By Natalia Gelós
Physicist Vandana Shiva has been told a fanatic, obscurantist, who has no scientific rigor and prefers a starving town to one fed with transgenics. Despite his ideas becoming slogans for hipsters and vegans, his speech is political, lucid, and popular. Eight hundred and fifty people attended one of his conferences in Buenos Aires. Natalia Gelós followed her, spoke with her, with her old and new followers and investigated the arguments of her adversaries.
Sitting there, at the table in this hotel, slightly bent over the laptop screen, with her graying bun held up by a brooch, her ruana spilled over her left shoulder, she is seen as a woman oblivious to what is happening around her. In the language of those around her and look at her with respect while releasing a reverential whisper. Thus, sitting for a few seconds, she looks like another lady, tangled in her thoughts. You will return to that position several times. In the interval between each interview, you will reconnect. She will talk about her topics with sustained enthusiasm: ecofeminism, transgenic foods and their consequences on life and on earth; Monsanto as the corporation that poisons the planet. Days before setting an audience record for an academic talk, with 850 people in the room, he will emphasize the need to create a new world. A world whose secret is hidden in the strength of the seeds of organic farmers. With each journalist you will transform into a didactic speaker with an affable smile and sharp arguments and, at each break, you will quickly return to your computer and connect with your activity around the world. This 64-year-old woman is Vandana Shiva and, although she is invited to speak from various countries and has been singled out as one of the most influential people in environmental matters, she keeps her home and her base of operations in India, in the same corner where she does More than thirty years, a struggle began that made it one of the faces of the resistance against the agro-industrial corporations.
Raising children and cooking is not productive for today's capitalist patriarchy, says Vandana Shiva.
—Eco-feminism sees that and is the window to understand it is a false construction.
His voice spreads throughout the hotel room. It is as if the cold and sunny Sunday afternoon paused, and the real and atrocious face of the world was embodied in the air. There is something musical in her voice that is recognized in videos multiplied by the web of her hundreds of conferences around the planet that end, almost unanimously, with those present standing up to applaud her. Do not confuse that warmth with naivety. Although some of his ideas may turn into slogans repeated by absent-minded hipsters, vegan fashionistas, and screaming communicators, his speech is political and lucid. That is why it has become a universal reference, without itching to say, for example, that Bill Gates is a thief disguised as a philanthropist. Her fans have compared her to Mother Teresa and Gandhi. Others took that relationship pejoratively: the English newspaper The Independent has said that she, like the pacifist leader, is a slave to a romantic vision that has little to do with reality. In The New Yorker they have highlighted her social belonging, placing her as part of the Brahmin caste.
He moves his hands full of rings. Beneath the ruana she wears a green sari. More than once he will touch his bindi, the red dot on his brow. He came to Argentina for the 3rd International Environmental Film Festival (FINCA). Before that, she was in Mexico as a guest of honor at the Pre-hearing of the Permanent Peoples Court where the transgenic contamination of native corn was debated. The future is a seed and Vandana Shiva is its guardian: visit every place where a battle is fought to resist genetic modifications.
The photo shows them smiling in Mar del Plata. It's 1998. Vandana wears glasses, at that time she was 46 years old, and a few kilos more than now. The same traditional clothing, made by artisans with natural fibers. The poet and journalist Alberto Pipo Lernoud accompanies her along with other activists such as María Calzada, a pioneer in promoting organic food, Lucas Chiappe, a journalist who developed a sustainable project in the south decades ago, and León Gieco. It was Lernoud who summoned them all. Two years earlier, then-president Carlos Saúl Menem had authorized the first transgenic soybeans in an 81-day process: he took those carried out by Monsanto as preliminary studies. At that time, the process of industrial agriculture began to advance by teeth and a timid but firm resistance took shape in 1998, with the first Congress in Argentina of IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements). The photo and a couple of documents remain as a record.
"At that time genetic engineering began," says Lernoud. Felipe Solá as minister of agriculture had just allowed the use of plants from the first transgenic soybean. We said it was a danger. We made a statement and Vandana signed it, along with others, like León Gieco.
Shiva's name was beginning to become legend. In 1993 he was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, which is known as the Alternative Nobel Prize. It is given in Sweden to those who "work in the search and application of solutions for the most urgent changes that today's world needs." (Edward Snowden received it in 2014).
From his Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology he had sued Monsanto for illegally testing on Indian soil with the production of cotton with Bt technology. And he won for a while: the company could not commercialize its seeds until 2002. Shiva knew what he was talking about and when he began to tell his fight he captivated everyone. Lernoud says:
"The image was very strong." He spoke scientifically and powerfully. The problem of GMOs and the corporatization of agriculture and the subsidiary issues of the corporations that have taken control of the food industry had no one who spoke like her.
Lernoud says that, unlike academics stuck in universities, she speaks "to people, with very solid arguments." And it highlights its spiritual background: we must understand that we are part of the earth.
They kept in touch. Lernoud saw her a few times he saw when she suffered from kidney problems. “It doesn't stop. It's like a rock star. Everyone wants to touch her, they want to show her things ”. Her friend has seen her argue as equals with Ministers from different countries. "He gives his life for this," he says.
When he met his farm in India, he was surprised to see how his speech became tangible; it was about five hectares full of action. A reproduction of what Navdanya means today: peasants in full movement from one place to another among the earth, among the plants, doing something that is pure posterity: taking care of food by the hand of seeds and their growth. Today there are 750 thousand workers in various provinces of India. In those years there were not so many, but the fervor that the Argentine journalist saw was the same. The afternoon of the talk in the Aula Magna of the Faculty of Medicine, Shiva named Lernoud as "his friend."
A valley at the foot of the Himalayas; a region of forests and rivers. That was his first landscape. He was born in 1952 in Dehradun, the capital of the state of Uttarakhand, in northern India. He grew up among the trees guarded by his father, a conservationist, and among the teachings of his mother. She had quit her job in education to live in the country. From her he learned the value of women and the shrewd political reading of the world. More than once, Vandana Shiva recognized herself as privileged, because she was able to study, and she did. First, physics, then a Ph.D. in philosophy in Canada. As she progressed in her studies, that initial landscape changed and with those alterations something began to stir inside her; something that ended up exploding when it came into contact with the Chipko movement, which was born in 1977. Chipko means “hug”, and that is what peasants and artisans did to prevent the unbridled advance of the timber industry. In particular, women took the reins of that protest that was born between fury and loving gesture. And that, together with the legacy of his mother, began to stir concerns that he had always had. In 1982, he created the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology. In 1988 he published his first book, Staying Alive. He wrote more. It passed the twenty titles. Some, the most important: Embracing life: woman, ecology and development (1995), Ecofeminism. Theory, criticism and perspectives, together with Maria Mies (1997), Monocultures of the mind (2008). Books that are underlined, marked, and discussed.
Men and women stand up to applaud her wherever she appears. Be it in an arid town in Africa, or in the convention hall where the United Nations Conference for Sustainable Development was held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012.
"We believe that seeds have freedom." Seeds are life and life is freedom. Farmers are free to save seeds. Monsanto's laws won't stand in the way of our freedom and that's why I founded Navdanya, ”he says now, and attendees cheer like he's finished a hit. Navdanya is the Foundation that she created to fight for the rights of farmers against the advance of corporatism in general and the entry of BT cotton seeds (which have in their gene a bacterium that works as a pesticide) from the hand of Monsanto in India , in particular.
With Navdanya he put together a national movement in 1991 and dedicated himself to protecting the diversity of resources and grains, taking care of organic farming, and promoting fair trade. He also founded a school, Bija Vidyapeeth, which promotes sustainable living.
He walks into the room and everyone stands up, cheers, claps. She stays by the table and applauds the audience as well. Eight hundred and fifty people signed up to listen to it in the Aula Magna of the Faculty of Medicine of the UBA. As part of FINCA, before the public interview that Soledad Barruti, the author of Malcomidos, the book that reveals the secrets of the national food industry, begins, they settle into chairs to watch a short and beautiful documentary called Seeds. It shows the way in which rural producers in the south of Brazil carry out their crops: they share and sow native, ancestral seeds that have always been used by their families.
"Five minutes with her is like spending five minutes with the Pope," says Beatriz, an agricultural producer from Lobos who lists, like many in the classroom, her fights to defend artisanal crops.
Behind the table where Shiva speaks, hangs the huge picture that Antonio González Moreno painted: the inauguration ceremony of the Protomedicato in one of the Cabildo's rooms in 1780. Men are seen, the Viceroy, an Army general, a mayor … No lady. Very different from what happens here, at the foot of the painting: Vandana, Soledad Barruti, Miryam Gorban, from the Free Food Sovereignty Chair, who minutes before invited Monsanto to court on behalf of the community before the court of the Haya that will be in October. In González Moreno's painting there are no women like Gorban who says: “Globalize the struggle to globalize hope. By eating healthy, safe and sovereign we will all be together ”. In the painting there are no Shivas Vandanas who say what she says, dressed in her red and orange sari:
"Everyone who knows is a scientist in the true sense," he says and looks at the imposing room where some days classes are given, for example, biophysics, and others are rented for cultural meetings. Monsanto has invested millions of dollars to declare who the real scientists are. It is a good time for good knowledge, good science, and to resist propaganda. You just have to unmask them.
He had his first seed bank at his home in the city. Then her parents helped her buy a small piece of land. Today it is a green and voluptuous corner where skinny cows graze, dogs run and agriculture is treated with the devotion of one who reveres a mystery.
In all these years, his name began to grow stronger in the world and in Argentina. The admiration for her grew in tune with the movements that share her ideas.
From the late 1990s to the present, a resounding and silent change has occurred in Argentina. The transgenic soybean advanced: from six million hectares it went to twenty million in 2015. And although millionaire exports were made (studies by the Gino Germani Institute speak of 158 billion dollars between 2002 and 2013), an agricultural model was consolidated that It came hand in hand with the piecemeal use of agrochemicals such as glyphosate. In parallel, researchers analyzed the effects of this model, farmers opted for organic production, some organizations began the struggle to change the system. Some chairs of food sovereignty in the faculties began to open the discussion.
The Faculty of Agronomy of the UBA is, in itself, an irruption of country air in the middle of the city. Trees, orchards; the llamas graze next to the horses and cows and they watch the buses pass by with indifference. There in 2011, the Chair of Food Sovereignty was inaugurated by Carlos Carballo. A space for reflection where different views meet; fair trade projects and sustainable projects.
According to Carballo, Shiva's speech has penetrated so much in Argentina because it is entering into a deep national debate about seeds and the role of transnationals.
-Monsanto seems to embody that "enemy" of the peoples, but behind are many other and world interests that subordinate life to mere short-term commercial speculations.
The Hall of the Provinces is full. Outside, in Congress, there were about fifty people who arrived too late and could not enter. Ambassadors, senators, organizers, some agricultural producers gather in the room and everything flows with greater solemnity than the day before, at the Faculty of Medicine. Pino Solanas, Florencia Santucho, the director of the FINCA, Marie Monique Robin, a documentary filmmaker who reveals the silent extermination of agrochemicals (and who once said: “If there is a country in which Monsanto has been able to do whatever it wanted without the slightest obstacle, that's Argentina. ”Next to them, at the long table, Vandana Shiva looks with interest at the huge stained glass window that crowns the ceiling. This time there is no applause or shouting, but everyone is watching her attentively. The meeting is part of the meetings of the Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development of the Senate of the Nation. Pino Solanas, its president, talks about the need to think about another agricultural model, to dispense with seeds of genetic manufacture and their fumigation with toxins, and throws a a fact as simple as it is disturbing: "The lettuce you eat in your salad has between fifteen and twenty-five pesticides on top. It was born with them. They are in the systemic structure of the plant. It is not something that goes with bleach or saw nagre ”. He mentions an analysis by the University of La Plata on the rain that falls in rural areas where agrochemicals are used: they found glyphosate in its drops. Vandana Shiva points to the stained glass window. His speech is more formal than the day before, but he maintains his candor.
"I was asking Florencia Santucho (the director of the Festival) what that work of art meant." She speaks and looks at everyone, smiles. He tells me it has to do with independence and freedom. Food today is the source of colonialism.
This time he will talk about patents, piracy, food sovereignty from the laws and the ways of dealing with the issue by governments.
Not everyone is fascinated with it. Forbes magazine calls her the anti-GMO celebrity. In a 2014 note, he brings together the voices of those who have criticized Shiva throughout his history. One of them, for example, is the journalist Mark Lynas, who has come to Argentina to give talks and defend the use of GMOs. They linked him to Greenpeace and it was the NGO itself that came to undo: in 2014 the organization circulated a statement clarifying that they had nothing to do with Lynas, who was first an anti-transgenic activist and then made a public apology and went to the opposite side. Shiva has been called a fanatic, obscurantist; They have told him that it has no scientific rigor and that he prefers to see a people starving to one fed with GMOs (this was said by C.S. Prakash, an Indian professor who defends this type of GMO industry). Several pages are dedicated to tracing the links between these defenders of GMOs and end up linking the authors with the companies that they claim to defend objectively.
In 2014, for example, an article about Shiva in The New Yorker, titled Seeds of doubts, signed by Michael Specter relativized several of his flags. Shiva stopped to answer each of the questions the journalist questioned. He had a couple of words for him and for all those who claim that he is not worthy of being called a scientist: “My education does not fit his narrative (…) Specter and the biotech industry (and The New Yorker, by association) would like to identify the millions of people who oppose GMOs as unscientific, romantic. My education is obviously a thorn in his side. " The controversy continued: the magazine's general editor, David Remnick, made another discharge.
Now, sitting in the living room of the hotel in San Telmo, she says: “They are paid means. If someone comes and talks to me, I hope they have integrity and dignity. The man from the New Yorker actually lied to me. I met with him for about fifteen minutes at the United Nations meeting. He didn't really know me. Sure, The New Yorker was bought by Condé Nast, who have a close relationship with Monsanto. Then it was not so surprising ”.
"Does it happen at all levels?"
What happens with the media happens with science. I don't have five days in my life to come to Argentina. I created them. I created them because we need solidarity. We have to see that pattern at all levels.
—What you eat, what you saw also matches your ideas on all levels?
—My mother was very active in the independence of India and told me that when she bought handmade clothes, a woman could bring food for her children. This handmade saree, each of these garments has been hand dyed, using creativity. When I wear clothes or when it comes to some form of betting on beauty, knowledge, and I refuse to think that this (grabs her clothes, moves them) is a commodity. I think that what you wear and what you eat define your relationship with the world.
"Did you make many sacrifices in all these years of fighting?"
—I left my academic career, the possibility of being part of an elite. I decided to be a nobody. Coming here to Argentina is a sacrifice, taking this time away from home, from family, is sacrifice. But I do it.
She is the rock star of the earth, the pope, the shaman, the scientist. Shiva is not afraid of the whims of those who raise their finger to say who is worthy of science. It invites to put the concept in crisis. When he has to argue with them, he argues with them. But, in general it makes its way among those who do not need pristine slates and cocktails to greet businessmen. In a talk with Daniel Viglietti, Atahualpa Yupanqui said in 1986: "Man is an animated land." Lernoud remembers it when he talks about Shiva. Carballo lets it understand when he talks about its importance. There is a thread, a network that crosses borders and years. Ironies of language. "Man is earth that walks" Is it not an ecofeminist conception? Anyway, it is an invitation to the roots, to the earth, to there, where Vandana Shiva also looks. There, where the seeds sprout.
* Natalia Gelós is a militant of freelancism. Since he was studying journalism at the University of La Plata, he wove networks with editors, perfected himself in the art of selling a theme / character and always strictly fulfilled the commitments assumed. In short, it is not a sell-out See more
* Matias Adhemar is insistent and persistent. He worked in a pharmacy: he started taking photos. His photos were good. He insisted until they started publishing it. He worked for the Diario Diagonales in La Plata for six years. He collaborated in other media such as the newspaper El Día, Tiempo Argentino, Revista Hombres, Infojus Noticias and Revista twenty-three, among others. He was born exactly 91 years after photographer Paul Strand, on the same day. He was selected for three consecutive years, to exhibit in the Annual Exhibition of Argentine Photojournalism of A.R.G.R.A. see more