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Get People Back on the Land for Health and Peace –AASHE 2008
In the space of an hour, Vandana Shiva, physicist and agricultural activist, managed to connect the oil and human labor inputs required by modern agriculture, the nutritional deficit of monocrops, the dangers of species loss, the moisture depletion of agro-chemically treated fields, the imbalance of grain that goes to factory farms rather than human mouths, obesity and diabetes, US grain subsidies, biofuels, the 160,000 annual suicides of Indian farmers who are finding the monocrop seeds they purchased won’t grow, and the mass exodus of families from heritage land. The coherent case that emerged at the end was simple: "We must get people back on the land."
One of several sustainable food experts that have earned attention in recent years, Shiva is in good company. Michael Pollan, Frances Moore Lappe, and even Jane Goodall have spent years studying the American industrial food systems and come to similar conclusions.
While agricultural yields increased dramatically in the mid-1900’s, the soil depletion that has resulted makes farmers even more dependent on intensive chemical fertilizer and water inputs. Not only is this problematic for the farmers who are increasingly sensitive to drought and price fluctuation, but fertilizers based on fossil fuels could very soon become impossible to obtain, if declining oil predictions are correct. The answer, says Shiva, is biodiversity. "The delicacy that small-scale farming requires,
is the delicacy that encourages biodiversity. And biodiversity makes for
As she spoke, Shiva compared universities—and their status
within their communities—to the recent election, making the case that just as
President-elect Obama will use his advisors to find solutions to the problems facing the nation, "every campus should make its own transition team for food
beyond oil. We can create a food system beyond toxics. Beyond genocide."
In fact, she claimed, food is not only an agricultural issue, but integral to national security and peace. "For me, food is about peace. Peace with nature, peace
between communities, and peace with our own bodies. Because we are at war with
our bodies now, and food has become ammunition."
She went on to say that universities and colleges, who made major strides in the research that based our current agricultural system on fossil-fuel based fertilizers, have a large share of the responsibility for finding a solution."Campuses have a lot of eaters, and a lot of influence in their community. Wouldn’t it be exciting if biology classes planted their own biodiversity plots? Why shouldn’t edible schoolyards be on every campus?"
Given the intricacies of the global food system, it’s no small demand. Shiva’s final comparison drew a laugh from the audience: “Those
guys fiddling with the derivatives that put your economy into this state are
like me, they juggle numbers. But wouldn’t it be amazing if they were juggling
numbers that would make a better system for us?”
We are recapping AASHE: Sustainability on Campus and Beyond
as it happens. If you were at the sessions we’re covering, weigh in
with your comments below. Or see others’ blogs, photos and Twitter
updates on the AASHE live page.