By Rosie Spinks
City on a Hill Press Reporter

Vandana Shiva commanded the attention of a large audience of students, environmentalists and activists as she returned to UC Santa Cruz last Friday to speak about her work and new book, “Soil Not Oil.”

The lecture marked the beginning of the Education for Sustainable Living Program’s (ESLP) spring speaker series, a student-run course that will be offered through College Eight during spring quarter.

Shiva, an environmental and social activist from India, is the founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, which promotes research through participatory action that engages local communities.

She first gained notoriety during the 1970s through her work in the Chipko movement, in which women in the Himalayan region of India resisted the destruction of the forest by hugging trees.

“Women were defending the forest but also defending their rights,” she said. “The primary gifts of the forest are water, soil and pure air.”

Shiva’s long career of activism has been centered on issues of sustainable agriculture and ecofeminism. She has rallied against the use of genetically engineered crops, the patenting of natural life forms such as seeds, and the growing of monoculture cash crops that result in the loss of biodiversity.

Shiva’s message fits in with the broad goal of community and activism that ESLP’s organizers seek to promote, said Katie Landeros, a fourth-year environmental studies major and ESLP facilitator.

“She makes connections between local community activism and the greater food systems,” Landeros said. “One of our action research teams is focused on GMOs, so it fits perfectly with their vision and mission.”

Shiva has worked in India for the rights of farmers who cannot make a living from their land because of industrial farming and corporations, such as biotech giant Monsanto. Shiva promotes the re-emergence of small-scale, local and organic food as the way to feed communities and face the climate crisis.

“The nonviability of farming is part of the industrial and agribusiness model,” Shiva said. “If there’s one thing that shouldn’t be unviable it’s agriculture — it’s primary production.”

Since the late 1990s, in what Shiva refers to as the “decade of seed monopoly,” 200,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide because of their inability to pay the tremendous debt they owe from using corporate seeds. Not only are these seeds massively expensive to obtain, they also offer no sustenance to the farmer because they are cash crops grown for export. Shiva has successfully put this tragic phenomenon on the national agenda in India.

“Ninety percent of the farmer’s suicides were from drinking pesticides,” Shiva said. “Globalization has ended up looking like genocide for some people.”

Shiva discussed the current global financial crisis and its connections to globalization’s destruction of the natural world.

“We’ve forgotten that the real economy is nature’s economy,” Shiva said. “Mr. Obama needs to realize that the real stimulus package needed is the stimulus for local, organic economies.”

Max Harrison, a second-year environmental studies major, said that Shiva’s message inspired him to keep working toward a more just, sustainable world.

“She inspired me with the way she connected so many things that previously seemed unconnected,” Harrison said. “She made me realize that when I am working for the cause of local and organic food I am working for the rest of the world.”

When asked by a member of the audience if she maintained any sense of hope about the direction of the world, Shiva said she remains optimistic.

“We should not panic because so many crises are happening,” she said. “We should celebrate because it is such a wake-up call that we cannot sleepwalk our way through it.”

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