Global capitalists wield philanthropy to monopolize and privatize land use, food production, and the public health sector. At our book launch event for Philanthrocapitalism and the Erosion of Democracy on Feb. 17, 2022, Vandana Shiva and Heather Day discuss this dangerous trend—and how global citizens are fighting back. YES! senior editor Chris Winters hosts the event and senior editor Breanna Draxler moderates the conversation.
Chris Winters: Hello, and welcome to the launch for Philanthrocapitalism and the Erosion of Democracy, a new book edited by Vandana Shiva about the corporate control of technology, health, and agriculture. First of all, I’d like to inform everyone that we are recording this event, and the recording will be made available later.
I’m Chris Winters, senior editor at YES! Media, a nonprofit reader-supported publisher of solutions journalism for more than 25 years. We’re based in the Seattle area, which is the ancestral land of the Coast Salish people, specifically the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes. I invite you to read YES!’s full land acknowledgement on the About page of our website, yesmagazine.org. We’re co-hosting this event with Synergetic Press, an independent book publisher inspiring personal and social change with transformative ideas for more than 35 years. You can order Philanthrocapitalism and the Erosion of Democracy on their website, synergeticpress.com. YES! senior editor Breanna Draxler is joining us today to moderate our conversation, and she’ll introduce our guests in just a second. Thank you so much for joining us today. And now over to you, Breanna.
Breanna Draxler: Thank you, Chris, and thanks to everyone who’s joining us for this event today. We’re really excited about the conversation. I’m gonna start with some intros.
So first we have Heather Day with us today. She’s co-founder and executive director of Community Alliance for Global Justice, which is a Seattle-based grassroots nonprofit. Previously, Heather was an organizer with the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, and she has degrees in political economy and geography. Her interests include sustainable food systems, international development regimes, transnational activist alliances, and social movements. Thanks so much for being here today, Heather.
And joining Heather is Vandana Shiva, who is a world-renowned environmental leader, activist, and scholar. Her work focuses on defending the sovereignty of biological and Indigenous knowledge, especially seeds, and she has been referred to as the Gandhi of Grain for her activism in the anti-GMO movement. Vandana has written more than 20 books, and her latest one, Philanthrocapitalism and the Erosion of Democracy, is the subject of our conversation today. Vandana edited the collection, which includes essays and articles from more than 20 authors and organizations, including the Community Alliance for Global Justice. So we will be hearing about both of our guests’ many contributions to this great book.
And for starters, I’m just going to kind of get to the basics of what this book is about. In the introduction, David Orr defines philanthrocapitalists as those who “promise to solve hunger, disease, poverty, and a rapidly destabilizing climate often by selling us more of the same things that made them very rich.” And Orr argues that “the real shortcoming of this approach is that they think money is what’s needed to solve these problems rather than addressing the root causes or resulting inequities.”
So Vandana, the main thrust of your argument is that these are really simplified solutions based on technical and scientific developments that are narrow in scope, and they’re trying to solve these complex problems that are much deeper. So who should be defining the problems if not philanthrocapitalists?
Vandana Shiva: The problems that are related to the Earth, Breanna, are defined by the Earth itself, and we need to look at how the Earth works. That’s called ecology. There’s a whole discipline, centuries of scientific study and thousands of years of Indigenous knowledge, for issues of hunger, for issues of health, for issues of education. It should be those for whom the so-called solutions are being offered who should have the first say, because after all, it’s not that we haven’t had hunger, and it’s not that we haven’t had solutions to hunger which have worked. It’s not that we have not had disease, as if we don’t have a 5,000-year-old tradition of Ayurveda and so that we don’t know what food is.
So that the tragedy of the philanthrocapitalists is not only do they simplify, but as I’ve written in the book that I wrote before this collective volume of all the movements, Oneness vs. the 1%, that was published by Chelsea, that basically they are the new colonizers. They’re carving out new colonies. They are bringing a new civilizing mission. At the time of Christopher Columbus, basically it was religion that was used. Yeah, it was used to shut down people who had a different point of view and burn them on the stakes, 9 million people burned. It was what was used to conquer our lands and really decimate Indigenous people.
But the religion of today are the tools the billionaires shape in order to extract the last remaining lifeblood from life itself. And that’s what this volume is about.
People were starting to wake up to the fact that media’s getting controlled by the Gates Foundation. And people of course were waking up to the fact that WHO and every Big Pharma company has, you know, they have their hands in it. But people were ignoring the fact that about 15 years ago, they were trying to repeat the mistakes of the Green Revolution.
That is what brought me into agriculture. It’s not my discipline. It’s not my background. But when Punjab erupted in violence, I studied it and wrote the book called The Violence of the Green Revolution. And the same Rockefeller Foundation joined hands with the Gates Foundation to take that blunder to Africa, and I’m sure Heather will talk much more about this. But the two real criminal activities that we bring out from the movements that are fighting it, groups like Etcetera, who are fighting against geoengineering, manipulating the climate itself, manipulating the planet without anyone’s permission, without any sense of what this will do, and we can talk more about this, and gene drives, driving species to extinction.
These are crimes against the Earth. These are crimes against humanity. They’re crimes against democracy. So this volume really, you know, for me, the issue was the movements are working quietly, and they have their particular niche, and yet the world is changing around us. And we’ve seen this during COVID and the lockdown and who is shaping where the world will go in every sphere, the food we eat, what health care we have, what education we have, how we do agriculture, who owns knowledge, ideas, intellectual property, and who defines how the problems created by 500 years of colonialism and 200 years of industrialism, you know, should be addressed: the climate problem, the extinction problem.
And it’s sadly, you know, the tech billionaires as the new, you know? When I wrote my book on biopiracy, I remember I said at the first, Columbus had a, there was a God, then there was a pope. Then there was a king and a queen, and then there was Columbus. There was four-level hierarchy. The new Columbuses are the popes, they’re the kings and the queens, and they think they’re also God, because they’re trying to engineer the planet, engineer life, just define everything, yeah, and own life, which is owning life as creators.
So we are in a very interesting moment, and I do hope this volume will create the deep democratic discussions in society and deepen not just movements and their foundations, but the interconnectedness, you know. Our big attempt was the silos should give way to amazing solidarity. And we can be very grateful to Mr. Bill Gates that he is compelling us to have solidarity by interfering in every field with the wrong solution.
Breanna Draxler: I’d like to dive a little deeper into this idea of a Gates agricultural empire. And it’s described in detail in one of the chapters by Navdanya where they say, “Like Columbus, who’s setting out for India, getting lost, and arriving in the Americas,” discovered America, Gates and Monsanto are, “discovering climate resilience. And just as the narrative of Columbus’s discovery erases the Indigenous people who lived across the American continent, the patenting of climate resilience erases breeding techniques and the biodiversity that farmers have given us.”
So it’s partly this agricultural information and also sort of the knowledge and Indigenous sovereignty that goes with it. So in this idea of a Gates empire, do you think that the motivations are purely selfish, or do you think he really wants to help people but is going about it in a misguided way?
Vandana Shiva: You know, when AGRA was launched, the Alliance of the Green Revolution in Africa, I remember soon after that, we had the big social forum in Norway, and everyone said, “No.” We had the big social forum in Nairobi, and every movement of Africa, every government of Africa at that time said, “We don’t need this.”
So if someone wanted to help, the first thing they would do is listen to those whom they want to help. And this deafness is arrogance. It’s hubris. The blindness to not learn from what has gone wrong, that, too, is hubris. So I don’t think it is just greed. Of course, there’s greed. You know, you don’t carve out an entire empire of gene editing, from financing the scientists, organizing the patenting, finances, both scientists, the Harvard guys and the ones in California were fighting each other in the patent offices, financing both sides so that it doesn’t matter who wins. Eventually you have the control. All of this is about greed and finding new territories and colonies to profit from and profit in the old colonial way of extractivism, you know, of revenue collection.
But I think it is deeper. It is. You know, as an eco-feminist, what I’ve recognized is very often capitalist patriarchy tries to extinguish that which is alive and free on its own terms. And that’s been the urge of the Monsantos trying to extinguish the seed, you know, its own autonomy, its own ontopoiesis, its own ability to reproduce and multiply. So: “No, it shouldn’t multiply. There should be no renewal. We will genetically modify it and make it non-renewable and make it a crime to save seeds.”
So this threat that is felt by those who think they’re powerful of life and freedom I think is the deep psychological layer driving a lot of this. And unless we address this, yeah, this insecurity, you see, they look powerful, but their power is a violent power against others. Real power comes from cooperation, the real power of community, the real power of solidarity. And that’s something they don’t even know, they don’t understand. And I think for, particularly for this tiny group of the tech billionaires, they are brainwashed by an absolutely outmoded Cartesian example of how, you know, what is knowledge, what’s the world: “I’m a thinking thing without a mind. The world is a machine. When you torture an animal and it cries, it’s just the machine squeaking.”
That rubbish is what is driving Silicon Valley and transhumanism and the spiritual machine, yeah, literally the spiritual machine. And I think what is needed today is a non-violent, generous dialogue between Indigenous cultures and their rich diversity across the world and these four or five tech billionaires. They need to sit with a thousand tribes around them, and say, “Teach us.”
Breanna Draxler: Thank you. I’d like to bring Heather in at this point, because I think that relates very directly to the work that you’re doing in trying to create a network to have these conversations and to move these ideas forward. And so one of the consistent criticisms, both in the book and of your organization, is that the Gates Foundation and the many privileged relationships they have with private companies, with government, with the World Health Organization, they’re sort of single-handedly setting the global agenda on health with this Western worldview and scientific values without any transparency, without any accountability. And so I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about the ways in which your organization is working specifically to address that lack of accountability and transparency to the communities that are affected.
Heather Day: Thank you, it’s wonderful to be here with you all. Yeah, it’s really hard to address that, but I think what we do is what we’re doing right now. We dig deep, we research, we network, we make connections. I mean, this volume is incredible just in terms of, like you said, Vandana, it reminds me of why the WTO protests were so successful was because WTO was touching on every aspect of our lives. And the Gates Foundation, unfortunately, is becoming, you know, very similar. And so, you know, we do research. We build the global food sovereignty movement. We do social media campaigns to pressure them publicly and, you know, other kind of campaigning. And we do have, we do see them, for example, with the recent campaign to defund the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. We do see them, you know, making some, seeming sensitive to public criticism.
So we just did a zero-response campaign and supported the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa who sent a letter to the Gates Foundation demanding that they defund AGRA. And the Gates Foundation didn’t respond for over six months. And so we had this campaign running, like each additional day that the Gates Foundation refuses to even acknowledge that this, you know, the biggest social movement in Africa is making these demands of them and asking people to tweet at Gates to respond to this letter. So that’s one example just of, you know, trying to make it, expose the degree to which they’re unaccountable to movements on the ground.
Breanna Draxler: Thank you, and just sort of diving deeper on that topic of sort of media and communication, which plays a big role in the book, a number of the articles touch on that, including the one from your organization. They have a very targeted and very well-financed PR campaign to shape public opinion in favor of GMOs, in favor of corporate ag, and your organization specifically calls out needing to develop robust communication in direct opposition to that.
And so I’m wondering if, you know, as individuals who are trying to sort of figure out where they stand on things or better understand the issues, how do you rectify that sort of push and pull of two different attempts to sway public opinion. And how are individuals supposed to know who to listen to or what’s at stake, if that makes sense?
Heather Day: I think probably it’s “follow the money.” I mean, they’re profit motivated. It’s incredibly lopsided. They are launching massive amounts of money into propaganda, legitimizing it as “science.” And actually science is about observing and looking at things in multiple ways to try to come to an understanding, but they’re actually undermining the spirit of debate and inquiry that’s common to both science and democracy in their approach. So they make it very lopsided in that they’re so much better resourced and more easily heard.
Our chapter was onto one of their many methods of directly funding propaganda and support of biotechnology by funding the Cornell Alliance for Science and developing this fellowship program where they bring people from all over the world, the majority of them are African, and teaching them in the communication that, you know, props up this industrial agricultural model that they’re funding. And you can see those people going out and publishing all these articles that are criticizing agroecology and trying to undermine agroecology.
And a key communication strategy of the Cornell Alliance for Science is to position biotechnology or everything they believe is science and equate all critique is anti-science where, you know, agroecology is not anti-science or anti-Western science. It does apply Western scientific methodologies along with Indigenous, local science, and knowledge systems.
So I guess, you know, part of it is just looking at who are we trying to represent? Whose interests are at stake here? Is it global capitalists or social movements and peasants and Indigenous people fighting around the world for agroecology, for food sovereignty?
Breanna Draxler: There is a role for science, and kind of oversimplification of those issues doesn’t help. At this point, I wanna shift a little bit towards climate change as sort of a central theme. And one of the common reasons for scaling up global agriculture is to improve crop productivity to adapt to climate change to feed a growing global population. And in the book, Vandana, you say this is hasty and that the urgency is unwarranted. And I think at the same time, you know, people are really worried how about this, what’s considered a climate emergency. So how do you square the urgency of addressing the climate emergency with the pace of traditional methods of cultivation and seed adaptation and the ways in which that has historically allowed for solutions to emerge?
Vandana Shiva: So Breanna, I have never used a statement that says it’s hasty to respond to the climate emergency. I see that emergency. I respond to it on a daily basis. And the reason I don’t think Mr. Gates and his foundation is bringing any solution is because I have watched him pirate the diversity of climate-resilient seeds that our peasants have evolved.
Indian farmers took one grass and turned it into 200,000 rice varieties. Navdanya, the movement I started 35 years ago, has saved seeds of every kind in now 150 community seed banks. And when the Orissa super cyclone hit, we were able to use the salt-tolerant seeds from the community seed banks to distribute, and after the tsunami, yeah? So we are responding to the climate emergency. What does Mr. Gates do? Take the flood-tolerant, salt-tolerant rices that Indian peasant have evolved and gets his foundation to claim that he has invented the sub-gene. Sub-gene? No, submergence gene, there is no one gene. It’s flood tolerance of an entire plant evolved by the farmers.
So my critique of Gates is the false claim to invention when it’s piracy. Same reason I have resisted Monsanto for 30 years and will continue to do a resistance to buy. The deeper problem with Bill Gates is this:
Last year, he hijacked the entire UN food summit. It happened before, you know. I mean, it happened after we’d done the volume. Otherwise we’d have had had a chapter on the hijack of the food summit. Who headed the food summit? The lady whom he appointed as the head of AGRA. Who were the partners? CropLife, the poison industry, the people who make pesticides. What was the agenda? Digital agriculture, both as pushing surveillance into farming, which is this Ag One, that one empire over agriculture, but worse, subverting the two treaties to which I have, you know, I’ve had a lot to do with these two treaties. And dear Pepe Esquinas who has a whole contribution in the book, he was really the one who steered the FAO Seed Treaty, and this treaty recognized sovereignty just like the Convention on Biological Diversity does. And he’s trying to undermine these two treaties with digital genome sequences and has floated a fake word of, “We are ‘dematerializing’ the seed.”
No, when you make a map of a genome, of a seed, the seed is still living, it’s still material. It’s still what’ll give us food. The map is a map. Like when the British and the East India Company colonized us, one of the company officers said, “We came to India with a sword in one hand and a yardstick in the other.” Because making a map has always been the colonial mode of appropriation. Right now, it’s not territorial maps but genomic maps, and Gates is the driver of this, and he’s deregulating.
And, you know, Heather talked a bit about WTO and the ’99 protest. Most people don’t know that the first meeting of WTO was in Singapore, and the first gift that came from the international free trade of WTO was tax-free status to what was then called the information technology industry` and is now called just tech, yeah? No taxes, how do you think these billionaires got as rich as they are? Free trade meant freedom from taxes. So they never paid any tax anywhere. And worse, because if they had to be taxed for the information moving, outsourcing would not have been profitable. Outsourcing became profitable, so they could create the Silicon Valleys in India and pay the Indians 1/100 the rate they would’ve paid if the people had to go to Silicon Valley. So free trade, globalization, WTO, everything hangs together in the deregulation that created the billionaires who are now deregulating every aspect of life so that there is no rule left to protect either life on Earth or the life of people or our democratic institutions.
Breanna Draxler: Thank you for that, and my apologies if I put words in your mouth with the hasty and urgency. Looking back at the book, it was a chapter by Navdanya that talks about that sort of time pressure. So thank you for clarifying.
And I wanna dig a little deeper on that idea of sort of the yardstick, because I think it creates a really important parallel to the emphasis on productivity and yield as the focus of all improvements to agriculture, where in the book, the argument is that if you’re increasing the yield and the productivity but you’re not also increasing equity and sustainability, then you’re not really addressing climate change. And so I’m wondering if you could talk about the ways in which this approach to solving the climate crisis is not actually going to solve it, or is in fact making the climate crisis worse?
Vandana Shiva: So, you know, as a scientist, the one thing I know is you have to use your eyes. You have to observe. Observation is vital. When I looked at the Green Revolution in Punjab in ’84, I could see the fields were monocultures, biologically sad fields, you know, biologically not abundant compared to as fields of nine crops and 12 crops up in the Himalayan Mountains with fragile soils and little terraces. And I said, “They call this low productivity, and they call that high productivity? It’s not hanging together.”
That’s when I started to question the idea of yield per acre, and I started to measure the biological productivity, the nutritional productivity, the biodiversity productivity. And Navdanya has done many reports that show that when you shift the gaze from yield, which only measures what goes to the market and doesn’t measure the state of the soil, the state of the farmer, or the quality of the food you’re producing, then yield looks big because more is being extracted, it’s commodified. Whereas when you look at the full productivity on biodiversity basis, more biodiversity produces more nutrition. We can feed two times the world population by keeping seed in peasant hands, by growing food agroecologically and developing markets that are already local.
So the FAO had shown systematically over the last decade that 80% of the food we eat comes from small farms. Now that the Gateses are encroaching into the FAO, overnight they’re cooking up new studies that say, “No, 80% doesn’t come from small farms.” Then they define small farms as excluding peasants fisherfolk, pastoralists. So they’ve removed the 80% anyway, and then they say among the big farms, the smaller ones don’t produce the most. So jugglery, you know?
I feel grateful I’ve studied math, I’ve studied physics. I know to calculate, and jugglery with numbers is the way the Green Revolution worked, and it was Rockefeller. And the Green Revolution, second Green Revolution, GMOs, it’s jugglery with numbers. And the part that is not in the book is because Gates wrote his book on how to address or how to avoid a climate catastrophe, and the two spots of it that connect to our volume.
First part, we’ve shown that industrial agriculture chemical base is at the root of climate change. My book Soil, Not Oil showed that 50% of the greenhouse gases come from an industrial globalized system of producing food, bad food, which also produces 75% of the chronic diseases. What is Gates promoting in his book on how to avoid climate catastrophe? “We need more fertilizer.” He’s standing in front of a fertilizer plant in Zanzibar and saying, “Oh, I’m happier than I look.” Nitrous oxide is 300 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide is.
And the second bit, you know, we don’t use tractors on our little farm in Dehradun. We use bullocks because they’re part of a totally renewable energy system. He has a picture of bullocks and saying, “These are primitive technologies that must be made to disappear.” So it’s a direct assault of our peasant agriculture. It’s direct assault on centuries of farming lightly. And he wants bigger tractors. He wants more pesticides.
And his new Ag One is linked to another chapter in the report, which is on false fake food, the Impossible Burger, 14 patents related to it. You know, the reason they’re pushing this lab food is because it is like GMO seed. It’s really to do patenting and royalty collection. He’s not just talking about fake meat. He’s literally financing fake breast milk as a climate solution. You know, I have breastfed my child, and, you know, zero distance, zero fossil fuels. Now that has zero contribution to climate change. They’re putting up ads, “Climate Crime! Breastfeeding a Climate Crime!” But zipping around fake substitutes around the planet with patents on it will be a climate solution.
So I watched Gates take over the climate discussions in Paris. That’s why I wrote Oneness vs. the 1%. But we have watched in these seven years, he’s gotten deeper and deeper and deeper. And every time he creates a new colony, he’s solving climate change. Everything he’s doing to control more of the planet, he’s solving climate change. I think it is time for movements to reclaim the climate discourse and make it a people’s discourse, fully a people’s discourse. To go back to the roots of why we had a climate treaty: We knew those who have not caused the problem will suffer. Therefore, climate justice was at the heart of it.
And there were issues of compensation, not a word about it. Yeah, a hundred billion they were supposed to get. They haven’t even put $40 billion down. And every day, one day Tonga, one day another place, yesterday, Rio de Janeiro having floods, disasters by the day, and in India, every year’s disasters are costing $10 billion, $20 billion, yeah?
So, you know, the control of the media combined with all of this has brought us to the ultimate doublespeak, yeah? Everything big that’s being said actually is the opposite that’s being done. And the net zero that Mr. Gates mentions in his book How to Avoid a Climate Catastrophe is the new jugglery of numbers. And for those, I mean, I added a chapter later because he had become the biggest farmland owner. And so that chapter was added after our Navdanya report.
Why is he buying the farmland so fast? Because for them, not only is food the most important issue, you know, people will have to eat no matter what, and the second is, then you link it to a false recipe for climate, you’re not just making money with the GMOs and the fake food made from GMO soil and cellular meat, but its feed is GMO soil, GMO corn.
And this has to be partnered with Gates, that’s very clear. You cannot do that kind of agriculture on a small scale. Agriculture will be reduced to producing raw material for lab food, carbohydrates, enzymes, proteins, yeah? So they don’t see food as food, go to the garden and pick up a carrot, yeah, go and grow your lettuce. No, they want to see an end of that.
That’s why a determination of everyone to say, “I’m not gonna give up eating real food.” Just like we decided 30 years ago, we are not going to let our seeds disappear. We will save them with love. We will save them with passion. And we have saved them and multiplied them and distributed them. And the seed movement is now a global movement that is unstoppable. We’ve got to make a food movement of a similar kind where the Earth, the Earth’s rights, the rights of the small farmers, and the rights of the eaters, which is all of us, become one right of freedom and health.
Breanna Draxler: Applying that in terms of what real solutions look like brings it back to that colonizing myth that traditional methods need to be categorized as primitive in order to dismiss them and show the necessity of something new when in fact these primitive ways are often ecologically sophisticated and sustainable, and that, you know, uniformity is the vulnerability to climate change, not these small diversified operations that really give it that resilience. And so I think, I wanna bring it to the topic of seed banking specifically, because that’s talked about at length in the book, and you talk about it as hijacking farmers’ seeds instead of preserving the diversity of seeds, which is how it’s often presented. And I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about the power differential between having global seed banks in developed countries versus many small local seed banks in communities that have access to their own seeds and their own knowledge and the history that goes with that.
Vandana Shiva: All Indigenous agriculture, every family would have their own seeds, yeah? And the seed store would be the most sacred store, you know, and everyone was an expert. Everyone was a seed expert, a seed breeder, particularly women.
It’s the Green Revolution imposed by the World Bank, the Rockefeller Foundation, the USAID in the ’60 on India that then led to the creation of these consultative group seed banks, public seed banks under World Bank control at that time. So they tried to take all this rice seeds of India. And the director of rice research of India, who’s the one who then taught me about seed-saving, Dr. Richharia, he said, “But this is our national heritage, and you cannot take it,” and World Bank made sure he was removed.
And he didn’t give up his work. He kept working. He kept working at the state level, then at the community level. He taught our generation what seed is about and how Indigenous peasants have bred seeds. He’s the one who wrote the book on how Indian peasants have been the breeders of rice; they are breeders. He taught us to respect the breeding of the peasants.
So IRRI [International Rice Research Institute] was created in the Philippines with collections from all our seed banks, and these were public seed banks. That’s where the Golden Rice work, which had failed—we stopped the Golden Rice in India in 2000. Campaigns around the world showed it doesn’t work. Its failure showed it doesn’t work. Bill Gates resurrected it with his funding at IRRI.
So The chapter on seed that I’ve written, I’ve basically shown that these consultative groups, this was called the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research, which were really the public seed bank, and they were not always located in the north, you know? IRRI is in the Philippines. The dryland tropics ICRISAT is in Hyderabad in India. You have the potato research in Peru. You have you, we used to have the dryland, arid zone in Syria, in Aleppo.
So the seeds banks were all over, but it was collected and used by the corporations who then sold back seeds.
At that time, no patents. At that time, no GMOs. But our seeds were made to look primitive, yeah? We were called landraces, primitive, and you know, they come in bringing that language back, you know? Like we were called primitive. Our seeds were called primitive in this last year. And that chapter in Philanthrocapitalism shows that while governments were the primary donors to the international public gene banks, you know, right now, Gates is the biggest controller of IRRI and ICRISAT and every one of them.
And in any case, long ago, he had created the Svalbard bank, which was supposed to be, they called it the doomsday vault. You know, when you save seed, you don’t talk about doomsday, you talk about hope. The difference between decentralized community seed banks is when the disaster hits your seed, it’s there. A little package of seed in Svalbard, first of all, one permafrost melt, the whole thing drowns, and there was a melt the other day. But second is, that little packet, it’ll need 20 years to multiply and reach the farmers who need it because seed needs to be multiplied, and living seed banks is how seeds are accessible to farming communities.
These kind of seed banks are perfect for corporations and particularly for Gates. You can have a little packet like that, and you can do the genome mapping, and you can put your patent. So Svalbard is for his patenting, but he’s also taken control of all the public banks financed by public money for his one empire of agriculture. So he has an empire of seed, an empire of agriculture, and he wants an empire of food. And if the world’s public doesn’t rise to defend their food sovereignty—and food sovereignty, of course, is about peasants being free to grow their food, but it’s about everyone having the freedom to grow their garden.
It’s about everyone knowing what’s in their food. And therefore, GMO labeling is vital. It is, you know, in Washington state, I remember, those days when you had the ballot on GMO labeling, how Monsanto’s advertisements defeated the California ballot, the Colorado ballot. and then when they actually went and did the legislative labeling in Vermont. Then they created the DARK Act in Congress. So if Monsanto was a troublemaker, Mr. Bill Gates is like Monsanto into 5,000, yeah? Not only because he’s in every field, but the tools of devastation are more violent.
Breanna Draxler: If the solutions are in communities, if the solutions are at that local level, I’d love to bring in Heather to talk about the ways in which your organization, which is Seattle based, is able to, or is working to kind of make these connections. A lot of the work is in Africa, a lot of the work with AGRA Watch specifically. So it’s pretty far away for most people. It’s not necessarily relevant to their daily lives and the way, they don’t see it as relevant to their daily lives. So how do you make that connection between the organizing work that’s being done here in Seattle and the larger global mission when solutions are and need to be local?
Heather Day: Thanks, yeah. First I just wanna let folks know that, I mean, an important part of what we can do to expose all this obviously is, you know, educate through books and reports. But we also have to use different forms, different modes, right, and that’s why we’re getting better at social media. But we also recently decided to do a series of short films on this topic, and the series is called “Rich Appetites: How Big Philanthropy is Shaping the Future of Food in Africa,” and there are five short films planned. The first two have been released, and you can find them on our website at richappetitesfilm.com, and the second one is about seeds. So I just wanted to mention it because it talks about how the Gates Foundation’s role in promoting laws and commercializing seeds in Africa is allowing corporations to commodify control and profit from this fundamental building blocks of agriculture. But yeah, CAGJ and our AGRA Watch campaign are part of the global food sovereignty movement. Food sovereignty and agroecology are both obviously locally based, but they’re also global movements, and we have to link up our struggles across place, as Vandana so eloquently was just talking about.
And so we work with frontline communities across Washington state. Our Food Justice Project has partners including farmworker unions here, Familias Unidas por la Justicia. We work to amplify the work of grocery workers by working with their union, UFCW 21. That’s just two examples, and then we also do work to help build national alliances like the US Food Sovereignty Alliance. We work with the National Family Farm Coalition. So we’re very involved in building the food sovereignty movement on a national scale, and then we connect that up, you know, internationally.
There’s so much happening that folks locally can be involved in, including at the U.N., but also we were honored to be asked to become a member of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, so we, you know, actually work very closely with AFSA and try in our work to constantly connect, like you said, like what is relevant about our lives locally with what’s happening internationally. We formed AGRA Watch because we’re based in Seattle and felt it was critical that there be a voice in the Gates Foundation’s backyard saying, “No!”
And it’s not just in Seattle, obviously, that this opposition is taking place. We have to work in solidarity with the African food sovereignty movement and bring that. So one example what this international, or I like to think of almost as translocal, I don’t like creating new words like that, work looks like is when we organized our summit in 2014, the Africa-US Food Sovereignty Strategy Summit. And we were able to bring eight African leaders from movements across the continent and 20 folks in the U.S. working on food sovereignty work to build relationships and better understand what our common struggles are. And out of that came a lot of really important campaign work against GE banana, helped very much by Vandana, and things like agroecology exchanges. So we organized to get leaders from the Northwest to South Africa to meet counterparts there, come back, report back on that.
So yeah, we are meeting every month with our African counterparts and at the same time, we’re a leadership development organization in order to strengthen the global food sovereignty movement. So we’re bringing in folks locally, raising consciousness while doing these projects like the “Rich Appetites” film series.
Breanna Draxler: Thank you, Heather, and we’re gonna switch to Q&A with the audience in just a second, but I just wanted to end with one thought that I found was really compelling in the book that controlling the resources that sustain life is controlling life, and by trying to control that, it’s really controlling the imagination of food and farming. And so I would invite everyone to, you know, think about what would broader imaginations bring to the future of food and farming if that control was shared, if that control was something we all brought to the table?
So on that note, let’s switch to Q&A mode. Please add your questions in the Q&A function, and we’ll bring back Chris, who will be moderating that part of the conversation.
Chris Winters: Thank you, Breanna. We have a lot of questions and not enough time to cover them all, but we’ll jump right into them. The first question we got seems to pick up right from what you were just now talking about, Heather, but this could go to both of you. The question comes from an anonymous attendee here: ”What are the top-line public-facing messages that could help the public, the general public, understand the gravity of the dangers of this movement in philanthrocapitalism and the attempts to, and their attempts to solve the climate crisis?”
Vandana Shiva: Part of the crisis we are in is our ability to go deeper into root causes is being taken away by the idea that there’s one message in which you can understand the complexity of how the biosphere regulates the climate and how the Earth brought the temperature down from to 290 degrees Centigrade to 13 degrees through her biosphere and her biodiversity and her photosynthesis. Now, that kind of thing, you need to have dialogue on it, and you need multicultural dialogue on it.
So I am not among those who thinks quick, superficial messages will deepen movements. They will deepen the fake messaging, yeah? We never had methane problems from all the wild animals on this planet and the bison roaming the prairies, yeah? They’re herbivores. They have four stomachs. Mr. Gates in his book is blaming the four stomachs of the cow, and everyone got into a tizzy that every cow is emitting methane all the time. And I grew up with cows, and they didn’t stink. So people said, “How do you know?” I said, “I use my nose, just like I use my eyes.” Methane stinks. When you go past concentrated, concentrated animal farm operations, CAFO, you get that stink. You go past a lovely free-range animal, you don’t get a stink. You go past the bison, you don’t get a stink. You go past the reindeer, you don’t get a stink. You go into the African grazing animals, they don’t stink. The forest is not a stinking mess like CAFOs are.
I think our attention and intelligence is being shrunk. And what do we need, and it’s what Breanna said, we need to expand not only our imagination but our knowledge, and that means we must learn. I always say you must learn from nature and how nature works, but who are the people who worked best with nature? Why is 85% of the biodiversity in the 25% lands left for the Indigenous people? Because they knew how to care. So Indigenous people have to be teachers.
And so when people say, “What would you tell Bill Gates?” I say come and attend a class. Attend a class on climate change. Attend a class on how biodiversity and photosynthesis work. Attend a class within Indigenous people, because it’s that hubris and arrogance that is preventing a learning. But the power of that money allows rubbish to be put into books, and they get published, and they get spread all over. And there is no way we will be able to compete on the money game, but we can do a better job on working with truth, working with life. And therefore, let’s not think people are dumb. Let’s not think, “Oh, they need a quick message.” People need creative actions. People need courage, yeah? And a lot of people don’t realize that you don’t have to do anything with these people. Once we shape our lives, that doesn’t give them power. We’re drawing our power by not lending our minds to them, not lending our lives to them. That non-cooperation has always been the biggest instrument of dealing with unaccountable power, whether it was Gandhi in India, Mandela, Martin Luther King, Thoreau, who was sent to jail because he didn’t pay a tax because he didn’t support slavery, and he wrote an essay called “Civil Disobedience.” So that is always in our hands. And that’s the biggest power, the ability to say no.
Chris Winters: Very good. Moving on to the next question here from Andre: “Could some parts of philanthropy, some parts of philanthropy be used as a tool that can help the transition toward a more desired eco-feminism or agro-feminism?” And I’ll also compile another question I saw a couple of times show up in the chat here: “Do you take anything away from Melinda Gates’ announcement that she’s going to announce an initiative that starts with the people who are suffering first to define the solutions and then work from that point of view?”
Vandana Shiva: I’d like to go back to Breanna’s opening and David Orr’s introduction, who said, “Ecological problems need ecological solutions.” Ecological solutions can’t be substituted by money alone, and no matter how big your money, but if they’re ecologically dumb, they will cause more harm. So the question about can philanthropy: The reason the book is titled Philanthrocapitalism, philanthrocapitalism is about making money. Philanthropy is about giving money. They’re two different processes. They’re two different phenomena. Giving is fine, but it should be unconditioned because giving doesn’t have conditions. Giving is a gift. Here’s the work you’re doing, I like it, here’s support. Do what you want to with it.
Because the track record of the movements is what speaks, you know? And it’s interesting right now, I don’t know how many of you have noticed that while the billionaires take over, the audit and accounting firms are being put in charge of governance, because everything now is a juggling of numbers, from net zero to productivity, to, you know, the nutrition of food, everything is jugglery of numbers, and accounting is where that begins. So philanthropy is basically, “I am privileged to have had something, and I’ll give it to you.” The ethics of this comes from this beautiful culture of the Sikh religion, the langar, the gift of food, yeah? You don’t ask the person whom you’re giving food to, “What caste are you? What religion are you?” You give. So philanthropy, yes. Philanthrocapitalism, we must shut our door to it because that is the big threat to life on Earth and democracy. And you said there was a second question about Melinda. You know, I have no idea. All I know is they got divorced. I don’t know anything beyond that.
Chris Winters: Perfect.
Heather Day: I just wanna add to the question that stumped me, the one thing that I think is important, I guess, in the political moment we are in is just highlighting the importance of dealing with industrial agriculture when we’re talking about climate, and it’s been acknowledged that the last COP completely ignored the importance of that. And the next COP is supposed to be focused on it, but guess who’s supposed to lead that conversation? Agnes Kalibata again, so we have to be wary. But I think La Via Campesina’s messaging around food sovereignty is the true climate solution, like that is the kind of links, the kind of education that we’re trying to focus on, helping people understand that. Because the focus is so much more on fossil fuels, understandably, but it needs, the focus needs to shift and deepen when it comes to Big Ag and industrial agriculture.
Chris Winters: OK, and a final question we’re gonna have time to get to today from Arisha: “How do you keep fighting the good fight when there is so much negative energy out there, and it’s so powerful when we’re up against corporate greed, hunger for power, and the real suffering that the majority of people on the planet are experiencing?”
Vandana Shiva: I observe the violent and destructive power. I don’t let it define the energy that is my energy. You know, I’m from India where we talk about Shakti, power in feminine form, yeah? It comes from within, and it’s a celebration of us being part of a beautiful universe, a beautiful Earth. And if I spend about 95% of my work or my time and energy on regenerative solutions and imagining, imagining a world of justice, imagining a world of biodiversity, imagining a world where species don’t go extinct and no one is hungry, I do spend 5% of my time looking at, they’re actually overgrown boys, if you look at it, you know? It’s like boys with toys, they got to play, yeah? And the whole planet is their playground. I don’t get absorbed by them. I don’t let their energy overtake my energy. My energy comes from the Earth. My energy comes from the universe. My energy comes from the people.
Chris Winters: Thank you so much, both of you, Vandana Shiva, Heather Day, for joining us today and for sharing more about the book and the work that you both are doing. Thanks also to Synergetic Press for partnering with us on this event. We’ve had many great conversations happening in the chat and the Q&A, many questions we were unable to get to, but we’ll share in a follow-up email with everyone who is registered for this event. We’ll also be sending out a link to the recording, and we will publish it at yesmagazine.org in the next couple of weeks along with a transcript of the conversation.
In the meantime, I hope you’ll all register for our March 10th event for our new “Personal Journeys” issue. YES!’s racial justice editor, Sonali Kolhatkar, is going to moderate a conversation with contributing writers Ruth King, Shawn Ginwright, and Rachel Powell Horne about their unique paths to making change in the world. You won’t wanna miss it. You can get a free ticket at yesmagazine.org/journey.
And finally, every day at YES!, we are seeking to elevate hope, inspiration, and solutions for a better world. This work and these events are only possible thanks to the generous support of readers like you. If you wanna donate or subscribe, please visit yesmagazine.org. We wanna thank you so much for joining us. May all of you have a wonderful rest of your day. Thank you very much.
Heather Day: Thank you to YES! Magazine for helping sustain the hope and leaders like Vandana.
Vandana Shiva: Thank you, Chris. Thank you, Breanna. Thank you, Heather.
Heather Day: Thank you, everyone.
Vandana Shiva: And yes, thank you to YES! for allowing people to know that there’s a world we need to protect and find creative ways to not allow the philanthrocapitalists to colonize the planet.