A new model of global development has been called for by an internationally-reputed philosopher and thinker, who says she strongly believes that the current concept of development is measured by ‘the art of money making’. Vandana Shiva, Indian philosopher and thinker, environmental and civil society activist, told an audience in Colombo on Monday that the [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Current development model all about greed and making money, says India’s top philosopher


A new model of global development has been called for by an internationally-reputed philosopher and thinker, who says she strongly believes that the current concept of development is measured by ‘the art of money making’.

Vandana Shiva, Indian philosopher and thinker, environmental and civil society activist, told an audience in Colombo on Monday that the development path and the world trade order after the advent of the GATT and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) have both failed mankind and earth.

Vandana Shiva

“The art of money making is not the art of living. At one time we didn’t measure the value of nature in monetary terms but now people are putting a price on nature. Price is not value,” she said at a ‘campaign’ meeting organised by the Movement for Land and Agriculture Reforms (MONLAR) to continue the group’s opposition to the proposed new Seed Act. Dr. Shiva is backing the Sri Lankan group’s efforts to reject the proposal law calling it a conspiracy by multinationals in the seed business.

The eminent activist, speaking off the cuff on a range of development issues linked to how multinationals are putting a price to nature and forcing farmers in the developing world to accept many alien products including genetically modified seeds, said in the 20 years (up to 2014) since the signing of the GATT agreement which led to the formation of the WTO (World Trade Organisation), globalisation has seen a collapse at every level.

“There has been a collapse of the level of moral values and societies have been divided to sustain themselves. Greed does not sustain society. Globalisation is connected to growth … the more you can rob, the more you can steal…the more you can grab; that is the society that has been created,” she noted.

It gave freedom to those who want to exploit the earth and society, she said, adding that at the Sarvodaya’s ‘Metta’ convention which she attended (outside Colombo), the clear message of the Buddha came out, that is … ‘May all beings be happy and well’ … implying that money is not the panacea for all ills.

She said the worst sin to human life is allowing basic services to be under the control of transnational corporations. This subjugates humanity to the specific interests of a minority who become rich and powerful at the expense of the lives and security of others.“The right to basic services is a basic human right. There is also the need for food in addition to water, and food begins with seed. That is why the Seed Law being discussed in Sri Lanka right now is so important (and should be rejected),” she said citing the example of a similar process in India that was defeated.

Discussing her own foray into activism after starting life as a physicist, she said that while the green revolution was first successfully implemented in the Indian state of Punjab, it was a success for a model of development but failure for the people and earth.

“Punjab is one of the states with the highest rates of farmer suicides. The water is disappearing so fast because the green revolution required 10 times more water to produce the same amount of food. Punjab means the land of the five rivers. Today the land of the five rivers is dry because of its excessive use of water. In some places, tube wells have to go down to 1,000 feet and beyond and you don’t have the energy resource to be able to pump the water,” she said, expressing; “You don’t see that thankfully in Sri Lanka where there are beautiful gardens and farms”.

Globalisation, she argued has shown the world that it is a model based on greed which cannot sustain society and earth. “What would sustain societies even in the rich countries is a society that produces real wealth; real food; real nutrition.”The Indian activist repeated her often-stated accusation of multinational chemical companies like Monsanto and Dow saying they are now controlling the seed industry (genetically modified seeds), compelling farmers into a situation of forced buying of their seeds and payment of royalties.

“The entire age of chemicals was developed for tools of pain. Explosives for making bombs; chemicals used in concentration camps.Those chemicals were not allowed after the (world) war but now have turned into agro chemicals. This is a new paradigm of introducing chemicals used in warfare in agriculture,” she said, adding: “Technologies of violence are blind technology”.

She said ownership of seeds means ownership of life, noting that the five big giants that control seed patents include Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer and Dow.

According to international reports, the top 10 seed companies in the world are Monsanto (US), DuPont (US), Syngenta (Switzerland), Groupe Limagrain (France), Land O’ Lakes (US), KWS AG (Germany), Bayer Crop Science (Germany), Sakata (Japan), DLF-Trifolium (Denmark) and Takii (Japan).

“When the WTO agreement was signed, Monsanto said ‘we (Monsanto)’ are the patient and doctor. We wrote an agreement that was imposed on the rest of the world,” she said.

Many years from now all seeds in the world would be genetically engineered in manufacture. Those who have profited from wars are now profiting from the blood, sweat and tears of farmers in poor countries.

Overjoyed by Sri Lanka’s rich bio diversity with ‘all those lovely food that comes from an abundance of trees, shrubs, plants’, she noted that multinationals have defined ‘our (produced by simple people)’ food as ‘non-food’ and their ‘food’ as “(real) food’.

“No one should be eating genetically modified corn and soya. No one,” she exhorted to an audience that included a cross section of farmers, civil society activists and green movement advocates, at the meeting at the Central Bank Training Centre auditorium at Rajagiriya.

Labelling it an ‘epidemic of piracy’, she said thousands of patents of ayurvedic products have been registered in the US and, “if we don’t assert ourselves we will be paying royalties for what is ours”.

Farmers and societies in developing countries are getting poorer and, by how much, could be gauged by the fact that genetically modified BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis) cotton by Monsanto is selling at Rs. 4,000 per kg whereas the local variety was just Rs. 5 per kg.
BT cotton was touted as a product that would eliminate pests. On the contrary it created new pests and farmers had to use more insecticide. In the US, herbicide tolerant (GM) crops have created super weeds – 17 million acres of farmland. A few weeks ago an investor sued the biotech industry for $1 billion over this, she said.

“Sri Lanka has 5-10 varieties of banana. They (TNCs) now want to genetically invent the banana and this is supposed to give more iron so that women don’t die in child birth due to iron deficiency. Why should we when we have natural foods like murunga, turmeric leaves which provides much more nutrition without any engineering,” she said

Statistics show that 99 per cent of farmer suicides in India were because of indebtedness due to forced dependence on TNCs.

She said a new development model is required at a time when some issues are becoming very clear to the world: the basis of growth is purely on the ability to make money while chemicals used in warfare are now used to destroy the land and nature.

“Patenting of life is an obscene measure. Measuring GDP while we destroy life is also obscene. That is why we need an alternate development model.”

She said Bhutan does not measure GDP like the rest of the world, recalling how the King of Bhutan told an international meeting that he will not chase growth as a development indicator. “He said he will create happiness and wellbeing for his people, in an indicator called – GNH (Gross National Happines),” Dr. Shiva said, adding: “It would be really nice to measure through a study as to the level of happiness of the people of Sri Lanka”.

Discussing Sri Lanka’s proposed Seed Act, she said this is an effort by the same multinationals that wanted to control the seeds and all the seeds through genetic engineering. “They said all seeds would be genetically modified and every farmer would buy seed from them. India was able to stop the Seed Act because we were alert. We collected thousands of signatures from farmers,” she noted, urging Sri Lankan groups to likewise protest.

Seed debate in Sri Lanka

Farmer groups in Sri Lanka say the proposed Seed Act would compel thousands of farmers to buy their seed from transnational corporations (TNCs) making them slaves to TNCs which will have patent rights over the seeds.

The proposed law gives virtually dictatorial powers to the Agriculture Director General who will be able to impose big fines on farmers who do not buy the imported seeds. In terms of the proposed bill the farmers have no recourse to the courts of law— a violation of their fundamental rights -, opponents say.

Using the imported seeds will also mean using imported chemical fertilisers, weedicides and pesticides for which the farmers would have to pay a big price while the country will waste millions of dollars to import these agro-chemicals.

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