Vandana Shiva

Photos by Cherylanne James

For a Sunday morning, Trent University was extremely busy on November 16. That’s because people were lining up to get into the Wenjack Theatre to listen to world-renowned environmentalist, prolific author, feminist, philosopher, and activist, Dr. Vandana Shiva.

Dr. Shiva is recognized for her work to protect heritage seeds from genetic engineering, and challenging how we think about development and sustainable agriculture in the face of increasing globalization. In 1991, she founded ‘Navdanya’, a movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, especially seeds, working to prevent seeds from genetic modification patents and becoming intellectual property.

A highly anticipated event, Dr. Shiva’s Peterborough visit was collaboratively organized by the Kawartha World Issues Centre, the Trent Centre for Biomaterials Research, Indigenous Environmental Research, and the First People’s House of Learning with support from The David Sheperd Family, Sustainable Trent, and Trent Oxfam.

This support reflects the multi-disciplinary appeal of Dr. Shiva’s work, intersecting Indigenous knowledge and culture, with the sciences, such as bio-tech research, while embracing the critical issue of food security from a global human rights perspective.

Following a welcoming reception at the Gathering Space, with a delicious breakfast prepared by Dan Ledandan Catering, Vandana spoke to an audience of almost 400 people.

I helped with ticket collections, and it was exciting to interact with a vibrant variety of people from different walks of life; students, professors, First Nations elders, local farmers, youth, and community members all came together to hear Dr. Shiva speak.

Having so many different people from the community come out to the event really provides us with an idea of just how important local and global food systems are to us.

KWIC,Dan&Vandana

The Carbon Conversations: ‘Sacred Seeds: Seeds of Justice, Seeds of Resistance’ lecture focused on the importance of saving seeds, and how GMO crops threaten not only biodiversity, but the livelihoods of small-scale farmers.

Dr. Shiva emphasized the role of traditional knowledge to our food systems. She explained that knowledge, like seeds, is meant to be shared. One of the many problems with GMO crops is that it patents life.

She went on to say that life is not an invention, and yet corporations try to patent it.

This patenting of life goes directly against our duty to save seeds. Seed saving and sharing enables genetic diversity to thrive, and biodiversity to flourish.

For example, traditionally the Three Sisters (beans, squash, and corn) are grown and thrive together, working as companion crops. The corn serves as a structure for the beans to climb (removing the need for poles), while the beans provide nitrogen to the soil for the other two Sisters to use, and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking sunlight to prevent weeds.

The squash also serves as a living mulch, as well as protecting its Sisters from pests with its prickly vines. In a companion crop system, there is no need for pesticides, genetic modification, or even fertilizer. GMO crops depend on pesticides and create mono-cultural, with the inherent danger of supplanting diversity. For example, as a GMO crop, the Three Sisters cannot be grown together.

Vandana calls for collaboration between Indigenous knowledge and scientific knowledge for the sake of future health. She spoke of the relationships between soil, our gut, and our brains, and how science validates the important connection between the soil and human health. Through shared knowledge, we have power.

Dr. Shiva explains that there are five corporations controlling seeds, food, and life, and asks how it is that the minority can have so much power when there are seven billion people sharing this planet. She calls on us to work as a community of the majority to create a food sovereignty movement.

The audience was engaged the entire time Dr. Shiva spoke, and you could just feel the warmth of community aspirations flowing through the lecture hall. The discussion did not just end after Vandana left the stage to catch her plane back to India; there was an open conversation to explore the themes of Vandana’s lecture held with standing room only in the Gathering Space afterwards.

Elders, knowledge holders, and community leaders led discussions on traditional food sovereignty and sustainable food practices while sharing food prepared by our local food activist collective, Food Not Bombs.

One of the important messages from Vandana’s talk was the acknowledgement of Earth Day being renamed as Mother Earth Day. This recognition of ‘Mother Earth’ speaks to the interdependence of all species, the importance of which was the impetus for the General Assembly to declare April 22 as International Mother Earth Day.

Vandana would like us to move beyond switching off our lights for a few minutes, to create seed freedom in our communities for this upcoming Mother Earth Day. We need to stand in solidarity and embrace our role as active global citizens, and make wise choices.

Aside from ‘eating responsibly and growing our own food’, as Dr. Shiva urges, what are you going to do to protect local food systems?

As Mother Earth Day approaches in the coming spring, remember that you are part of a global community— of not only humans, but all living organisms— and your actions can drive positive change and protect diversity to ensure a just and sustainable future for all with whom we share this planet Earth.

Note: Copies of Sacred Seed, a collection of essays inspired by Dr. Shiva and featuring contributions from Trent professor Dr. Dan Longboat, and local environmental leader Diane Longboat, are available at the Trent Bookstore for purchase.