MONOCULTURES, MONOPOLIES, MYTHS AND THE MASCULINISATION OF AGRICULTURE
Introductory note by Vandana Shiva:
I had been invited as a speaker on a panel on "Women's Knowledge,
Biotechnology and International Trade -- Fostering A New Dialogue into
Next Millennium" at the International Conference on Women and
which is being organised by the Government of Canada but sponsored by
Monsanto. This conference in my view is an attempt to co-opt women into
passive partners in Monsanto's totalitarian empire.
I would have liked to personally challenge the assumption that Third
women farmers are partners in the projects of genetic engineering of
and patenting of seed. However, it was impossible for me to travel all
way to Washington due to high pressure of commitments and non-stop
within India and I sent the Women in Agriculture Conference the enclosed
paper as my contribution.
Please do circulate it to others to expose the attempt by the
industry and agribusiness as well as governments of US and Canada to
feminism in the service of capitalist patriarchy's life threatening
With best wishes,
Vandana Shiva (NOTE: She was in Seattle and actively participated in the
forums and marches that week of Peoples' Victory.)
27 June 19 98
MONOCULTURES, MONOPOLIES, MYTHS AND THE MASCULINISATION OF AGRICULTURE
Statement by Dr. Vandana Shiva
Director Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology at The
Workshop on "Women's Knowledge, Biotechnology and International Trade --
Fostering a New Dialogue into the Millennium"
during The International Conference on "Women in Agriculture" Washington
June 28 - 2 July 1998
I am writing this statement from beautiful Doon Valley in the Himalaya
the monsoons have arrived, and our Navdanya (Nine Seeds - Our National
Movement on Conservation of Biodiversity) team is busy with
over 300 rice varieties which we are conserving along with the rich
diversity of other agricultural crops. Our farm does not use any
or external inputs. It is a self-regenerative system which preserves
biodiversity while meeting human needs and needs of farm animals. Our 2
bullocks are the alternative to chemical fertilisers which pollute soil
water as well as to tractors and fossil fuels which pollute the
and destabilise the climate.
One of the rice varieties we conserve and grow is basmati, the aromatic
for which Dehra Dun is famous.
The basmati rice which farmers in my valley have been growing for
is today being claimed as "an instant invention of a novel rice line" by
U.S. Corporation called RiceTec (no. 5,663,454). The "neem" which our
mothers and grandmothers have used for centuries as a pesticide and
fungicide has been patented for these uses by W.R. Grace, another U.S.
Corporation. We have challenged Grace's patent with the Greens in
European Parliament in the European Patent Office.
This phenomena of biopiracy through which western corporations are
centuries of collective knowledge and innovation carried out by Third
women is now reaching epidemic proportions. Such "biopiracy" is now
justified as a new "partnership" between agribusiness and Third World
For us, theft cannot be the basis of partnership. Partnership implies
equality and mutual respect. This would imply that there is no room for
biopiracy and that those who have engaged in such piracy apologise to
they have stolen from and whose intellectual and natural creativity they
want to undermine through IPR monopolies. Partnership with Third World
necessitates changes in the WTO/TRIPs agreement which protects the
and punishes the original innovators as in the case of the U.S./India
dispute. It also requires changes in the U.S. Patent Act which allows
rampant piracy of our biodiversity related knowledge. These changes are
essential to ensure that our collective knowledge and innovation is
protected and women are recognised and respected as knowers and
Women farmers have been the seed keepers and seed breeders over
The basmati is just one among 100,000 varieties of rice evolved by
farmers. Diversity and perenniality is our culture of the seed. In
India, which is the Vavilov Centre of rice diversity, at the beginning
the agricultural season, farmers gather at the village deity, offer
rice varieties and then share the seeds. This annual festival of "Akti"
rejuvenates the duty of saving and sharing seed among farming
It establishes partnership among farmers and with the earth.
IPRs on seeds are however criminalising this duty to the earth and to
other by making seed saving and seed exchange illegal. The attempt to
prevent farmers from saving seed is not just being made through new IPR
laws, it is also being made through the new genetic engineering
technologies. Delta and Pine Land (now owned by Monsanto) and the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA) have established new partnership
jointly held patent ( No.5723785) to seed which has been genetically
engineered to ensure that it does not germinate on harvest thus forcing
farmers to buy seed at each planting season. Termination of germination
means for capital accumulation and market expansion. However, abundance
nature and for farmers shrinks as markets grow for Monsanto. When we sow
seed, we pray, "May this seed be exhaustless". Monsanto and the USDA on
other hand are stating, "Let this seed be terminated so that our profits
monopoly is exhaustless".
There can be no partnership between the terminator logic which destroys
nature's renewability and regeneration and the commitment to continuity
life held by women farmers of the Third World. The two worldviews do not
merely clash - they are mutually exclusive. There can be no partnership
between a logic of death on which Monsanto bases its expanding empire
the logic of life on which women farmers in the Third World base their
partnership with the earth to provide food security to their families
There are other dimensions of the mutually exclusive interests and
perspectives of women farmers of the Third World and biotechnology
corporations such as Monsanto.
The most widespread application of genetic engineering in agriculture is
herbicide resistance i.e. the breeding of crops to be resistant to
herbicides. Monsanto's Round up Ready Soya and Cotton are examples of
application. When introduced to Third World farming systems, this will
to increased use of agri-chemicals thus increasing environmental
It will also destroy the biodiversity that is the sustenance and
base of rural women. What are weeds for Monsanto are food, fodder and
medicine for Third World Women.
In Indian agriculture women use 150 different species of plants for
vegetables, fodder and health care. In West Bengal 124 "weed" species
collected from rice fields have economic importance for farmers. In
Expana region of Veracruz, Mexico, peasants utilise about 435 wild plant
animal species of which 229 are eaten.
The spread of Round Up Ready crops would destroy this diversity and the
value it provides to farmers. It would also undermine the soil
functions of cover crops and crop mixtures, thus leading to accelerated
erosion. Contrary to Monsanto myths, Round Up Ready crops are a recipe
soil erosion, not a method for soil conservation.
Instead of falsely labelling the patriarchal projects of intellectual
property rights on seed and genetic engineering in agriculture which are
destroying biodiversity and the small farmers of the Third World as
"partnership" with Third World women, it would be more fruitful to
agricultural policy towards women-centred systems which promote
biodiversity-based small farm agriculture.
A common myth used by Monsanto and the Biotechnology industry is that
without genetic engineering, the world cannot be fed. However, while
biotechnology is projected as increasing food production four times,
ecological farms have productivity hundreds of time higher than large
industrial farms based on conventional farms.
Women farmers in the Third World are predominantly small farmers.
provide the basis of food security, and they provide food security in
partnership with other species. The partnership between women and
biodiversity has kept the world fed through history, at present, and
feed the world in the future. It is this partnership that needs to be
preserved and promoted to ensure food security.
Agriculture based on diversity, decentralisation and improving small
productivity through ecological methods is a women-centred,
agriculture. In this women-centred agriculture, knowledge is shared,
species and plants are kin, not "property", and sustainability is based
renewal of the earth's fertility and renewal and regeneration of
biodiversity and species richness on farms to provide internal inputs.
our paradigms, there is no place for monocultures of genetically
crops and IPR monopolies on seeds.
Monocultures and monopolies symbolise a masculinsation of agriculture.
war mentality underlying military-industrial agriculture is evident from
names given to herbicides which destroy the economic basis of the
of the poorest women in the rural areas of the Third World. Monsanto's
herbicides are called "Round up", "Machete", "Lasso" American Home
which has merged with Monsanto calls its herbicides `Pentagon', `Prowl',
`Scepter', `Squadron', `Cadre', `Lightening', `Assert', `Avenge'. This
the language of war, not sustainability. Sustainability is based on
with the earth.
The violence intrinsic to methods and metaphors used by the global
agribusiness and biotechnology corporations is a violence against
biodiversity and women's expertise and productivity. The violence
to destruction of diversity through monocultures and the destruction of
freedom to save and exchange seeds through IPR monopolies is
with women's diverse non-violent ways of knowing nature and providing
security. This diversity of knowledge systems and production systems is
way forward for ensuring that Third World women continue to play a
role as knowers, producers and providers of food.
Genetic Engineering and IPRs will rob Third World women and their
creativity, innvoation and decision-making power in agriculture. In
women deciding what is grown in fields and served in kitchens,
based on globalisation, genetic engineering and corporate monopolies on
seeds will establish a food system and worldview in which men
global corporations control what is grown in our fields and what we eat.
Corporate men investing financial capital in theft and biopiracy will
present themselves as creators and owners of life.
We do not want a partnership in this violent usurpation of the
creation and Third World women by global biotechnology corporations who
themselves the "Life Sciences Industry" even while they push millions of
species and millions of small farmers to extinction.
References and contact information
1. a) Cultivating Diversity: Biodiversity Conservation and the Politics
the Seed", Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural
Policy (RFSTNRP), New Delhi, 1993
b) Sustaining Diversity: Renewing Diversity and Balance Through
Conservation", RFSTNRP, New Delhi, 1994
c) The Seed Keepers", RFSTNRP, New Delhi, 1995
2. Vandana Shiva, " Biodiversity and IPRs: Lessons from Basmati
and "The Basmati Patent: What it Implies? How Should India Respond?
Papers prepared for the Conference of Parties to the Convention
on Biological Diversity held in Bratislava, May 1998
3. Vandana Shiva, K.Vijayalakshmi, K.S. Radha, "Neem: A User's Manual"
RFSTNRP, New Delhi and CIKS, Madras, 1995
4. Vandana Shiva, "W.T.O,. Rules Against Democracy and Justice in the
India TRIPs Dispute", Briefing paper prepared for the Conference of
to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Bratislava May 1998)
5. Vandana Shiva, Afsar H.Jafri, Gitanjali Bedi, Radha Holla-Bhar, "The
Enclosure and Recovery of the Commons", Research Foundation for Science,
Technology and Ecology (RFSTE), New Delhi, 1997
6. Hope Shand, "Harvesting Diversity", RAFI, 1997.
7. UNDP, Agroecology: Creating the Synerginism for a Sustainable
8. Speech delivered by Hendrik Verfaillie, President, Monsanto at the
on Nature and Human Society, National Academy of Sciences, Washington
October 30, 1997
9. Vandana Shiva, "Betting on Biodiversity: Why Genetic Engineering Will
Feed the Hungry", RFSTE, New Delhi, 1998
10. a) Vandana Shiva, "Betting on Biodiversity: Why Genetic Engineering
Not Feed the Hungry", RFSTE, New Delhi, 1998
b) Vandana Shiva, "Globalisation of Agriculture, Food Security and
Sustainability, RFSTE, New Delhi, 1998
11. Vandana Shiva, "Most Farmers in India are Women", FAO, 1991
12. a) Vandana Shiva, "The Violence of Green Revolution: Third World
Agriculture, Ecology and Politics", TWN, Malaysia, 1991 and the Other
Book Store, Goa, 1993
b) Vandana Shiva, "Monocultures of the Mind: Biodiversity, Biotechnology
the Third World", TWN, Malaysia, 1993
Secretariat of Diverse Women for Diversity
Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology
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The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
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