For decades now, we have been told by NGOs such as Greenpeace, well-meaning but uninformed celebrities like Mark Ruffalo and the threat to global food security herself, Vandana Shiva, that organic farming is more sustainable and produces comparable yields to conventional farming methods. We all, including myself, want this to be true but deep down we all know when we see the premium price tag on organic produce that it’s not. The sad reality is that the organic movement is simply marketing disguised as a grassroots movement relying on, and amplifying, the ignorance of its own consumers. It survives by distorting science and promoting a false narrative that organic food is somehow safer or is more nutritional than conventional foods. That is not to say there is no shortage of problems associated with chemical-intensive large-scale agriculture, but the solution to these problems is not to take us back to the dark ages and for us to ignore all the advancements in technology that have taken so many from the brink of starvation. Yet there are many among us who romanticise archaic food production and yearn to return to a time before synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. The now former Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has shown us what such a world would look like when he attempted to transition the country’s farmers to organic agriculture. The result was an economic and humanitarian crisis in which Sri Lanka lost its food security and half a million people were pushed back into poverty. This was one of many significant factors leading to widespread protests in Sri Lanka which the Rajapaksa administration attempted to suppress through authoritarian means, imposing curfews, restricting social media, assaulting protesters and journalists and arresting online activists. They were however unsuccessful and at the time of writing this, Rajapaksa fled to Singapore after protesters overran the presidential palace. Sri Lanka’s prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as acting president as the country reels from an economic crisis and unrest.
Seven months after forcing its farmers to go organic, the government reversed its decision and was seeking a $700 million USD loan from the World Bank to revive its agricultural sector by providing it with imported agrochemicals following the catastrophe. This is the dark side of organic farming.
The former army officer, and now former Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected in 2019 largely on his reputation for ruthless dynamism. For example, as secretary of defence in 2009, he brutally ended a long civil war against Tamil rebels, and as urban-development secretary he “beautified” cities by kicking thousands of people out of slums. Prior to his presidency, he noted the growth of Viyath maga – a movement composed of “academics, professionals, and entrepreneurs” who demanded the return of organic farming. Sensing an opportunity to garner votes, Rajapaksa pledged to switch the country’s over two million farmers to organic as part of his 2019 election campaign.
It is speculated that Rajapaksa – who has no understanding of biology or agriculture – aimed to transform the agricultural economy of Sri Lanka into a purely organic enterprise in the expectation that consumers would be willing to pay a premium for its exports. Others believe that he simply wanted to save money on imports despite him and his government knowing that organic farming could not feed the Sri Lankan population. Regardless of Rajapaksa’s motives, it was Navdanya International, an Indian-based non-governmental organisation who advised him on how such a switch could be accomplished. Unfortunately for the people of Sri Lanka, Navdanya International is a pseudo-environmentalist organisation founded by conspiracy theorist and well-known and persistent myth-monger, Vandana Shiva.
Vandana is an Indian environmental activist and food sovereignty advocate who wags her finger at Western economic models and institutions. She is known for her firebrand activism against modern agrarianism, fetching her many awards from well-fed industrial nations, but also tonnes of criticism from those who suffer as a result of her actions. She and her organisation Navdanya International actively campaign to deny developing-world farmers access to the modern techniques farmers in the developed worlds have used to increase yields and profits while decreasing pesticide use. To do this, she perpetuates myths about farmer suicide rates in India, fans the flames of anti-GMO hysteria and downplays the impact of the Green Revolution, all whilst fetteshising archaic food production in the developing world, believing that villages in rural India should remain as they are as showpiece to be observed by the well-fed elite. India’s own intelligence bureau, in a leaked classified report, raised concerns about Vandana’s connections to foreign-funded NGOs, including Navdanya, are actively hampering India’s growth and development.
“These foreign donors lead local NGOs to provide field reports which are used to build a record against India and serve as tools for the strategic foreign policy interests of the Western governments,” – India’s Intelligence Bureau
Yet unbelievably, she has somehow turned her crackpot, nonsensical, genocidal nonsense into marketable outrage and now charges up to $40,000 to lecture the rich on why the poor should starve. However, Vandana will never engage in open debate with an adversary who might threaten or disagree with her, instead opting to spit poison at technology she doesn’t like from the safety of her echo chamber. She does this because she knows that if she were to engage with her detractors, her Alex Jones-esque, moronic, marketable outrage would be shot down for the pure conspiracy nonsense it is.
Vandana is also a prolific writer and is the author of more than twenty books, with perhaps her most famous being Ecofeminism. Personally I found her magnum opus to be nothing but word salad with key concepts undefined, overuse of emotional language rather than relying on cold hard facts, and ambiguous wording which leaves a lot up to the reader to interpret. I pride myself on my high tolerance for hypervally, but after reading the word “rape” a million times, as well as finding out that “GMOs embody the vision of capitalist patriarchy” and that they “perpetuate the idea of master molecules”, I decided it was time to put the book down. Although I have to admit, I did chuckle at the section on chemtrails and man-made volcanoes.
“Planetary war is taking place with geo-engineering – creating artificial volcanoes, fertilising the oceans with iron filings, putting reflectors in the sky to stop the sun from shining on the Earth, displacing the real problem of man’s violence against the Earth, and the arrogant ignorance in dealing with it.” – Vandana Shiva
This same kind of nonsensical babble can be found on the Navdanya International website.
“Navdanya promotes a new agricultural and economic paradigm, a culture of food for health, where ecological responsibility and economic justice replace the present greed, consumerism and competition which have become dominant in society. It aims at regaining the common good as a foundation for a renewed sense of community, solidarity and culture of peace.
We strive to achieve these goals through the conservation, renewal and rejuvenation of the gifts of biodiversity we have received from nature and our ancestors, and to defend these gifts as commons.” – Navdanya International
Vandana self-identifies as a “scientist,” “quantum physicist,”and “nuclear physicist”, despite lacking the qualifications and/or experience needed to be awarded such titles. She often lies about her accomplishments, stating her PhD was in nuclear physics – a claim parroted by hundreds of organisations and prominent journalists. A claim easily rebutted by simply listening to what she has to say. For example would anyone with a PhD in nuclear physics say the following?
According to the University of Western Ontario, where she received her PhD, her doctorate was not in physics, as she claims, but in philosophy. Perhaps foreshadowing her current contentious views about modern agriculture, her thesis, Hidden variables and locality in quantum theory, incorrectly concluded that quantum mechanics in physics was philosophically invalid and factually doubtful, putting it at odds with factual reality. Independent of the quality of her research, it is a substantive leap from earning a PhD in philosophy with a thesis focusing on the philosophy of physics to claiming to be a nuclear physicist. When asked specifics about her qualifications or achievements, Vandana will do her best to evade the question and any follow ups as she did with investigative journalist Michael Specter. He questioned the sleeve on one of her books which stated that “before becoming an activist, Vandana Shiva was one of India’s leading physicists”, to which she simply replied “Google it”, thereby cutting the conversation short. As well as lying about her credentials, Vandana also has no formal academic training in nutrition, toxicology, biology, genetics, agriculture, plant breeding, or economics but is often called upon and erroneously thought of as an expert in these fields.
It was on the advice of this woman and her organisation, Navdanya International, that President Rajapaska took the disastrous decision on April 29, 2021, to ban chemical fertilisers and pesticides. In an attempt to better understand what advice was given to the Sri Lankan government and its people, I watched the video “Professor Vandana Shiva’s speech about Sri Lankan Organic Transformation” which was published prior to the ban.
It seems that Vandana, rather than using this opportunity to prepare the Sri Lanken people for the drastic agricultural changes she is spearheading, preferred to talk about herself, her books, and the countless awards and accolades she has received. What little runtime was not dedicated to self promotion was clearly unscripted as it lacked clear purpose or direction, with Vandana constantly meandering between several unrelated points. However when you cut through the noise along with the meaningless word play, weasel words, and bravado, there are several things Vandana states which expose her as the dangerous fraud she is.
“There are 125,000 cases filed in the courts of America, after Eric Séralini in France, and then the WHO – the international agency on researching cancer, showed that this was a probable carcinogen. So, I wish you all strength, and I am there to work with you. I have survived this poison cartel for four decades, so I have experience in resilience against the poison cartel! – Vandana Shiva
In 2018 a jury found that chemical giant Monsanto knew its Roundup weed killers were dangerous and ordered Bayer, who acquired the giant in the same year, to pay $289m damages to a man who claimed the herbicide caused his cancer. However, science is not debated in the courtroom; it is debated in the literature where the consensus is that glyphosate (the active ingredient in RoundUp) is not carcinogenic. It is important to remember that this was not a scientific decision or conclusion, but the opinion of a small group of random people who have no scientific background. Glyphosate did not suddenly become carcinogenic because these lay people think it is.
The verdict opened the floodgates to anti-GMO profiters and to genuine distraught cancer sufferers who after decades of misinformation, believe their illness is due to exposure to the herbicide to take further legal action against Bayer. However, the fact that there are now a large number of people taking action against Bayer still doesn’t mean that glyphosate is carcinogenic.
In 2012 the highly discredited and now retracted paper ‘Long-term Toxicity of a Roundup Herbicide and a Roundup-Tolerant Genetically Modified Maize‘, also known as the Séralini paper, was published, which supposedly shows a link between GMOs and the herbicide RoundUp with cancer and premature death. I have discussed ad nauseam the various flaws that lie at the core of the experiment reported in this paper and how the authors deliberately tried to deceive the reader. Perhaps most damning is the raw data itself which is dishonestly hidden within messy graphs and not in a clear and concise table. If you remove the arbitrary cut-off time the authors used to arrive at their predetermined conclusion, the data shows that male rats who drank large concentrations of herbicide actually lived the longest.
On a personal note I find the research and researchers to be highly unethical, as the scientists involved allowed the rats in their study – which are known to spontaneously grow tumours – to remain alive while cancer consumed their bodies until it made up 25% of their body weight. There is no reason why they allowed this to happen other than to obtain pointless unscientific pictures to evoke an emotional response in the reader. Even here, they deceitfully neglected to include a picture of a rat from the control group, purposely misleading the reader into thinking that the tumours did not occur in this group.
In 2015, a body within the World Health Organisation (WHO) called the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), published a monograph stating that there was sufficient evidence in animals that Glyphosate was carcinogenic and limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans. To be blunt, the IARC’s report misrepresented the science in the limited number of papers they referenced to the point where one of the authors quoted said the following…
Each and every claim in the document which had a citation can be dismissed as the authors of the report, deliberately or not, mis-represented the science and in doing so, tarnished the reputation of the WHO. For those who are interested, myself and fellow co-host of The League of Nerds, James, made a video where we discuss the IARC report and show how embarrassingly void it is.
The blogpost the video is based on can also be found here.
“So they brought the GMO, uh… Bt-cotton in Vidarbha and this was decided. They brought it illegally. I sued them in the supreme court of India and they were stopped selling. They got an approval only after 4 years of 2002. They brought it illegally in 1998. – Vandana Shiva
The “Bt” in “Bt-cotton” stands for Bacillus thuringiensis. A common soil bacterium which produces unique toxins lethal to the larvae of the butterflies that normally feed on crops. These toxins have been extensively investigated and are considered to be more selective and safer for non-target organisms than conventional insecticides. Their mode of action requires a basic pH and some specific receptors and enzymes which are known to occur in the gut of insects, but are absent in other animals such as vertebrates. The toxins are so non-toxic to mammals that when mice were fed 3,289mg/kg of one of them (CryIAb delta endotoxin) in a single dose, no adverse effects were recorded. To put that into context, that would be the equivalent of the average British man (who weighs 84kg) eating 276.3g of the purified toxin and having no adverse effects. Organic farmers have long sprayed dried Bt bacteria on their crops because they are considered a natural pesticide. When the bacterial gene for making a Bt toxin was engineered into corn and cotton, the resulting transgenic plants were able to kill the pests by themselves without needing to be sprayed. Furthermore, because the toxin is inside the plant, even spray-eluding corn burrowing insects are defeated. The result is a drastic reduction in pesticide use with one study reporting that a tenth as many farmworkers are being hospotalised for ailments caused by farm chemicals. Despite this, anti-GMO activists still disapprove of Bt-transgenic crops with Vandana denouncing them as…
In March 2002, the Indian government approved the release of a number of cotton hybrids containing one of the Bt genes lethal to caterpillars. However Bt-cotton was already grown illegally in India years prior to the introduction of these hybrids. If you were to listen to Vandana, you get the distinct impression that something nefarious is afoot and that she alone stood up to western multinational seed conglomerates who circumnavigated her country’s sovereignty and forced their “seeds of slavery” upon the helpless farmers. The reality is however that Vandana was, and still is fighting the very farmers she claims to be the champion of.
Farmers in India wanted to grow crops which would not fall victim to pests, and to avoid costs and the dangers of using pesticides. A black market developed using Bt cotton stolen from Mahyco-Monsanto test plots and soon, a cottage industry sprung up whereby small-scale breeders were crossing reliable local varieties with the transgenic plants. These pirated Bt-cotton varieties have been bred either by companies operating outside of the law, or by farmers themselves resulting in hundreds of Bt-cotton varieties. By 2005, in what has since been described as an act of “anarcho-capitalism”, it was estimated that 2.5 million hectares of pirated Bt-cotton had been planted – twice the acreage of the Bt-cotton sown from Monsanto’s seeds.
Vandana and her fellow anti-GMO, anti-progressive, and anti-human activist filed to make headway with Indian farmers who were showing that they are not passive recipients of either technology or propaganda, but taking an active role in shaping their lives. What they did is also perhaps more genuinely subversive of multinational capitalism than anything Vandana has achieved.
After Indian farmers adopted Bt-cotton, the nation went from a cotton importer to an exporter after yields increased from 17 million bales to 27 million. At the same time, pesticide use diminished by 50 percent, and the Indian growers’ total income went from $840 million to $1.7 billion. As a result, the quality of life for farmers and their family cultivating Bt-cotton increased.
“A study of 9,300 Bt cotton and non-Bt-cotton-growing households in India indicated that women and children in Bt-cotton households have slightly more access to social benefits than non-Bt-cotton growers. These include slight increases in pre-natal visits, assistance with at-home births, higher school enrollment for children and a higher proportion of children vaccinated.” – ISAAA
Vandana directly contradicts this by stating as fact that organic cotton farmers earn ten times more than those growing Bt-cotton.
“We’ve created Navdanya – that’s why we practice an ecological regenerative organic farming – and the results now are there. Not just in India, but across the world. In uh Vidarbha, the farmers were not growing Bt-cotton earning ten times more.” – Vandana Shiva
“Our research is showing that farmers doing chemical re-farming and not getting exploited in the market are earning ten times more.” – Vandana Shiva
A quick Google search reveals that she has been making this claim as far back as 2009 without evidence.
- Vandana Shiva and the sacredness of seed
- The World Food Prize is Presented to Monsanto & Co: what a farce!
- From Seeds of Suicide to Seeds of Hope: Why Are Indian Farmers Committing Suicide and How Can We Stop This Tragedy?
- “We are walking museums of biodiversity”
- Vandana Shiva: There Is No Reason Why India Should Face Hunger and Farmers Should Commit Suicide
I cannot find any evidence that organic cotton farmers are earning ten times more than their GMO growing counterparts. The closest I found to an explanation was in a 2020 interview of Vandana were she clarifies that it was not average Indian organic farmers, but Navdanya farmers who are making extortionate profits
The only explanation how Navdanya farmers are able to sell their cotton at ten times the market value is that Vandana has used her celebrity and connections to sell the cotton at a premium – something which the average Indian farmer can’t do. This is a win-win for Vandana who can now tell the world that organic cotton is more economically viable whilst simultaneously making a tidy profit on the side. The other explanation is that she lied!
Towards the end of her speech about the “Sri Lankan Organic Transformation”, Vandana contradicts virtually every organic farming proponent when she openly admits that organic farming is not as high yielding as conventional farming methods.
“When you do organic, but then you measure not the yield… uh, you know I’m so happy that Dr Crisaad talked about the shift from quantity to quality. But quality is the right quantity of diverse nutrients. So, we have more energy, we have more protein, we have more carotene, we have more folic acid, we have more iron per acre and I realised when I was doing the green revolution study, that measuring yield is not an accurate measure, because yield per acre clearly measures what will leave the farm, what will leave Sri Lanka. It doesn’t measure what will happen to the land of Sri Lanka. It doesn’t measure what will happen to the ocean. It doesn’t measure what happens to the biodiversity. It doesn’t measure if the farmer was left in debt and committed suicide. And it definitely doesn’t measure the quality of the food.” – Vandana Shiva
She knew what was about to happen to the Sri Lankan people! She knew this whole time that organic farming is not as high yielding as conventional farming and seeing the impending disaster attempted to weasel her way out of it by perpetuating the myth that organic food is somehow more nutritional. This tactic also shows that Vandana has no issues undermining the very people she claims to represent. Unable to convince farmers that genetically modified crops or the products of the Green Revolution are bad for them because their direct experience tells them otherwise, Vandana focuses her efforts persuading their customers and the general public that their produce is nutritionally lacking. As I have said before Vandana is not the saviour of the Indian farmer, she is a threat to them!
Her speech, in hindsight, was a sign of things to come as clearly Vandana and her NGO were in too deep. They had no idea what they were doing, nor did they know how to achieve Rajapaksa’s pure organic goal. At a time when she should be explaining how the Sri Lankan government plans to transition its farmers, we are instead told, as you would a child, that plants make oxygen. When millions are worried about the effect the ban on synthetic pesticides will have on yield, confusingly we are told not to worry as there are no pests without pesticides, only insects. And when concerned outsiders warn about the impending catastrophe, Vandana fans the flames of racial hatred telling the Sri Lankan people that Europeans only care about what they can extract from your country.
With Vandana and Navdanya at the helm was the cataclysmic organic farming disaster that surprising? I don’t think so – but more on that next time.