Vandana Shiva

Why farmers are revolting

July 24, 2023
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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.

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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