Development Cooperation Handbook/Interviews/Vandana Shiva

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Vandana Shiva at Rishikesh, 2007

Vandana Shiva is an Indian environmental activist, eco feminist, author of several books and papers.


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Interview by Wilma Massucco[edit]

What do you mean when you say that “Earth is female”?

The Earth is Female - Vandana Shiva

It basically means that she is the Mother, life for all beings, all species, including human beings


Is it important to see the Earth as Mother?
Yes, it is, as it is the only way we will recognize how much we received from her. Most of the time, when we think of the Earth as dead and inert and just as a source of raw materials, we create illusions that money and welfare come from Wall Street and factories. We forget that for every factory the first material is contributed by the earth. The second reason why it’s so important to see the Earth as mother is because nothing as mother has let to huge abuse. The abuse of the earth is basically the ecological crisis. This ecological crisis is so severe that we could, as species, be putting ourselves at risk of extinction. The IPCC report, which is the inter-government panel on climate change, body of 2500 scientists, predicted that if the current is continuing, by hundreds of years from now human beings will not be able to live on this planet. And the third reason why we need to see the Earth as mother is because of this period of economic crisis created by arrogant, patriarchal, capital system: I see an economy centered on capital as an economy centered on patriarchy, which has given us all the multiple economic crisis we face. People loosing work, unemployment, the young not seeing future for themselves … the only way to build hope is through the Earth.


You said the mechanical agriculture is poorer than the manual agriculture both as regards quality and quantity. Supposing it’s expected to get a worse quality of food when using mechanical tools, how is it possible to expect a lower amount of quantity, when you compare mechanical to manual production?

The quantity of food you derive from agriculture is lower in mechanical industrial system. What is higher is the single commodity production. So,  a person who has 350 acre of farm of pears only grows pears. On the way round, on that same field of 350 acres you might have cows, pigs, cherry trees and peach trees, vegetables and tomatoes. In the 350 acre of mechanical farm you will have more pears, but more pears is not more food. It’s more commodity to sell. But you can’t live on pears alone. You need your salads, you need your servers, you need everything else. So when you reduce one area into growing only one thing, the other things you need get imported from somewhere else. So, it’s not more production of food.

Development and role of women - Vandana Shiva


A question about your critic to Jeffrey Sachs and his theory about the way how to come out from poverty

The first thing I critic to Jeffrey Sachs’s ideas and vision is that he thinks people in agriculture are poor by definition. For him more development is getting people out of agriculture. He says it very clearly that the slave factories in Bangladesh that make cheap clothing are the first step, out of agriculture, and therefore we must tolerate that slavery, because it’s an escape from agriculture, as the agriculture is worth than slavery. The fact that the agriculture has become unviable is because of the large economic context. You need to change that exploited context, that is not giving full prices to the farmers. Don’t continue an exploitation and then say: ”Get people out of agriculture”. Moreover, if people aren’t in agriculture we won’t have food. So to propose the development means get people out of agriculture, that's wrong. My book Return to the Earth is in the fact saying “Get more people back on the land”. Mr Jeffrey Sachs, you go back on the land and you’ll earn a few new things out of that. I get a lot of young people from America coming to study with me. They want to go back to the land. So, it’s not representing the Third World, it’s representing the all countries.


What’s your idea about International Cooperation?

My view at international cooperation - Vandana Shiva

Cooperation, if it’s cooperation, is a good way. Normally cooperation is used as a name for process of exploitation. Cooperation must be between equals – equal dignity, equal respect, equal partnership; then the planning of what will be cooperation is made by both sides, and not be imposed. Secondly, in authentic cooperation, real benefits go to the poor part of the world. In exploited form, more resources than money are taken out from the poor.


Do you think it will be possible to change the relationship among partners in order to build what you call "the right cooperation"? You said, for example, that, as a matter of fact, it is the South of the world that supports the North. What did you mean?

I gave the figures. 50 billion dollars of money aid goes from the North to the South, but 500 billion dollars worth of interest payment (when you give a loan, you get an interest). So, more money is made out of the Third World and also lost incomes for the South in terms of cheap commodities. So unfact trading system will take from the South cotton, that should be selling at 22 Rupies a kilo and buy at 11 Rupies a kilo. That addition of 11 Rupies is a transfer of finance from the South to the North.


Is it possible to change this way of working together?

Yes, it is possible to change after all. I’m involved in cooperation and we only deal with partners who respect us, partners who realized that we have as much to contribute to them as they can contribute to us, except we don’t give financially, we give in terms of visions, ideas, practices. The work I have done for 21 years in Navdanya to build that kind of agriculture that produces more food, is supported by citizens cooperation, and I think it is a very good example


In such a case, what was the contribution of the European Partners?

They supported us financially, so that we can work with communities, and we supported them politically


In which way?

I will spend the next five days helping raise funds for the groups that have supported us. So, it’s not one way, it’s two ways. We also support them intellectually, we give them ideas.


What’s your concept of Development?

My concept of development is that it must be defined by the people for whom it is supposed to be, it cannot be defined by Washington or by the politicians. It has to be defined by the community, and if the community feels that letting the river flow is development, then they let the river flow. If the community feels building a dam is good then they can build a dam, but it shouldn’t be that they are told you have no rights to decide.


What about the balance between the power of the multinationals and the power of common people? Is it possible to arrange the right balance when there is such a big difference of power among the actors?

Yes, if you recognize the rights of the local people. I’ll give you a very simple example. In the Constitution which gives the right to local communities to decide what they will do for development, they have the right to say no to a highway, and they have total right. That right has been taken away by the power of the cooperation. So it’s not the case that you have development, you have destruction. So, in the area where there has been dam it’s the area where we have the new Maoism, a violent extreme movement, armed struggle.


But, as a matter of fact, what you described is what usually happens. See for example the Water Multinationals: they simply go and take position on a river. What can we really do to opposite it, as a social movement?

I want to give you two examples in which I have been directly involved, where we have been successful. Telling the Multinationals that the water belongs to the community you cannot lay your hands on it. The first has been Coca Cola, which tried to steal the water in a village in Keralaq. The women said: “No" and I supported them and Coca Cola had to share its dam.


How was it possible? In which way?

Women just sat at the gate of Coca Cola, and I helped them to build a political strategy, a legal strategy to push it to court and brought visibility to their struggle to Coca Cola till it was shut down. In the case of Delhi, World Bank was financing the privatization of Delhi, and I organized a big coalition for water democracy to stop privatization , and we stopped it. People sat down, we prepared alternate plans, we showed how this only going to benefit the company, we exposed the lives, we talked to the media, …


How long to win this struggle?

In the case of Delhi, two years.


So, not so much time. Thanks to women more than men?
Thanks to women more than men


Do you mean women are more successful than men?
No, I think basically that men are trapped inside the exploited structure. They don’t know a world outside it.


And what about women?
For women it is different, because the women were left out. Because women are not in the main stream , they can think differently, they can act differently. They act in defense of nature and in defense of society. You know, every day you have to clean the house, to care the babies, and this gives you a training in persistence. The men are used to be impatient.

What do you think in respect of India and China as the new Emerging Economies?

Suddenly in the last two decades China and India are referred to as Emerging Economies. I find that for both it is a very strange phase because something as to emerge from something to something else, and it’s never clarified. Emerging also refers to something happening that wasn’t the day before, as our society has getting built today, but those who call them Emerging have been existing for 400 - 500 years, while we have existed for 10.000 years