Ecologist wants end to ‘violent tools’ that poison biodiversity

We need a new food system, according to scientist Vandana Shiva, an agro-ecology and food democracy champion.

We are at a crucial time when we must act to save our planet and our food system.

Shiva is highly critical of large-scale industrial agriculture, accusing it of causing:

  • Seventy-five percent of the ecological devastation on the planet.
  • Forty percent of the greenhouse gases.
  • Loss of 90 percent of crop diversity.
  • Investing 10 units of energy for every unit of food produced.

Is this sorry record the price we must pay to “feed the world,” as industrial agriculture often claims to be doing?


Shiva cites United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization statistics that 70 percent of the world’s food is produced on small agro-ecological farms and that only 30 percent is from industrial agriculture.

“All that industrial agriculture has done is destroy nature’s gifts of soil and biodiversity, water, even the air and the climate,” she says.

Shiva points out that the inputs of industrial agriculture are repurposed war technology.

The “fertilizer bombs” are a return to their original intent, when Agent Orange was a mixture of herbicides that decimated people as well as vegetation.

“The first reason we need a new food system is that we need a food system without poisons,” she says.

The use of poisons, including synthetic fertilizers, leads to monocultures, which alter the entire ecology of the system. System effects are rarely considered.

Shiva agrees that the Green Revolution increased yields per acre but that this was measured only as yield of a single commodity, grown in monoculture, and only as it left the farm.

It did not include the loss of other crops that had previously grown as companion crops, and did not include the loss of nutrient rich weeds.

As well, it did not include the loss of straw that would be recycled on the farm as a valuable nutrient.

“Another reason why we need another food system is we can’t afford this blindness to the gift of abundance that nature gives us, the gift of biodiversity,” she says.

“It has already cost us too much. We now need to work with biodiversity to produce more food and nutrition while using less of the Earth’s re-sources, a smaller footprint and a higher output. The industrial system has a huge footprint and a negative output.”

The monoculture concept has been taken even further, in what Shiva refers to as “the monoculture of the mind.”

Much of the focus in agriculture is on the four or five products that are profitable for companies, those on which they can claim royalties and hold patents.

Monopoly plays a similar role to monoculture. Only five companies control the seed, and they exert undue control of the system.

Shiva says we also need a new food system because industrial fertilization is a science of ignorance.

“In relationship to the living soil, it has zero knowledge.”

The science of pest control has “no idea what it does to other species, to human beings,” she says.

“(The) science is a chemistry of producing poisons, not a science of ecology of pest control. So we have very violent tools from another domain with ignorance of how the food system works.”

The insult to science is not only that chemistry is used when ecology is needed. The threat to science is what Shiva refers to as “knowledge terrorism,” where scientists are silenced and peer-reviewed scientific papers are retracted when the findings do not meet the corporate agenda.

Shiva calls on us to “create instruments of democracy, diversity, resilience.… Food is the place, seed is the place, where we have to reclaim our democracy and reclaim the totalitarianism that is being put into place. We have a short time to reclaim our bread and our freedom or we will have neither bread or freedom.”

Shiva’s words will undoubtedly annoy those invested in the industrial system. They are not words of appeasement, but calls to action.

It may be hard to hear this call from deep within the industrial paradigm, but it is also hard to draw any other conclusions based on the facts Shiva puts forward.

While her sources are uncited, as a scientist I am willing to vouch their existence. We need to nurture the soil biology, stop our attack on biodiversity and come to understand the ecology of the systems we work within.

To hear Shiva’s keynote talk to the Food Otherwise conference in Wageningen, Germany, last February, visit

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