Protecting biodiversity is illegal, at least in France, following the last court decision made by the state against a small non-governmental association called Kokopelli. Kokopelli is a small association selling seeds to gardeners like us. We are using their seeds because they sell old varieties of plants and vegetables that are becoming more and more difficult to find. Seventy five percent of vegetable diversity has been lost in the last seventy five years. All the seeds sold by them are open pollinated which means you can save your own seeds from their seeds (the basic idea behind preservation and conservation of the biodiversity). Growing from seed ensures a large gene pool so the plants can withstand many different climatic extremes. When one variety of Tomato fails one year for instance another will thrive.
Of course, large sellers of seeds prefer to sell F1 hybrid to keep the gardener dependent.
In that context, Baumaux (a large seller of seeds) attacked Kokopelli for unfair competition and at the end (as the court case was in multiple rounds) the large seller won. They won due to the stupid regulation that forces to sell only seeds being listed in an “official” directory.
It’s a bad news for the preservation of biodiversity… what can we do ? Save Share and Grow out your own local seeds and only buy open pollinated seeds and vegetable seedlings. This is a grave decision and it is up to the people to be vigilante and pro-active in our approach to this. Seeds are free and cannot be owned by anyone.
The board members of the Chiapas School kneel in prayer for the survival of their mother seeds of corn and the success of their students who have just graduated. They are also asking for help from the creator to give them strength to continue their resistance.
Mother Seeds in Resistance from the Lands of Chiapas in Mexico is both educational and practical. The project encourages indigenous students to assume responsibility for learning the science and culture of their ancient corn, information passed down from their Mayan ancestors for thousands of years.
In addition to collecting and preserving these vital original seeds, students are researching, recording, and studying a vast amount of agricultural and cultural information from these farmers. This data includes the types of soils and mini-climate most suited to each seed type, recipes for preparing each type of corn, as well as ceremonies and stories associated with each variety of corn. The Zapatista Education System’s seed bank management is integrated as a continual relationship between the farming families and the schools; between the high-tech freezer and the traditional milpa. Collecting, learning and guarding their heritage is a learning process for all students. The entire community of adults and elders who plant and harvest corn to live, are therefore the principal teachers of the students and the education promoters who have replaced the government’s teachers in the autonomous schools.
Mother Seeds in Resistance from the Lands of Chiapas is also a response to the threat posed by the contamination and displacement of indigenous corn varieties by the genetically engineered and high input varieties from the industrialized north that are flooding rural Mexico in the wake of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Mexico, which is the center of origin of corn and carries the world’s greatest diversity of corn, banned cultivation of transgenic corn in 1998. However, the ban is only on the cultivation not on the import of corn seed. Five million tons of North American corn, almost all transgenic, is imported every year. Transgenic corn was found growing in Oaxaca in 2001. Then in 2002 Mexican scientists reported that 12 percent of the plants they sampled from Oaxaca and Puebla were contaminated or were transgenic varieties. The alarming situation forced the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico City to check all of its corn stocks for contamination.
The Zapatista spirit is made visible in Oventic. It is a spirit of autonomy. It is a spirit of resistance to the global system that sneers at them and wants them gone. It is a spirit of dignity as they resist, and as they walk, creating their own path before them.
Three-quarters of all flowering plants rely on another organism to perform a critical step in their life cycle: pollination. In fact, about one-third of the world’s food supply comes from crops that depend on bees, birds, bats, or other creatures to carry pollen to complete the fertilization process. When there are not enough wild pollinators in the area, farmers often lease thousands of colonies of bees to do the job.
In recent years, however, there have been reported shortages in the number of pollinators available for agriculture, and studies showing a population decline in certain pollinator species have prompted concerns that ecosystems could be disrupted. To raise awareness of this issue, the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, representing dozens of agencies and organizations in Canada, the United States, and Mexico, was formed. As part of its efforts, NAPPC requested that a National Research Council committee assess the status of pollinators on this continent.
The committee quickly discovered that data on North American pollinators paled in comparison to the information that has been gathered in Europe, where researchers have definitively documented declines and even extinctions. Nevertheless, enough data existed for the committee to find “demonstrably downward” population trends in some North American pollinators.
The evidence of a decline is most compelling for the honeybee, which is widely used for pollination; about 1.4 million colonies are needed to pollinate 550,000 acres of almond trees each year in California, for example. The number of honeybees in the U.S. is dropping, in part because of the toll taken by the non-indigenous varroa mite, a parasite first discovered in America in the 1980s and one that has proved stubbornly resistant to pesticides. To gain a better understanding of the extent of the honeybee decline, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service needs to collect more accurate data from the beekeeping industry, the committee said.
The shortage of honeybees is severe enough that last year it forced almond growers to import honeybees from outside North America for the first time since 1922, when the Honeybee Act banned such imports for fear they may introduce non-native pests and pathogens. Such fears should still be a concern, the committee warned, and USDA should support research to develop new pest-management and bee-breeding practices.
Among wild pollinators in North America, there is evidence of a drop in the abundance of several types of wild bees, especially bumblebees, as well as some butterflies, bats, and hummingbirds. But for most pollinator species, a lack of long-term population data makes assessments exceedingly difficult. A shortage of taxonomic resources and an incomplete biological characterization of most pollinator species further complicates efforts to catalog their numbers and diversity. The committee recommended that the United States, Canada, and Mexico establish a pollinator-monitoring network, beginning with a rapid, one-time assessment that can be used as a baseline for future comparisons.
The reasons for wild pollinator declines are not well-understood, although habitat degradation and loss have played a role, and climate change may be a factor as well. The bumblebee, like the honeybee, has suffered because of a recently introduced non-native parasite. The consequences of these declines in non-agricultural settings are not well-understood either. Few plants rely on a single pollinator, but rare and endangered plant species may be more vulnerable to extinction.
Too little is known about the basic taxonomy and ecology of most pollinators to design large-scale conservation and restoration programs at this point, the committee determined. But there are some simple steps that people can take on their own, such as planting native flowers to enhance pollinator habitat. — Bill Kearney
AS FALL TEMPERATURES CHANGE on the White Earth Reservation and the
mist lifts off the lakes, the Ojibwe take to the waters. Two people to a canoe, one poles through the thick rice beds, pushing the canoe forward, while the other, sitting toward the front of the boat, uses two long sticks to gently bend the rice and knock the seeds into the canoe. The sounds of manoominike, the wild rice harvest, are the gliding of the boat through the water and across shafts of rice, the soft swish of the rice bending, the raining
of the rice into the canoe. They are soothing sounds, reminding my people of the continuity between the generations. We have been harvesting rice here for centuries.
Each year, my family and I join hundreds of other harvesters who return daily with hundreds of pounds of rice from the region’s lakes and rivers. We call it the Wild Rice Moon, Manoominike Giizis. On White Earth, Leech Lake, Nett Lake, and other Ojibwe reservations in the Great Lakes region, it is a time when people harvest a food to feed their bellies and to sell for zhooniyaash, or cash, to meet basic expenses. But it is also a time to feed the soul.
FIFTEEN HUNDRED MILES AWAY, in Woodland, California, a company called
Nor-Cal has received a patent on wild rice. Conceptually, it seems almost impossible—patenting something called wild rice. The Ojibwe now find themselves at the center of an international battle over who owns lifeforms, foods, and medicines that have throughout history been the collective property of indigenous peoples.An estimated 90 percent of the world’s biodiversity lies within the territories of indigenous peoples, whether the Amazon, the Indian subcontinent, or the North Woods. A new form of colonialism, known as biocolonialism, is reaching deep into the heart of these communities.As Stephanie Howard wrote for the Indigenous People’s Council on Biocolonialism, “The flow of genes is primarily from indigenouscommunities and rural communities in ‘developing countries’ to the Northern-based genetics industry. Ninety-seven percent of all patents are held by industrialized countries.”
In 1994, for example, two researchers at the University of Colorado were able to secure a patent on quinoa, much to the surprise of native farmers in the Andean region of Bolivia and Ecuador who had been cultivating an stewarding the grain for thousands of years. The patent gave the university exclusive control over a traditional Bolivian sterile male variety called Apelawa, and also extended to hybrids developed from the breeding of forty-three additional traditional varieties. In 1998, the Bolivian National Quinoa Producers Association, with support from other groups internationally, was able to convince the researchers to drop the patent.
But similar patents were issued on the neem tree, ayahuasca (a medicinal plant of the Amazon), and many other medicinal plants. Some of these were also eventually revoked. In September 1997, RiceTec, a Texas-based
company, even won a controversial patent on the famed basmati rice. When the Indian government filed a complaint with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, RiceTec was forced to give up fifteen of twenty patent claims.
It was within this climate that University of Minnesota plant geneticist Ron Phillips, along with a few colleagues, mapped the wild rice genome in 2000. According to Phillips, this work is considered “important as a
foundation for genetic and crop improvement studies.” The Ojibwe believe that these studies, bearing names such as “Molecular Cytogenetics in Plant Improvement,” could have far-reaching implications. The wild rice gene
map is now filed with GenBank, a database operated by the National Institutes of Health, and its availability essentially sets the stage for genetic modification. Traditional breeding techniques attempt to enhance certain traits of the wild rice and to repress others, but with genetic engineering, it becomes possible to insert DNA from other plants into the wild rice. The Ojibwe are alarmed by this possibility, viewing it as an attack on the essential
nature of the rice itself.
THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO, according to our oral histories, the Anishinaabeg—called the Ojibwe or Chippewa by the federal government—followed a shell in the sky from the great waters of the East to the place where the food grows on the water. That food was wild rice, the only grain indigenous to North America, and it has been a central food in ceremony and sustenance for our people ever since. “The[y] gain their livelihood by fishing, hunting, gathering berries and wild rice and making maple sugar, which constitutes their chief means of support,” Indian agents would write, noting that the Ojibwe also relied on wild rice as a source of trade with the white settlers, and later as a source of credit and cash. The rice was so significant to the Ojibwe that the lands with the best wild rice stands—including Big Rice Lake, Rice Lake Refuge, Lake Winnibigoshish, Nett Lake, and other mother lodes of the great grain—were reserved.
Beyond the reservation borders, land was transferred to the U.S. government, but the rice was not. In an 1837 treaty, the Ojibwe ceded nearly 14 acres of Wisconsin and Minnesota but retained “the privilege of hunting,
fishing, and gathering the wild rice upon the lands, the rivers and the lakes included in the territory ceded.” Federal and Supreme Court cases, including the 1999 Mille Lacs Supreme Court case, have upheld the rights of the Ojibwe to traditional land-use outside the reservations. It was this close bond between a people and a food that University of Minnesota professor Albert Jenks encountered when he came to White Earth and other reservations to study wild rice in the late 1800s. He noted with disdain the Ojibwe harvesting practices. “Wild rice, which had led to their advance thus far, held them back from further progress,” he determined.His perception of the Ojibwe wild rice harvest as a bastion of primitiveness would become the prevailing opinion at the University of Minnesota throughout the twentieth century—indeed, a sort of battle cry for industrializing agriculture.
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Interview with Vandana Shiva
GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. In India, the benefits of modern agriculture come with a high price. It’s been reported as many as 150,000 Indian farmers over the past decade have committed suicide – many by drinking the pesticides they put on their crops. According to physicist and social activist Vandana Shiva, the farmers’ despair is due to the weight of overwhelming debt. They can no longer afford the escalating price of chemicals and bio-engineered seeds, like pest-resistant Bt cotton. Shiva says the suicides in India are only part of a global problem that can be traced to the way food is produced.
SHIVA: Chemical agriculture really is a theft from nature. Organic ecological farming is the only way we will be able to address the ecological crisis related to farming, the agrarian crisis emerging from industrial globalized agriculture, and the public health crisis coming from using war chemicals to produce our food.
GELLERMAN: Vandana Shiva is editor of a new book called “Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed.” Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood recently spoke with her about the problems, the politics, and the possibilities of food production.
CURWOOD: How did you first become aware of the relationships between the environment, the poor, and food?
SHIVA: The connections between the environment and agriculture, and food systems, and the issues of poverty really came home to me in the 80s, particularly 1984—and I don’t [know] why George Orwell picked that as the title of one of his books. It was the year we had the worst terrorism and extremism in India. Thirty thousand people were killed in Punjab where the Green Revolution had been implemented—the Green Revolution had even received a Nobel Peace Prize for creating prosperity and through prosperity creating peace. And yet in the 1980s, there was the worst form of violence you could imagine. In December of 1984, we had the worst industrial disaster in Bhopal, which killed 3,000 people in one night, 30,000 people since then, and I was forced to wake up and ask the question: why are we involved in an agriculture that is killing hundreds of thousands, that is so violent, and pretends to be feeding the world? And I started to do scientific research on this. My book “The Violence of the Green Revolution” came out of the research that I was doing at that point for the United Nations. And increasingly, I have realized that if farmers in India are getting into debt and committing suicide, it’s because of these industrially driven agricultural systems that are also destroying the environment. If children are going hungry today and are being denied food, it’s because the money is being spent on buying toxic chemicals and costly seeds rather than being spent on feeding children, clothing them, and sending them to school. So chemical agriculture really is a theft from nature and a theft from the poor.
CURWOOD: In your book Vandana Shiva, you mention that 800 million people in the world who suffer from malnutrition, and the 1.7 billion who suffer from obesity. What is it that the underfed and the overfed have in common?
SHIVA: Both are suffering from consequences of corporate control over the food system, which has reduced food to commodities, manipulated it, got the farmers into debt. The farmers and farmers’ children who are hungry today are the ones who have to sell what they produce in order to pay back credit for buying the chemicals they use to grow the food. The majority of the hungry in the world are rural people today. They could be growing their own food if the food system hadn’t been converted into a market for sales of seeds and agrichemicals. And on the other hand, the obesity epidemic and other related epidemics of diabetes–and in Delhi, childhood diabetes, children with diabetes, has jumped from seven percent to 14 percent in the city of Dehli, as the staple diet of Coca-Cola and chips starts to enter our school system–both are victims. Three billion people on this planet are being denied their right to healthy, safe, nutritious food even though the planet can produce that food, and farmers of the world can produce that food, because agribusiness has turned that food into a place for highest returns on profits.
CURWOOD: Now, anyone who goes grocery shopping here in the U.S. can tell you that organically-produced foods are .. generally more expensive than conventional foods and yet, in your book you write that conventional food is not the key to feeding the poor. Tell me about what you call the ‘myth’ of cheap food?
SHIVA: The myth of cheap food is related first and foremost to the fact that cheap food is a result of our tax money being used to lure the prices of food that has been produced at very high cost financially, and in the process had driven farmers off the land, including the United States—the family farms are being destroyed because of this very artificial low price of food, the monopolies that grow with it, which creates a buyers market as far as farmers are concerned. And then, at every level, a subsidy given for manipulating food more and more to take away its nutrition and food value and to add hazards and risks to it. The entire food system is today serving corporations and not serving people or the planet. We need to reclaim the food system.
CURWOOD: Now, some of the companies will tell you that genetically modified foods help increase food production, making more food available. You’ve been opposed to genetically modified foods since they first came on the market. What do you see wrong with genetically modified crops?
SHIVA: Well, you know the first thing is if they were so productive, Indian farmers, who are using Bt cotton, wouldn’t be the worst victims of farmer suicides. One scientist keeps churning out data about how $27 million additional income–if the farmers were making that additional income, they wouldn’t be ending their lives. The recent Nobel Prize in biology has gone to biologists who have shown that the determinism on which genetic engineering is based doesn’t work. Genes work in very complex interactions. This is why those of us who critique genetic engineering started to critique it as a very crude and primitive technology, based on very wrong assumptions of how life organizes itself. This idea of one gene, one expression doesn’t work. Because of the crudeness of the technology, industry has so far managed to bring us, commercially, only two kinds of traits. One is herbicide-tolerant crops, which means spray more ground up, contaminate your ecosystems and food systems more. And the second is Bt toxin crops, where a toxin called Bt is engineered into the plant and now every cell is making that toxin every moment. It starts to kill nontarget species, the very big study of Cornell on the monarch butterflies is one example, 1,800 sheep in India dying by eating Bt cotton is another example, (inaudible) studies that shows that genetically engineered food fed to mice starts to create huge damage physiologically, immunity systems collapse, the brains shrunk. We need much more research of this kind. Unfortunately the industry censures the research, pretends that everything is fine and starts to target the scientists, who have brought some level of awareness to society of the risks of manipulating life at the genetic level or assessing the consequences adequately.
CURWOOD: In your book you include war as one of the unaccounted for external costs of corporate agriculture. What does war have to do with the food we eat?
SHIVA: Agrichemicals that have come into farming were war chemicals. They’re products of war. When 30,000 people died in Bhopal, it’s because those pesticides were designed to kill people. Herbicides were designed as chemical warfare. 243D was Agent Orange of the Vietnam War. So the tools of agriculture have become the tools of warfare. Secondly, the idea of creating food dependency is also an idea of warfare. It came out of the foreign policy of the United States the very word and phrase ‘use food as a weapon.’ It’s being used against India today in friendship. The interesting thing is that the U.S. and India are very intimate today, but the U.S.-India agreement on agriculture is trying to create dependency of India on the United States. Supplies of food, even though we’re growing 74 million tons. This is warfare by another means.
CURWOOD: You want to build a new paradigm for food. What does that mean exactly?
SHIVA: I think the first element of the paradigm is that food is not a commodity. It’s the very basis of life. Secondly, food production is not industrial activity. It is nurturing the land. It is conserving resources. It is giving livelihoods. It is shaping a culture. And it is much more than bringing corn and soya bean and wheat and cotton to the marketplace. We have to recognize that biodiversity is the real capital of food and farming and linked to it is cultural diversity–that we are richer to the extent we have diversified food cultures in the world. We are poorer as the biodiversity of our farms disappears and the cultural diversity of our food systems disappears.
CURWOOD: So what should the average person do in terms of a response to your call?
SHIVA: I think the average person should recognize that even though they are in cities they are connected to the land. That somewhere, somebody produced the food they’re eating. And we will all be freer, if around every city are rural communities where small farmers are able to produce food of quality, make a living doing that, and there is a more intimate connection between the food people eat and the land it comes from and the producers who have made an effort to bring it. I think every city should have its own food shed. The creation of farmers’ markets is a beginning. But I don’t think we can leave the farmers’ markers to be token symbols. We need to move the money of taxpayers from subsidizing corporations to bring us junk and poison, to bringing farmers’ markets everywhere, to helping small producers everywhere connect to those who are looking for more secure food, more safe food, more tasty food, more quality food. The most important issue is to break the myth that safe, ecological, local, is a luxury only the rich can afford. This planet cannot afford the additional burden of more carbon dioxide, more nitrogen oxide, more toxins in our food. Our farmers cannot afford the economic burden of these useless toxic chemicals. And our bodies cannot afford the bombardment of these chemicals any more.
CURWOOD: Dr. Vandana Shiva is a physicist and environmental activist. Thank you so much.
SHIVA: Thank you, Steve.
GELLERMAN: Vandana Shiva is also the editor of a new book called, “Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed.” She spoke with Living on Earth Executive Producer Steve Curwood.
Kanyini is a Pitjantjatjara word meaning interconnectedness to care for, to support and to protect. In this film bob Randall, an Aboriginal an from Uluru, provides an overview of the effects of white settlement on Indigenous Australians.
The film covers the the major areas in which Aboriginal people have suffered dispossession and puts into context the ways in which this dislocation from tradition, land, spirituality and family continues to affect their lives today.
For further information on this resource contact Greg Maguire, Senior Education Officer, Anti-Racism Education at firstname.lastname@example.org