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At the Natural Capital Center: Dr. Vandana Shiva, seed freedom fighter

At the heart of Dr. Shiva’s work is the connection between biodiversity, cultural diversity, community health, and the role of women in nurturing all three.

On May 3, Ecotrust has the distinct honor of hosting a benefit luncheon with Dr. Vandana Shiva,  one of the world’s leaders in the fight to save native seeds.

At the heart of Dr. Shiva’s work is the connection between biodiversity, cultural diversity, community health, and the role of women in nurturing all three. A physicist by training, Dr. Shiva transitioned three decades ago from academics to community-focused engagement, creating a research institute to study indigenous knowledge, agriculture and environmental health. In 1991, she began Navdanya, a seed saving project that has empowered communities who were losing their traditional foods – and with them, their cultural foundation and food security – to establish 65 community seed banks in 16 states across northern India.

I first heard Dr. Shiva speak in the early 2000s on the difficulties she was witnessing firsthand: Indian farmers were purchasing patented seeds from foreign companies that promised increased yields and pest-resistance, becoming reliant on the same companies’ petrochemicals, and losing many of the foods they traditionally cultivated. Dr. Shiva pointed out the bizarre logic underlying this development — that a foreign company insisted it was creating more productive, resilient seeds in its U.S. laboratories than Indian farmers could on the land over the course of centuries of care.

Over the decade that has followed, 250,000 farmers in India have committed suicide, often due to severe debt to foreign seed and chemical companies and repeated crop failures. Many chose to end their lives by drinking the very pesticides that were a primary cause of their insolvency. Dr. Shiva stands in the crosshairs of multinationals that depend on the sale of their limited selection of patented seeds and chemicals. She is fearlessly making the case through scientific research and community observation that biodiversity is key to small-scale farmers’ livelihoods, food security, and cultural heritage. As climate change adds new challenges for farmers around the world, Dr. Shiva insists on expanding farming options and nurturing the collective and cumulative innovation of farmers on the land.

To date, Navdanya has successfully conserved more than 5,000 crop varieties including 3,000 varieties of rice, 95 of wheat, 150 of kidney beans, 15 of millet, and several varieties of pulses, vegetables, and medicinal plants. The organization conducts trainings for farmers on how to conserve water, increase food production per acre, and utilize organic methods with the inputs they have available. Navdanya has also connected its movement to Slow Food, and created marketing programs to provide opportunities for farmers to sell their crops.

Dr. Shiva is the author of more than 20 books. Among many accolades, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Global 500 Award in 1993, the Sydney Peace Prize in 2010, and was named by Forbes magazine as one of the seven most influential women in the world in 2011.

We invite you to join us, along with co-sponsors The Biosafety Alliance, at the Natural Capital Center on Thursday, May 3, from 1 to 4 pm, for an event to raise funds for Navdanya (The Seed Freedom Project). Following an organic lunch, Dr. Shiva will give an update on her work and the opportunities for synergy with efforts around the world, including in our own backyard. Click here to purchase your tickets.