Why Seed Freedom & Biodiversity Are Essential For Your Health

A Future for the Earth

This summer The Green Tribe visited the Aurora Festival where Dr. Vandana Shiva personally talked about her story and Navdanya (a research initiative providing direction and support to environmental activism). Hearing her speak was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. She seamlessly connects history, health, science, spirituality and biodiversity.

75% of health issues in the world are related to our bad food system.

Navdanya’s vision is to accomplish a development towards a healthy environment, with healthy food and equal rights for all beings, to live, grow and evolve to their full potential through self-organisation.


“Everything is connected. The deeper you go, you realise this inner connectedness. Everything is energy.”

Nature as a ‘dead matter’ is an idea that has evolved over centuries. The idea of nature as a spirit was an impediment for world development. Humans constructed an artificial world. A world based on separation of the earth and separation from the mind. The separated view justified amongst other things colonisation, in which land and people were objectified. Another example is the justification of witch-hunts, which targeted women with skills that maintained a healthy society, giving labour & providing healthcare.

Seeing earth and nature as ‘one whole’ was cracked as anti-scientific. And even though physics already discovered a long time ago that not everything is explained by atoms, the belief in separation still carries on.


India, 1984. The country is on the brink of mass famine. The solutions are sought in the spread of new technologies in the field of agriculture; The Green Revolution. The initiatives, led by Norman Borlaug, the “Father of the Green Revolution” credited with saving over a billion people from starvation, involved the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, modernization of management techniques, distribution of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers.

However, The Green Revolution reliance on heavy use of chemical inputs and monocultures had a horrific impact on health & environment. The chemicals of the war industry now entered our food system. This resulted in human pesticide poisonings, water scarcity, vulnerability to pests, and incidents of violent conflict and social marginalisation. 1984 was the year of the Punjab Violence and the Bhopal tragedy. The spread of Green Revolution agriculture also affected both agricultural biodiversity and wild biodiversity. Agricultural biodiversity has been significantly reduced as The Green Revolution relied on just a few high-yield varieties of each crop.

“If this was about peace, why was there so much violence?”, Vandana asks. The violence demanded a paradigm shift in the practice of agriculture, leading to Vandana’s foundation of Navdanya. An organisation born out of this search for nonviolent farming, which protects biodiversity, the Earth and our small farmers.

Seeds of Freedom from The Gaia Foundation & ABN on Vimeo.

Seeds of Freedom charts the story of seed from its roots at the heart of traditional, diversity-rich farming systems across the world, to being transformed into a powerful commodity, used to monopolise the global food system.



Seeds have become the property of 5 companies, amongst others Monsanto. The Monsanto lobby and governments across the world forbid farmers to trade seeds. Farmers are forced to pay for GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) seeds. These seeds are artificially designed in such a way that they are tolerant to pesticides and herbicides, based on toxins. Monsanto and co. have actually created superpests that cannot be controlled. This way, big profit-oriented corporations control the production and make farmers dependent to buy their seeds.

This system is displacing agriculture. In India, prices sunk 1000% and farmers have to spend a lot of money buying alone, more than 300,000 farmers have committed suicide due to the problems that come from these globalisation powers.

GMO is sold as the solution to hunger. However, only 4 GMO crops are planted on scale: corn, cotton, soy and canola. Biodiversity is highly endangered. On top of that, only 10% of the soil cultivated is consumed by humans. 1 billion people suffer from hunger, because 90% of the crops we grow, are used as raw material for mass-produced commodities. 70% of the damage done in the world comes from this ‘industrial agriculture’.


Vandana Shiva calls for visibility, unity and solidarity. It is a duty to the earth and a duty for humanity to save the seed. Vandana Shiva aims to save seeds in the hand of the small farmers, amongst others with Navdanya. Navdanya stands for the nine crops that represent India’s collective source of food security. The main aim of the Navdanya biodiversity conservation programme is to support local farmers, rescue and conserve crops and plants that are being pushed to extinction and make them available through direct marketing.

Together with her organisation, Vandana Shiva frees farmers, transforming seeds of suicide into seeds of love & life. “We didn’t begin with the question: what does the market demand? We began with: nature is intelligent; our ancestors were intelligent. We promote a natural harmonious system which is better for humanity. Since 1987, our movement for protection of seeds, helped 150 seed banks.” Navdanya also gives trainings and is involved in many projects, such as ‘Seed Freedom’ and ‘Fibers of Freedom‘.

An interesting question is raised in the audience. “What do you tell Monsanto?”. Vandana responds, “There’s no business on a dead planet. In 20 years, when biodiversity, bees and farming is killed, the earth will collapse”.

There’s no business on a dead planet, Vandana tells GMO giants such as Monsanto.

Dr. Vandana Shiva at the Aurora Festival 2014 © Aurora

Dr. Vandana Shiva at the Aurora Festival 2014 © Aurora


Vandana Shiva (1952) is an Indian environmental activist and anti-globalisation author. She is one of the leaders and board members of the International Forum on Globalization, and a figure of the global solidarity movement (a.k.a. the alter-globalisation movement).

Dr. Vandana Shiva has fought for changes in the practice and paradigms of agriculture and food. Intellectual property rights, biodiversity, biotechnology, bioethics, genetic engineering are among the fields where Shiva has contributed intellectually and through activist campaigns. She has assisted grassroots organizations of the Green movement in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Ireland, Switzerland, and Austria with campaigns against genetic engineering.

Vandana Shiva was born in the valley of Dehradun, to a father who was the conservator of forests and a farmer mother with a love for nature. She was trained as a physicist and received her Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in philosophy from the University of Western Ontario, Canada, in 1978 with the doctoral dissertation “Hidden variables and locality in quantum theory”, about the philosophical underpinnings of quantum mechanics. She later went on to interdisciplinary research in science, technology, and environmental policy at the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore.

In 1982, she founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, which led to the creation of Navdanya in 1991, a national movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seed, the promotion of organic farming and fair trade. For last two decades Navdanya has worked with local communities and organizations serving many men and women farmers.

Navdanya’s efforts have resulted in conservation of more than 2000 rice varieties from all over the country and have established 34 seed banks in 13 states across the country. More than 70,000 farmers are primary members of Navdanya.

Time Magazine identified Dr. Shiva as an environmental “hero” in 2003, and Asia Week has called her one of the five most powerful communicators of Asia. Loyola Marymount University has asked her to speak on numerous occasions on the topic of eco-feminism, where she continuously attracts large crowds of interested students.

Vandana Shiva is working on a 3-year project with the Government of Bhutan, at the invitation of the Prime Minister Jigme Thinley, advising the government on how to achieve their objective of becoming an organic sovereign country (the first fully 100% organic country).


  • Fran says:

    I loved this – couldn’t agree more! But then again I am a geography student and shameless wellness promoter :)

  • Anouk says:

    Lovely article, although I do not agree fully. I think we should be careful with statements on GMO and the actual impact of biochemical giants. I agree their impact has been negative and enormous but isn’t there more to blame? Distribution systems, corruption just to mention. An other interesting insight on pesticides gives David Goulson is his book ‘A Sting in the Tale’, explaining that pesticides are harmful but the collapse of biodiversity isn’t merely due to those, it has been a transformation of our environment over many, many, many decades. Many studies done on the actual harm of certain GMO’s, also from NGOs pro-biodiversity and con corporate infuence affirm this. Nevertheless, I do believe Dr. Shiva is a great inspiration and hope we’ll all continue to take more responsibility for the food we eat and its origins :)

    • Laura Laura says:

      Dear Anouk, thank you for your comment – it is really great to hear that you enjoyed reading our article and that it gave you some food for thought!

      What exactly don’t you agree on? Did I understand it correctly this way: you say that GMOs are not the only destructive factor in our declining biodiversity?

      This article is meant to raise awareness about the importance of biodiversity and seed freedom for our health. It also aims to give an insight on how we as humans have treated our planet in the past and how we continue to do so. In my opinion something has to change. Environmental structures are very complex. One distortion (human or non-human) can cause a big ripple effect. I don’t say GMO is the only factor in the chain. I don’t exclude OTHER factors that endanger biodiversity. Of course, distribution systems and corruption are also part of the deal. But does it matter whether it is a biochemical giant or a fast fashion chain, oil company or automobile industrialist? They all use chemical compounds at some point and they all have one big goal: profit at all cost.

      I read about Dave Goulson and how he explains that ketchup today is probably made in the Netherlands from tomatoes grown in Spain, pollinated by Turkish bumblebees reared in a factory in Slovakia. For what? We can’t deny the fact that humans and their ‘o-so-lovely’ capitalistic structures and globalisation are the root of most of our environmental problems today. Now can we?

      I always ask myself the question: how would we look at our behaviour 300 years from now?

      Thanks again love, have a great night! :)

      • Anouk says:

        Laura, I apologise! Only as I am re-reading I see your comment!
        Please do not misunderstand, I fully agree on your view and I agree there our capitalist system is a large factor in the complexity of this problem.
        The only thing I struggle very much with, is, what is the answer, where can we find a solution? Raising awareness yes, organic farming no, I do think, the answer is somehow related to the immense power of resources large corporations have, as they reach beyond the power of governments. Nevertheless, if the answer would have been easy, we would have already known.
        Continue writing these lovely articles!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *