and Food Democracy: The Dung Factor
Book Review by Mia MacDonald
Stolen Harvest: the Hijacking of the Global
Food Supply by
Vandana Shiva (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2000). Paperback, $14.
"The right of corporations to force-feed citizens of the world
with culturally inappropriate and hazardous foods has been made absolute
[in the globalizing economy]. The right to food, the right to safety,
the right to culture are all being treated as trade barriers that need
to be dismantled...we have to reclaim our right to nutrition and food
safety. We have to reclaim our right to protect the earth and her diverse
species. We have to stop this corporate theft from the poor and from
nature. Food democracy...is the new agenda for ecological sustainability
and social justice."Vandana Shiva in Stolen Harvest
At its most basic, Stolen Harvest: the Hijacking of the Global Food
Supply by Vandana Shiva is an impassioned, reality-based testament
(humble and at times homespun) to what happens when ignorance is ignored
and knowledge joined with its often elusive twin, action. Shiva is
physicist and long-time environmental activist in India who in recent
years has become a lead player, a star, in the worldwide movement to
check the excesses of globalization. She speaks regularly at conferences
and "teach-ins" on the global economy, and was in the streets
and gathering places during the World Trade Organization protests in
Seattle in 1999, and the "A16" protests against the lending
policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund this spring
in Washington. Shiva is an eloquent speaker and a confident, economical
writer. She is also incredibly productive, producing books and articles
at regular intervals.
Stolen Harvest, her latest contribution, is a slim but potent
tract on how the globalizing economy, and its arsenalfree trade,
international finance and multinational corporationsis co-opting,
adulterating and ravaging diverse food supplies around the world. What
she documents here through a series of short case studies is fascinating,
chilling and at times, jaw-droppingly horrible. Take the fact that shrimp
"farming" is decimating coastal ecosystems and livelihoods
throughout Asia and Latin America so that consumers in the U.S. and
Europe can dine on cheap jumbo shrimp. Because shrimp farms require
so much water to flush out holding pens, villages in India that had
abundant water before the shrimp farms arrived are now suffering "water
famines." Salt water from the shrimp ponds also seeps into aquifers
and adjacent agricultural lands, and is fueling massive deforestation
of coastal forests.
Throughout the book, Shiva documents the work of community and small
non-governmental organizations in the developing world to counter the
corporatization and monopolization of food. She also includes the voices
of people at the grassroots level living with the consequences of private
sector and their own governments decisions to globalize and mechanize.
Here is the voice of just one, an Indian villager living in a coastal
area full of large-scale shrimp farms: "We have lost all our drinking
water, where earlier there used to be nine wells...we no longer live
in this village as all the houses have collapsed because of dampness
and salinity. Five hundred families have been displaced."
The irony is that traditional systems of shrimp cultivation practiced
in India for over 500 yearsbut viewed as backward and small scale
by Indias technocrats and global corporations, intent on "modernization"
and higher and higher shrimp yieldshave little negative environmental
impact, do not require chopping down coastal trees, and, Shiva argues,
are as profitable as the intensive shrimp farms. A major theme that
runs throughout the book is that methods of food production developed
over thousands of years by rural peoples are not only more profitable
than the globalizers preferred methods, but are more effective
at promoting food security. They also have far fewer negative environmental
impacts, keep control of food supplies in local hands, promote crop
diversity (as opposed to industrial agricultures focus on monocrops)
and support local and national economies.
For example, in her chapter, "Mad Cows and Sacred Cows," about
attempts by developed countries to increase meat consumption in the
Southeven in historically vegetarian IndiaShiva makes a
compelling economic and ethical case. She argues that the slaughter
of increasing numbers of Indian cows for export to the Gulf States (exports
of meat from India have increased 20 times since 1995, to nearly 140,000
tons per year) is creating more poverty than wealth. Her calculation:
because so many cows are being exported, less dung is available for
manure and fuel. (Eighty million cattle meet two-thirds of the energy
needs of Indian villages.) In addition, to replace the "energy
and fertility" cows provide for free, India must import more fertilizer,
fossil fuels, tractors and trucks. The result? While meat exports earn
India Rs. 10 million per year (about $330,000), the lost wealth cows
provide costs the country Rs. 150 million ($5 million) annuallya
balance sheet no rational economist would accept.
And this is part of Shivas main point: when it comes to food production
and so much else, globalizers ignore both context and consequences.
They argue for "modernization"more, bigger, fasterwithout
evident concern for whats left behind: strip-mined seas, deserted
villages, rural people in thrall to corporate agribusiness for their
seeds and markets, and a stunning loss of diversity in agriculture.
For Shiva, though, the argument goes beyond mere economics (even though
here, too, the globalizers are on very shaky ground, as Shivas
cases show) to encompass values, justice and ethics. Trying to instill
meat-eating in India is wrong economically, ecologically and spiritually.
Shiva writes: "Both materially and conceptually, the world of Indian
agriculture has built its sustainability on the integrity of the cow,
considering her inviolable and sacred...[increasing meat production]
leads to non-sustainability, violence to animals and lower productivity
when all systems are assessed." Indeed.
Note: Vandana Shiva will speak at a Teach-In on "Economic
Globalization and the Role of the United Nations," in New York
on September 5. The Teach-In, sponsored by the International Forum on
Globalization, runs from 1 to 11 pm at Town Hall in Manhattan. Its
timed to coincide with the millennial session of the UN General Assembly.
For information or tickets, visit www.ifg.org
or call 888-629-9269.