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Bija: the Seeds of Freedom

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Many of you already know the name Vandana Shiva. She is a tireless activist, writer and educator, born in Dehradun, close to the Himalayas.

Vandana's influence on 'green thinking' now reaches all over the world, but she still draws her inspiration from that inexhaustible well... Mother India. Her thought comes from long tradition of village democracy, 'small is beautiful', and Vedic heritage, walking in the footsteps of Ghandi, Schumacher and so many others, believing in the empowerment of people through appropriate technology, bio diversity and seed sovereignty, equality and justice.

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Core of her understanding is the integrity of the seed or "Bija". In SanskriteBijameans:that from which live arises forever ..."the very meaning of Bija (or seed) is the holder of perennial evolution".

Once we understand the core role of Bija-Seed deeply in evolution and its interweaving with human history, we can suddenly gain clarity on the issues of breeding, sustainability, bio--diversity and the whole social and ecological fabric that is assumed and implied in seed sovereignty. Breeding of seed varieties assumes a collective of keen minds, carefully observing the interchange of seeds, soil conditions and water and drawing subtle conclusions about the fertility and other characteristics of seed varieties. That is the way to start coping with larger factors such as climate change and the challenge it poses to world food security.

The networks of ecological interdependency are not random, and not to be frivolously messed with for instance through genetic manipulation. GM crops destroy bio-diversity, and then monopolize the seed stock and the availability of real food . The large seed corporations have not come up with any new seed varieties to cope with climate change. The Green Revolution people have come up with some 8,000 new hybrid varieties which are highly dependent on chemical inputs and create monocultures. Yet it is the small farmers that have made the greatest contribution to seeds and seed varieties of all: during the same time they have at least 105 whole new crop species and some 1.9 million new plant varieties.

Who are you gonna trust??

To satisfy an inexhaustible greed, global corporations such as Monsanto seek world domination through domination of the food supply. These predators of bio-diversity use the tools of patenting, genetic manipulation and the establishments of monopolies of chemically responsive seeds and often infertile hybrids. Both the prices for seed and agricultural chemicals (let alone fuel for transportation) have skyrocketed opening a specter of global food emergency and hunger.

Genetic modification is not only (intentionally?) fouling up the nest of genetic integrity of organic seeds --its second generation of growth is totally unpredictable and thus unreliable for farming and food supply. Product and process patents can now be granted for seeds, plants, animals, microorganisms, cells and genetically modified organisms through the trade laws that are consistent with the WTO prescriptions. Seems like a remote concern? Consider this: these patents applied to seed, plant and genetic material may become a matter of life and death for millions of people in India and many more all over the world. Vandana Shiva explains how the suicides by over 200.000 farmers to date has directly to do with this monstrous domination ideology that is being acted out on top of the heads of farmers in India: these suicides were the result of indebtedness because of the higher and higher costs of seeds and other inputs.

The other result of globalization of the food supply has been the commodification of food. Food is now traded world wide as a commodity, and there is ever increasing speculation in commodity backed obligations which are then leveraged after that --totally removed from the agriculture or food itself, let alone the people that actually work the land. Companies don't grow food now --they grow bio-mass. Whether that ends up as fodder for the masses or bio fuels is of no concern. Only 5 companies worldwide own a majority of the seeds and thus have interest in creating scarecity in order to drive prices up. We have seen very large price fluctuations of grains for instance, mostly on the up side, that has made it clear that the food market is subject to massive market manipulation. The acreage equivalent to half of all the agricultural land of the whole of Europe, was bought up by national and corporate interests in the last 8 months or so --driving the people off the land.

Devinder Sharma, analyst with the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security in India, predicted civil unrest.

"Outsourcing food production will ensure food security for investing countries but would leave behind a trail of hunger, starvation and food scarcities for local populations," he said. "The environmental tab of highly intensive farming -- devastated soils, dry aquifer, and ruined ecology from chemical infestation -- will be left for the host country to pick up."

The only winners of these devious games are the Monsantos and their ilk, while people that live on the land and are growing the food are going hungry today.

Let there be no doubt: there is a large increase in the legions that are going hungry worldwide - now over a billion. People, some estimate as many as 600 million of them, are forced from rural areas into the cities because "that is where the food is" - a recipe for disaster and anarchy. The food riots of the last few years my only be a taste of what is to come. Over 11% of Americans, some 32 million people are on food stamps, going up at the rate of 17% per year. These symptoms of scarcity are the direct result of these agricultural policies and the revolving door between regulators, industry and wall street.

The food crisis of today forces us to make a choice between reliance on a few large corporations and their masters, and the carefully laid case for the model of Bija: Seed Sovereignty. Vandana Shiva and her the Navdanya team are giving us a path to cope with the crisis. They have started the establishment of bio-regional seed banks and they are calling upon us to do the same and to get informed about the issues. Support in whatever way you can:

-no patenting of seeds

-no gm foods (and insist on labeling of gm foods and then boycott them)

-promote organics: restore soil, bio-diversity, reject chemicals, restore vitality of local market

-fight WTO rules on intellectual property on plants and seeds and genetic material

-organize regional seed exchanges and resist bio-piracy

-defend the integrity of seeds through understanding "Bija Swaraj" meaning Seed sovereignty which is Self governance

-buy from your local farmers and eat less meat


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Willem Malten studied sociology and anthropology in Amsterdam. Afterwards Willem participated in the Tassajara Zen Monastery. In the last 25 years Since 1984 Willem has run the Cloud Cliff, a medium size bakery and restaurant in Santa Fe, and (more...)

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