Back to nature in India?
Vandana Shiva's Reith lecture, Poverty and Globalisation, has predictably increased her standing among elitist, Western, green activist groups and anti-globalisation protesters. At the same time it has depressed many people with a more rational concern for poverty and hunger in the Southern Hemisphere.
The claim of the Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in New Delhi is that the introduction of modern agricultural techniques in India - the 'green revolution' - has led to a state where: "The rich diversity and sustainable systems of food production are being destroyed in the name of increasing food production." She even argues that the much acclaimed 'golden rice', which contains genetically engineered higher levels of Vitamin A to combat deficiencies that can lead to blindness, is not wanted in India: "the myth of creation presents biotechnologists as the creators of Vitamin A, negating nature's diverse gifts and women's knowledge of how to use diversity to feed their children and families."
Dr Shiva omits to mention, of course, that the green revolution has all but eradicated famine in her country and led to crop production which can withstand the predictable periods of drought with which farmers have frequently to cope. She also fails to realise that her vituperative attacks on what she sees as the new 'capitalist patriarchy' can only return India to a nation dependent on costly food imports which prevented widespread starvation in the 1960s prior to the introduction of modern farming methods.
Matt Ridley of the Telegraph, clearly angered by her lecture, responds with precision and an appropriate touch of venom in The poverty of a Reith Lecturer's thinking:
"Today, India produces 204 million tons of grain a year. To produce that quantity with 1960s techniques would require three times as much land under cultivation. If India had stuck to traditional methods, by now it would be seeing millions of deaths from starvation every year - and it would have ploughed all the wild land."
Ridley also notes that Vandana Shiva's call to return to traditional agriculture might help the better-off members of rural populations - the land-owning elite - but it would devastate the lives of the landless, poor majority. It is this elitism, so characteristic of green movements in our own country - the 'eco-toffs' - that offends so many of us who believe in more equitable social and political systems.
Dr Shiva, of course, will be undeterred by such criticism. It was she, for example, who openly attacked Oxfam's guarded but sensible approach to the issue of GM crops (see Oxfam berated and Oxfam hits back). Even when Oxfam was supplying aid to the victims of the cyclone in Orissa last year she wrote "We hope that your food aid will be GE-free", a patronising request for which the victims in Orissa are unlikely to be grateful.
Matt Ridley, however, directs his anger not just at Vandana Shiva but at those of us in the Western world who seek a comforting sense of moral rectitude through subscription to the naive views that she promotes:
"Next time you applaud Marks & Spencer for not stocking genetically modified cotton, consider the Indian farmer whom you have just helped to bankrupt. For him, having seen his cotton crop devastated by boll worm, and knowing that only heavy doses of chemical pesticides can reach inside the cotton boll, the GM cotton was a life-saver and an environment-saver, too. Inserted into the cotton was the ability to produce Bt, the "organic" insecticide used all over the world by organic farmers. Now he would not have to spray his cotton with Bt or anything else. Then you came along."
Now that, perhaps, is more appropriate for a Reith lecture than the ramblings of Dr Shiva.