and are vulnerable to pests and disease. As hybrid
seeds have flooded India under globalization, farmers have had to borrow
money to buy seeds and pesticides. They have had to dig tube wells to
irrigate the hybrid crops. Pesticide use has gone up by 2,000% since
hybrid cotton seeds entered India. Within a year or two, farmers are deep
in debt. They are committing suicide by drinking the same pesticides that
got them into debt. A technological miracle has led to a human disaster.
Across India one estimate is that 200,000 farmers have committed suicide.
This human disaster is however a corporate opportunity. The faster small
farmers disappear, the more the dependence on chemicals, genetic
engineering and mechanization will grow.
destruction is being transformed into an opportunity for corporate control
over agriculture is brutally exemplified in the case of the Canadian
farmer, Percy Schmeiser. Percy has been growing canola from seed he saved
over fifty years. In 1997, Monsanto's Roundup Ready Canola was introduced
in his region. It contaminated his canola crop. Monsanto hired Robinson
Investigation to secretly collect canola samples from Percy's fields. On
the basis of samples collected Monsanto sued Percy for stealing their
On March 29th,
2001, Judge Andrew Mackay ruled that it did not matterhow the genes came
to be in Percy's field: he had infringed Monsanto's patent No. 1,313,830.
The pollen and seeds arriving in Percy's fields through genetic pollution
was considered an act of theft by Percy. So, Percy's property rights to
his field get no protection, but Monsanto's intellectual property rights
to seed and genes are 'sacred'.
law and policy, there is a rule called 'The Polluter Pays Principle'. But
with the Mackay decision in the case of Monsanto v. Percy Schmeiser, the
courts have ruled that the polluter will be paid. Spreading pollution has
thus become the genetic engineering industry's latest means of taking over
ownership and control of crops and farms.
'Precautionary Principle' is at the heart of ecological security.
Precaution requires that unless there is proof of safety, we should err on
the side of caution. That is why consumer groups, environmental
organizations and farmers' associations are calling for a freeze on the
commercialization of genetic engineering. The Precautionary Principle also
calls for the search and promotion of alternatives. Yet the genetic
engineering industry is rushing untested products to the marketplace, even
where safer and better alternatives exist.
sources of Vitamin A exist in nature's biodiversity, selected and improved
by women farmers over centuries. Dhania, bathna, fenugreek, drumstick,
amaranth, mango, papaya, pumpkin are some of the plants rich in vitamins.
But these plants are invisible to those who are engineering 'golden rice'
as a solution to Vitamin A deficiency (vad). If all the money being spent
on 'golden rice' and the scientists promoting it were to be spent on
distributing open pollinated variety seeds of fruits and vegetables to
farmers, we would not just get rid of vad and anaemia, we would reverse
the erosion of biodiversity and the ecological problems of drought,
desertification, pests and diseases that are associated with it.
Monsanto are rushing ahead with the mapping and patenting of the rice
genome. If they could, they would own rice and its genes, even though the
200,000 rice varieties that give us diverse traits have been bred and
evolved by rice farmers of Asia collectively over millennia. Their claim
to inventing rice is a violence against the integrity of biodiversity and
life-forms; it is a violence against the knowledge of Third World farmers.
THESE ISSUES ARE
at the heart of nonviolence, of ahimsa, of doing no harm. Ahimsa in
science-technology involves respect for and protection of life's
diversity; it involves respect and recognition of diverse knowledge
systems - on their own terms.
biodiversity entails a shift to production systems which maintain life on
Earth and do not push it to extinction - the life of soil organisms, of
water systems, of plant and animal diversity. A nonviolent agriculture
would do no harm to bees, butterflies and earthworms. It would also not
falsify the productivity of industrial monocultures which waste water and
energy, need expensive and harmful chemicals, and wipe out life's
abundance. The violence to knowledge is built into the pseudo-productivity
of genetic engineering. A negative economy is being projected as growth, a
culture of scarcity is being projected as abundance. A system of
destruction is being projected as creation.
Another level of
violence is being imposed through monopoly rights that are criminalizing
farmers and transform agriculture into police states. We need a movement
of compassion and caring in agriculture, a movement that celebrates saving
and sharing of seed. That is why I started the Bija Vidyapeeth - the
School of the Seed - where, beginning in October 2001, we will start
courses on Education for Earth Citizenship in collaboration with the
Schumacher College in England.
Shiva is a physicist and author of
of the Mind.
Vidyapeeth can be contacted at
Hauz Khas, New Delhi, 110 016 India. E
Reprinted by Permission.