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by UnHerd Staff
Monday, 24
July 2023

Vandana Shiva: why farmers are revolting

The environmentalist talked to UnHerd about the perils of industrialisation
by UnHerd Staff

Last week at the UnHerd Club, environmental activist Vandana Shiva joined Flo Read to talk about the current state of farming, both in the UK and across the world.  

Shiva, a food sovereignty advocate who has spent many years campaigning against industrialised farming, painted a gloomy picture of life as a modern day farmer. The patenting of seeds by large corporations and unachievable yield expectations leave many of them struggling to make ends meet. In this environment, it is not only farmers suffering from the flattening effects of Big Agriculture, which strives for ever greater yields and efficiency in the food industry, but our food too, due to the resulting lack of nutrients.

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With farmers increasingly held responsible for climate change in the media, Shiva suggests that it’s no wonder they’re up in arms, from India to the Netherlands. “The dominant system wants to take the food future to a place where there’s farming without farmers and food without farms,” she said. “That was what the Dutch issue was all about. So just like Extinction Rebellion is trying to resist the extinction, the farmers’ resistance is resisting the extinction of farmers.”

When it comes to global warming, Shiva argues that humanity is stuck in a feedback loop, unable to recognise that our faith in technological solutions has created the very problems its trying to solve. Why, then, should we trust technology to get us out of it? The industrialisation of farming is, in her words, “based on total greed and total monopoly”. 

“Eco-modernism is not a movement. Movements grow from the ground,” Shiva stated. “Modernity and modernism have devastated the world. It begins with the assumption that nature is dead, that we’re going to improve her.” She went on: “Colonialism is modernity. The reason it doesn’t hang together is because something that says ‘we will trample on nature’ can’t be the saviour of nature. That’s why the technological fix won’t work.”

While industrial farming’s negative impact on the environment is well-known, Shiva also claimed that, contrary to popular belief, it is also incapable of feeding humanity. Relying on smaller farms which respect the natural biodiversity of a region, and which do away with fertilisers, would actually produce significantly more food than our current system of large monoculture farms. If we changed our ways, “even in rich countries, the people who are starving today stop starving”.

The future of agriculture, for Shiva, “has to be biodiverse. It has to be small farms: many, many small farms. And 100 small farms are far more productive than one farm in the place of the 100.”

The good news is that as soon as the “technofix” wisdom is abandoned, climate armageddon becomes easily avoidable. “If even just some of the farms go ecological and start practising agriculture in ways where there’s more photosynthesis, more biodiversity, more return to the soil, we actually can reach that 1.5 degree target,” Shiva said.

It won’t take all that much to turn back the clock on the climate disaster, and the activist has herself witnessed nature’s ability to heal itself: “We think it is the end of the world. No, some people have a dystopian vision of the future, where they want to get rid of every cow, every farmer, every plant, and glyphosate the world to death […] No, the Earth still has an abundant ability to regenerate.”

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Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 months ago

What is ignored is the fertility of the soil. Adding chemical fertilisers does not replace the 17 or so elements needed for biological activity. The reason why soils on basalts are so productive is because the rock is rich in the elemnts needed for biological processes.
The next step is to increase the organic content, namely fulvic acid, humic acid and humin which holds water and keps the soil particles separate. Highly fertile soils have large numbers of earthworms and many thousands of of different bacteria and fungi which enable it to hold water yet not be water logged. The next step is increasing total organic content. The black soils of the Ukraine which are up to 1.5m thick have up to 16%humus enable high yields to be produced. .
Chernozem – Wikipedia
If one looks at Britain soil fertility was incresed by drainage, manuring , marling( clay with 30 % calcium carbonate ) and sanding.

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
2 months ago

And 100 small farms are far more productive than one farm in the place of the 100.

Where’s the evidence for that bizarre statement!
Just a random eco-hippy vision of us all living in yurts and being happy with the meagre corps we can grow in our own back gardens.
Dream on

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Wise

The evidence is primarily in quality of the SOIL in 100 small farms vs 1 in place of the 100 ie monoculture farming.
Small farms often have better ability to ward pests and disease as there is diversity of crop, hence better production. The soil is better preserved hence the food grown is richer due to presence of trace minerals and richer organic content. There is less dependence on chemical fertilisers which are replaced by animal waste and because the farmer is financially & emotionally invested in his farm and animals, there is better husbandry.
As she also said, the ability of small farms to quickly change crop in crisis is important. Large farms are less flexible and are certainly not interested in ecology within or beyond the farm.
There was an excellent documentary on Netflix called My Little Big Farm. Perhaps you will get the idea once you watch it.