NOTE: This interview excerpt is transcript only
Named by Forbes Magazine one of the “Seven Most Powerful Women on the Globe,” physicist, feminist and environmentalist Dr. Vandana Shiva is a catalyst for the global sustainability movement. Through her writing, teaching and campaigning, Vandana has helped change the global paradigm of food and agriculture, and has made significant contributions to the areas of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) and biotechnology to protect life’s biodiversity and indigenous knowledge. Demonstrating restorative leadership by standing up in the current of harmful norms to be a voice for possibility, Vandana inspires us to claim our unique leadership contribution in service to the Earth’s miraculous balance.
On Leading Transcript
Seana Lowe Steffen, host: What do you love about your life?
Vandana Shiva, guest: That I’ve been free. I’ve lived it with total freedom, following my conscience.
Seana: How do you sustain your leadership?
Vandana: By not taking myself seriously. I take my work seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously. And ensuring that everyone around me is empowered. I began Navdanya with 1.5 people, and now it is a network of farmers and their communities. It’s amazing someone’s become the village head, someone’s become the district head, and these were just farmers. I feel satisfied when you can transmit leadership and diffuse it around.
Seana: If you could take us to witness one of your proudest accomplishments on your journey working toward sustainability, what would we see and what would you want us to learn?
Vandana: I think if you were to undertake a journey with me on sustainability processes that I’ve dedicated my life to, it would be just to see the bounties of biodiversity. We’re brainwashed into thinking that without chemicals and genetic engineering, the world can’t be fed. If you travel through the areas where our network of farmers grows food through biodiversity, you see the abundance. You see the fields growing food when other neighboring fields are failing because the chemicals and water that those chemicals need. You’d be able to see proud communities that are confident of their knowledge. We at Navdanya work through three prongs. Community seed saving: we defend seeds as a commons, so community seed banks are the first. You know, to see 600 varieties of rice growing in one area or 1000 crop varieties on our farm, it allows you to put hope back in nature because when you see that abundance, then you realize that you don’t have to trample nature in order to squeeze more out of her. She is willing to give any gift. The second is ecological farming: I think all our experience shows that we can produce more food by working with nature rather than against her. And the third is community trade, fair trade, which also shows that if greedy businesses stop skimming off all the income of farmers and the incomes of poor people by paying too little to farmers and charging too much from the consumer, we can actually have farmers survive on the land and poor people have affordable food. It’s totally achievable.
Seana: In “Green Gurus,” you give a very clear definition of what sustainability means to you. What do those working for global sustainability and planetary wellbeing need to be successful?
Vandana: I think the first thing those working for global sustainability need is to be embedded in a locale. If you’re floating, you can only be unsustainable for the simple reason that you don’t have a touchstone for finding out whether what you’re talking about is sustainable or not. Sustainability has to be tested in nature, in ecosystems, in a biodiversity, and for that you have to be part of a local. But that doesn’t mean you can’t participate in a planetary consciousness. That’s what I’ve talked about with democracy, as I’ve told you, and citizenship. Authentic citizenship means knowing you’re a planetary citizen and being responsible for your little place.
Seana: What should everyone know related to food and agriculture?
Vandana: I think the first thing is really every one of us should know how a plant grows and what the soil feels like. You might not be a farmer, but you can have a little pot, you can have a little kitchen garden. If you’re a school child, you can be part of a school garden. I think the second thing everyone needs to know with food is what’s in it, where did it come from, how is it grown, and feel that knowledge is vital to Earth democracy in our lives.
Seana: Anything else, specifically related to the idea that “eating is an agricultural act”?
Vandana: I think the final thing everyone needs to know about the food they eat is the place that grew it and the farmer that grew it because the more we are connected, then the more we shape an agriculture that protects the Earth and is sustainable. In eating, we make the choices-- careless choices that destroy the planet or caring choices of sustaining it.
Seana: Above all else, what do all people need to know or understand at this time in our planet’s history?
Vandana: The first thing people need to understand is this planet is an amazing gift, and we are on the threshold of extinguishing its possibilities of sustaining us through people having handed over power to those who would destroy it. Therefore, every citizen needs to know they can take that power back and the power is taken for responsibility to the Earth.
Seana: If the state of the world is a reflection of the quality of our leadership, what will it take to bring out the best of our diverse humanity to ensure a sustainable world?
Vandana: Well, for diverse humanity to claim their leadership.
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Navdanya's vision is to accomplish such a development that all beings have a healthy environment to live, should have enough healthy food to eat and also have equal right to live, grow and evolve to their full potential through their self organization.
Vandana Shiva calls for a radical shift in the values that govern democracies, condemning the role that unrestricted capitalism has played in the destruction of environments and livelihoods. She explores the issues she helped bring to international attention—genetic food engineering, culture theft, and natural resource privatization—uncovering their links to the rising tide of fundamentalism, violence against women, and planetary death.
How did the willful daughter of a Himalayan forest conservator become the world’s most powerful opponent of Monsanto? The Seeds of Vandana Shiva, a feature-length documentary, presents the remarkable life story of the Gandhian eco-activist and agro-ecologist, Vandana Shiva. A classic David versus Goliath tale, the film shows how Vandana, a brilliant scientist, became Monsanto’s worst nightmare and a rock star of the international sustainable food movement.