Staying Alive: Women, Ecology & Survival in India

By Weir, Kay | Pacific Ecologist, Autumn 2012 | Go to article overview

Staying Alive: Women, Ecology & Survival in India


Weir, Kay, Pacific Ecologist


Staying alive: Women, Ecology & Survival in India

by Vandana Shiva

2nd edition pub 2010 Spinifex Press, Australia 224pp with refs, tables

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Dr Vandana Shiva's internationally acknowledged 1988 study, Staying Alive: Women, ecology & survival in India is a raw indictment of industrial agriculture's effects on food security. First published in India by Kali for Women, the 2nd edition has a new introduction by the author. As Shiva notes, growing food is the most important source of livelihood for most of the world's people, especially women who were the world's original food producers and still are in the global south. It was women who first domesticated plants and animals, invented selective breeding, discovered how to propagate by shoots, cuttings, also seedling beds, p. 105. The book is alight with praise, sorrow, anger, also hope. It is afterall the strength and ingenuity of third world women and peasant farmers who for 4 to 5 thousand years have provided nutritious food for their families and communities in ways that sustained nature in fertile soils. Many examples are given of the food production successes of women farmers in India and worldwide.

But within 2 decades of the imposed Green Revolution (GR), women's vital knowledge of biodiversity and food production was marginalised by a small group of western agricultural 'experts' who created costly chemical fertilisers, pesticides, hybrid seeds, large-scale irrigation and toxic monocultures, dependent on fossil fuels, and all destroying natural processes. Then came the dangers of genetically engineered crops, also privatising seeds, with western corporations stealing centuries of women's knowledge and innovation.

The GR has brought hunger and malnutrition in many ways, displacing peasants from the land in favour of large-scale toxic monocultural plantations which destroy naturally productive biodiverse forests, where peasant farmers lived for centuries. Poverty and hunger is caused also as farmers are pushed into growing cash crops for export, rather than for food for survival and the costs of buying the inputs for GR crops are a source of poverty for peasant farmers caught in the trap.

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