Vandana Shiva: Small is big. The future of food security lies in protecting and promoting small farmers.”

“The living economies of the small need to join hands with the living democracies of the small to create peace and harmony, abundance and well-being.”

And please see Laura Bruno’s post on the European Commission’s war on heirloom seeds:

European Commission to Ban Heirloom Seeds and Criminalize Plants & Seeds Not Registered with Government

Heads up, Europeans!

The small farm, like the single seed, is both bountiful and beautiful. (Public domain)

In an age of obsession with everything big, we live under the illusion that bigger is better. We tend to believe that we need big farms, big dams, big corporations to meet our needs for food and water. Giant corporations have grown bigger with five companies globally controlling the seed supply, food supply and water supply. Among these corporations are Monsanto, Cargill, Nestle, Suez and Wal-Mart. We assume that farms must grow bigger and bigger for food security.

But the reality is that “small is big” — ecologically, economically and politically. The future of food security in India and worldwide lies in protecting and promoting small farmers.

At the ecological level, we know that in a small seed lies the potential for producing thousands and millions of seed. And in each of those seeds lies the potential for thousand and million more such seeds. This is abundance. While the small farmer sows seeds, he prays, “May this seed be exhaustless”.

Yet, when seed is patented or biologically terminated by giant corporations, it cannot multiply or be reproduced. It produces zero seeds. The motto seems to be: “May this seed get exhausted so that our profits never exhaust.”

Small biodiverse farms produce more than large farms. In fact, output and income can be doubled by conserving seeds and intensifying biodiversity. The fact that small is big in agriculture has been known all along, yet big has been privileged as the basis of food security.

India’s former Prime Minister Charan Singh, who was an agricultural economist, had said that small farms are more productive than large farms. “Agriculture being a life process, in actual practice, under given conditions, yields per acre decline as the size of farm increases (in other words, as the application of human labour and supervision per acre decreases). The above results are well nigh universal: output per acre of investments is higher on small farms than on large farms. Thus, if a crowded, capital-scarce country like India has a choice between a single 100- acre farm and forty 2.5- acre farms, the capital cost to the national economy will be less if the country chooses the small farms”.

Small farms produce more food than large industrial farms because small farmers give more care to the soil, to plants and animals, and they intensify biodiversity, not external chemical inputs. As farms increase in size, they replace labour with fossil fuels for farm machinery and toxic chemicals. The caring work of farmers is replaced by harsh and careless technologies. Thus, food production per acre goes down.

Yes, a social tragedy and ecological catastrophe morphs into “myth of more”. And this myth of more is being sold to the world as a solution to hunger. The trick is to not measure total output of a farm, but just the “yield” of a monoculture commodity. Essentially, productivity is manipulated in two ways to project large farms as more productive.

First, the only input that counts is labour, not chemicals, land, water or fossil fuels. So the more small farmers and family farmers are displaced and replaced by chemicals and machines, the false calculus says productivity has increased. When natural resources are taken into account, industrial agriculture is, in fact, an inefficient agriculture, using 10 calories of input to produce one calorie of food.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, in spite of all subsidies going to large farms, in spite of all policies promoting industrial agriculture, even today 72 per cent food comes from small farms. If we add kitchen gardens and urban gardens, the majority of food people eat is grown on a small scale.

What is growing on large farms is not food; it is commodities. Only 10 per cent of the corn and soya taking over world agriculture is eaten. Ninety per cent goes to drive cars as biofuel or to animals in factory farms as feed. Small farms feed the world. Big farms spread poisons and hunger.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) 2013 Trade and Environment Report states that monoculture and industrial farming methods are not providing sufficient affordable food where it is needed, while causing mounting and unsustainable environmental damage.

An International Labour Organisation’s report — “Working towards sustainable development: Opportunities for decent work and social inclusion in a green economy” — shows that small-scale agriculture is the solution to the ecological crisis, the food crisis and the crisis of work and employment. The report cites examples of how small farms in Africa have increased food production through ecological agriculture.

In a project involving 1,000 farmers in South Nyanza, Kenya, who are cultivating two hectares each on average, crop yields rose by 2-4 tonnes per hectare after an initial conversion to organic farming. In yet another case, the incomes of some 30,000 smallholders in Thika, Kenya, rose by 50 per cent within three years.

The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, Technology for Development has also confirmed that small ecological farms are a more effective solution to world hunger than the Green Revolution or genetic engineering.

The living economies of the small need to join hands with the living democracies of the small to create peace and harmony, abundance and well-being.

Gandhi responded to the bigness of the British Empire by pulling out the spinning wheel. As he said, “Anything that millions can do together becomes charged with unique power… The wheel as such is lifeless, but when I invest it with symbolism, it becomes a living thing for me.”

The seed is small, but the powerhouse of life and freedom. Each of us can be savers of seed and growers of food. In Rumi’s words…

…in this earth
in this earth
in this immaculate field
we shall not plant any seeds
except for compassion
except for love

© 2013 Asian Age
Vandana Shiva

Dr. Vandana Shiva is a philosopher, environmental activist and eco feminist. She is the founder/director of Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology. She is author of numerous books including, Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis;Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply; Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace; and Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. Shiva has also served as an adviser to governments in India and abroad as well as NGOs, including the International Forum on Globalization, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization and the Third World Network. She has received numerous awards, including 1993 Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) and the 2010 Sydney Peace Prize.

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0 Responses to Vandana Shiva: Small is big. The future of food security lies in protecting and promoting small farmers.”

  1. Rich Buckley says:

    One of the major governmental-political-banking disrupters to the “small farmer” appears to occur as a result of requiring farms to belong to and have installed, an operating irrigation district, irrigation system.

    In one region of the country, near Plains Georgia, where my family is emotionally invested with a small land parcel, that depends on natural rain fall, we reap about 40 inches. This is more than enough to successfully grow a lot of different crops. California farmers would love to have Georgia rain fall levels at the right time of the year.

    But here’s the catch. No Georgia banks want to lend to farms that are not irrigated and part of a regional irrigation district hook-up. A lot of farms are way, way to remote to hook up.

    So what difference does that make?

    If you are an owner of such a parcel, you simply have to be in a position to pay cash for whatever improvements or you want to make on your family farm.

    That means if you plan to build a house or buy a house to move on to your little farm, you need other resources.

    Well that just doesn’t happen in any fashion that encourages, fosters, or creates “family” farms.

    This is just my observation that the banking industry is not creative enough or compelled enough to set realistic risk levels to help finance operations based on natural rain fall levels in the region. If you already have sufficient resources to carry the land and improve the land, chances are you are what the locals call either “gentleman farmers” which really isn’t farming at all or absentee landlords.

    So you say. Well heck man, sell it to a local.

    Fine. But what you end up doing in selling to a local, is simply consolidating to those with resources just like you, the gentleman farmer seller. This process ultimately ends in consolidation with big corporate farms… and therein lies the dilemma. Are families that have owned the land since before the Civil War, gentleman farmers and let’s not therefore accommodate them because they obviously do not need banking assistance? Or, does the banking systems need to rethink their lending policies and valuation systems? Gentlemen farmers sell to gentlemen farms, sell to gentleman farms, sell to corporate farmers, sell to big ag and the whole damn thing ends up in the hands of big ag, and the banks prefer it that way.

    You see my point?

  2. ohnwentsya says:

    Reblogged this on Spirit In Action and commented:
    Thank you for posting this!

  3. All good points, thanks for the insight. True banks carry some role in change, corporate grip on legislation is an even bigger role. In my view the biggest reversal in this dilemma will come from educated American youth. If it becomes clear to the graduates of todays business schools that small farming can kick start a career and a connection to their Universities Ag. dept. will foster success, a trend will follow. We would all benefit from small production farming becoming fashionable. I like to draw a line to Dan Barbers’ “The 3rd Plate” in the story of small production wheat and the loss of local milling. Building local mills in areas where cleared land sits fallow might be a boost in changing this corporate controlled food system, it also might help to make America a healthier, happier nation. If Detroit can rebound, so can our small farming system.

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