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June 10, 2000
Traveling around the world with the Odyssey we've had the great opportunity to meet a number of inspiring individuals working to create positive change in our world today.
I just met two women here in New Delhi, the capital of India, who have dedicated their lives to worthy causes, and who have already made such progress in critical areas that speaking with them left me in awe. How any woman, any person, could find it in them to tackle such huge problems, is really amazing, so I would like you to meet these superwomen.
Remember the Corporate Conquistadors that were continuing to devastate the land and impoverish the people of Peru? Well India is facing a similar dilemma, but in this case it may be more appropriate to call the challenge Corporate Colonists instead of Conquistadors. India may have triumphed over the blatant colonization by the British, but today it is facing a new form of colonization that is threatening it's land, water, food, and freedom. This new form of colonization has arrived in the form of big corporations out to profit off of India and its resources without concern for its people or land. Our first Superwoman has taken it on herself to stop these corporate colonists and preserve India's heritage and livelihoods.
Dr. Vandana Shiva is the Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy. Over the past decade or so she has become India's foremost speaker on globalization and its effects on the country. The globalization she speaks of today is not the possible positive effects of forming international links between peoples. Unfortunately, the globalization she's dealing with has to do with what we call 'Free Trade': trade by multi-national companies which allows the companies to bypass local government's and people's rights in order to expand their money making interests.
During her work as a scientist who is also concerned with the environment, Dr. Shiva began noticing things rapidly deteriorating in India in just the past few years. Relatively recent progress of such global institutions as the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO) has taken the control and protection of India's land and biodiversity out of the hands of India's people and into the hands of huge corporations who are only concerned with profits.
For example, have you ever heard of the Neem Tree? If you've ever visited India I am sure you have. Neem is India's answer to everything! It is a medicinal tree that has been used by Indians for thousands of years for all kinds things. It's twigs are used as toothbrushes, it's leaves are chewed for stomach ailments, its oil is used for skin problems or taken internally as an antibiotic, it's seeds are used for a natural pesticide....and the list goes on and on. The Neem Tree has been intertwined in Indian tradition since the beginning of time. What would you say if I told you that today an American company owns the Neem tree? Owns the Neem tree?!! How does anyone own something like a tree? I can understand owning one of the trees, or even a hundred if they are on your property, but this company has claim to the trees that are on anyone's property anywhere! How could an American company have such control over India's beloved tree?
Well, a few years ago scientists who were working for W.R. Grace-Cargill from America, came to the fields of India to learn how the farmers here grew their agriculture. They noticed how the farmers didn't need to buy many harsh chemical pesticides and that instead they would merely crush the seeds of the Neem tree and spread it on their fields. The farmers gladly shared their seeds with the interested foreigners, since seeds are a gift of nature for all to share and the local villagers would never dream of charging money for such a gift. The scientists took seeds back to their laboratory in America and developed a way to extract the pesticide from the seed. Then they went to the U.S. government and got a patent on it, and now this U.S. company owns something that has been a natural aspect of Indian life, free for all to use and share, since the beginning of time.
Have you ever thought about paying money to someone for the air you breathe? That's ridiculous right? Why would you have to pay someone for something natural that is the right of everyone? Well, now thanks to recent international laws passed by the WTO, multinational corporations are able to patent and own, such basic, natural necessities as water and seeds, and this is leading to devastating consequences especially for the poor rural people of the world. That's why Dr. Shiva started speaking out and acting up.
She and her colleagues started visiting the villages of India educating people about the new changes being made by the government under pressure of the international community (like the WTO and the World Bank). Changes that have recently started letting hazardous pesticides and technologies like genetic engineering into India. Changes that have started privatizing natural resources so that rivers and pastures that used to be shared and protected by local peoples are now being sold to private corporations who have no interest in protecting the resources, only making money off of them. Changes are being made that allow unrestricted importation of food and products, which threatens India's small-scale farmers and craftsmen and puts them out of business. Changes that allow multinational corporations to own the very seeds, plants, and biodiversity that have always been a part of India and its people.
When visiting the villages, they found that the traditional farmers were using highly sophisticated systems for farming and improving seed varieties that they had developed over a number of generations. The villages featured rich biodiversity that was being threatened to be forever lost if the new changes of the 'Free Market' world caught up with them. They noticed a ritual in southern India where a family plants nine seeds in a pot on New Years day, and then nine days later compare the results to see which seeds have done well and which have not. Based on the results, families exchange seeds so that the entire village can optimize their food supply for that year. Inspired by such community sharing, Dr. Shiva and her associates started Navdanya, which literally means nine seeds, or nine gifts, in Sanskrit.
Navdanya has since been working to empower local communities to protect their resources and their traditional knowledge. From their organic farm and research center in Dehra Dun, in Northern India, they are collecting traditional seeds and encouraging farmers to share their seeds and knowledge with each other so as to preserve the rich biodiversity that India once knew before the large agriculture companies started mono-cropping fields for quick profits.
Dr. Shiva has been a champion spokesperson for the movement of these thousands and thousands of villagers in India whose livelihoods are threatened by globalization. From the symbolic rally where farmers from all over India joined together holding branches of the Neem Tree in opposition to the patenting laws; to joining the thousands of other protesters and speakers at the WTO summit in Seattle earlier this year; Dr. Shiva somehow finds the time to not only educate the rural farmers in small, remote villages; but also the general public all over the world about the dangerous consequences of 'Free Trade' and the positive alternatives that do indeed exist.
Check out these links to find out more about this Superwoman and all the wonderful causes with which she's involved, and I'll leave you with some of her Superhero words to grow by:
earth, getting meaning out of life, and ensuring that in
the way you live your life you are personally responsible
for reducing environmental pressure."
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...email@example.com
Jasmine - Far Out Places, Familiar Problems
Kavitha - It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superwoman! (Part II)
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