Environmental activist and author Vandana Shiva brought soil to the spotlight Saturday night, explaining to over 450 people in the Church-Chapel that caring for soil could help solve hunger issues and heal the earth.
Shiva said the world isn’t facing only hunger, however. “Basic things about living have become warfare,” she said. “It’s war against plants, war against people, war against our bodies. [Food] has become the most serious threat to human life.”
Shiva argued that through ecological farming—small farms growing a variety of crops with organic fertilizer—and seed distribution, the world can maintain a sustainable food supply.
“Forty percent of greenhouse gas problems can be solved tomorrow with ecological farming,” she said.
Industrial farming methods involve pesticides originally created for explosives used in war, Shiva said. She named DDT as one example of a pesticide first used for explosive purposes.
“We’ve been sold a major myth on the ground that somehow with an application of chemicals we grow more food. It’s not true,” Shiva said. Applying chemicals reduces the fertility of the soil and therefore the earth’s capacity to feed people. Industrial agriculture results in 10 calories of energy reduced to one calorie of food. She compared this to ecological farming, which produces two to five calories for every calorie used.
“The problem with bigness is, you’re never big enough,” Shiva said. Large-scale companies focus on financial growth almost exclusively, she explained, which doesn’t foster quality care or consideration of natural ecosystems or soil.
The environmentalist named 1984 as a turning point in her journey. It was during this year that she learned about a civil war in Punjab, a region of southern Asia, and also heard about a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India that leaked overnight. Shiva said the factory was located beside the slums.
“The poorest people got hit the worst,” she said.
Shiva spoke of the role seeds play in Vidharba, a region of India which has the highest rate of farmer suicides. Because of the commodity market which focuses on profit, peasants are often left with debt they cannot repay. It was here, she said, that she began “Seeds of Hope,” a program bringing seeds to farmers to help them adapt to climate change.
“The beauty is that seed multiplies,” she said. “Air and patience are the ingredients.”
Shiva stopped at one point during her lecture to give a cough drop to a young boy in the audience who was coughing.
Her final statements looked to the future of agriculture and the value of caring for soil.
“We need to rebuild our assets, and that begins with the soil,” Shiva said. “There’s no limit to how much plants will give you if you treat them with love.”