LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i War Memorial Convention Hall was standing room only as more than 1,100 people showed up Thursday night to hear a presentation by environmentalist Dr. Vandana Shiva.
“Your island is truth speaking to the world,” Shiva told the crowd to thunderous applause.
Joining Shiva as part of a three-day Hawai‘i SEED Tour was environmental attorney Andrew Kimbrell and Hawaiian rights activist Walter Ritte of Moloka‘i.
“Dr. Shiva is like the Dalai Lama of Agriculture,” Ritte said of the Indian philosopher, physicist, environmental activist and eco-feminist who has authored more than 20 books. As a leader in the International Forum of Globalization, Shiva fights for changes in the practices and paradigms of food, according to her biography.
Shiva met with residents of the Westside for dinner ahead of time to discuss a pending class action lawsuit over the continued experimental use of pesticides by biotech companies in the area.
Because of the experiments taking place with pesticides and genetically engineered seeds on the Westside of the island, Kaua‘i is considered ground zero internationally in the fight to stop biotech companies such as Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Bayer and Syngenta from creating more products and patenting more seeds.
Organizers are also working to have Hawai‘i become the first state to label foods containing genetically modified organisms.
In assisting grassroots organizations in the green movement worldwide, Shiva has been featured in several documentaries and received the Right Livelihood Award and the Global 500 Award of the United Nations Environmental Program. She has been called one of the five most powerful women in Asia.
Along with Shiva was Andrew Kimbrell, who became the executive director of the International Center for Technology Assessment in 1994 and the executive director of the Center for Food Safety in 1997. As one of the leading environmental attorneys in the nation, he has authored several books on the environment, technology in society and food issues. In 1994, Utne Reader named him as one of the world’s leading visionaries.
Sponsored by Hawai‘i SEED, The Center for Food Safety and Navdanya, the evening discussing the elimination of genetically modified organisms, along with the labeling of GMO products, was the culmination of a three-day long Hawai‘i SEED Tour that had Shiva, Kimbrell and Ritte speaking to a sold out audiences at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa and at the Kapolei Salvation Army Ray Kroc Center, along with legislative briefings and presentations in the State Capitol by Kaua‘i County Councilman Gary Hooser, Sen. Laura Thielen and others.
At the outset of the evening, vendors from around the island set up a seed giveaway featuring a local farming resource fair and silent auction to benefit Hawai‘i SEED.
Emceeing the Kaua‘i event was Nancy Redfeather of Kawanui Farm on the Big Island, who in her work as a teacher and gardener has helped create 65 school gardens through her work as program director for the Hawai‘i Island School Garden Network and is the director of the Hawai‘i Public Seed Initiative.
Opening the evening at the Kaua‘i War Memorial were students from Kanu I Ka Pono New Century Public Charter School, who greeted the audience with chant and poetry.
“There’s room for man’s need, but not man’s greed,” said one Kanu I Ka Pono student in her poem, paraphrasing Mahatma Gandhi.
Up next was performer Makana, who played a modified version of his “We Are the Many” anthem advising the crowd to “Occupy GMO.” He also performed a new song titled, “The Story of the GMO,” which addresses the history of the anti-GMO movement and closed the evening with an untitled “Song for Vandana,” that he was inspired to write while listening to Shiva’s presentation.
In introducing Dr. Shiva, Redfeather said Dr. Shiva has trained more than 650,000 farmers in India and is advising Bhutan on how to be come the first wholly organic country in the world.
“I was told you were a very small island with a very small population. It doesn’t look like it when you stand in this hall,” she said.
She said that the myth was that spraying pesticides has lead to the rise of GMOs.
Dr. Shiva said farmers were told they would never have to spray again, “we known through the practice in the rest of the world that in fact the spray increases and you talk about it. The GMOs are not a safe alternative to poisons. They are pushed by the poison industry to increase poison sales and monopolize the seed industry.”
In discussing the 1984 Bhopal disaster, Dr. Shiva said 3,000 people died in a gas leak from a Union Carbide plant and more than 30,000 people have died since then. She said the disaster didn’t stop after the explosion “as generations being born today are being born crippled.”
She said Bhopal isn’t the only poison tragedy in India. She said 1,000 people died in the past couple years in “the endosulfan tragedy,” when thousands of people were sprayed with pesticides that went into water and wells.
Dr. Shiva said India’s Green Revolution started off with chemicals that were designed for killing people in times of war. After World War II, these companies then turned the chemicals into pesticides and now have become a biotech.
“The explosive factories were redesigned to create fertilizer,” Dr. Shiva said, noting that the Oklahoma bombing, the Oslo bombing and every bombing in India were created using fertilizer bombs.
“We delivered sacks and sacks of fertilizer to the Afghans and now they are making bombs,” she said of the Central Intelligence Agency providing fertilizer to the country. “A century of war making and destruction is behind this.”
Her research for the United Nations also uncovered that nerve gas was being modified into modern day pesticides.
She addressed her plans to organize new Nuremberg Trials to go after the companies making nerve gas to kill people during World War II that are still making chemicals today.
“We are going to organize new Nuremberg trials and bring together everyone that has been harmed in the name of agricultural progress,” she said.
Dr. Shiva went on to say she was at a conference where people were talking about making seed saving a crime. She said one of the big fights being faced is to prevent the criminalization of seed saving by farmers.
“How could it be that the death industry can recreate itself as the life sciences industry?” she asked, adding that the companies position themselves as patient and diagnostician for a problem, with the problem being farmers saving seeds.
She said that growing up, her family used the neem tree for pest control, which causes bugs to reproduce slower. She said the neem tree is called the “village farmer,” and has more than 1,000 uses.
After Bhopal, Dr. Shiva delivered neem trees to the area and made posters that read, “No more Bhopals. Plant a Neem.”
She discussed other biopiracy cases such as basmati rice, which RiceTec patented and claimed to have invented along with how worldwide trade impacts the industry.
“Everything comes from China,” Dr. Shiva said of the U.S. being in a negative trade balance. “Patented seeds and GMO crops are the only things leaving. You have become the nerve center for this destruction.”
In the end, though, Dr. Shiva said the biotech companies have left us with bug-resistant super pests and super wheats.
“The GMO emperor has no clothes,” Dr. Shiva said. “We have the clarity to speak truth. We do not recognize patents on life.”
Monopolies and monocultures go together and have reduced to just eight commodities including animal feed, biofuel and human food last. She said it wastes communities by destroying them and imposes uniformity along with shipping them in trucks.
“Food is a waste system. It wastes the Earth, it wastes communities, it wastes potential, they ship it thousands of miles in trucks,” she said.
“Bees usurp pollen, weeds steal sunshine … everyone is a thief in their world because they are the thieves,” Dr. Shiva said of what the biotech companies are telling the world, “This is not about technology. This is about conquest. That’s why every time a religion has conquered, they destroyed sacred shrines and put in churches.”
She said people should live by the tenets of Gandhi, including satyagraha meaning fight for truth; swaraj meaning self-organized freedom; and swadeshi, meaning self-making as a rule of freedom; and the concept of lifting up everyone including the most vulnerable.
In the end, Dr. Shiva called on Kaua‘i’s residents to work on feeding themselves.
“You have so much water and biodivesity here on the Garden Island that it should be a garden and in reality feeding itself.”
See Sunday’s edition of The Garden Island for more on Walter Ritte and Andrew Kimbrell’s presentations Thursday night.
• Laurie Cicotello, business writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 257) or firstname.lastname@example.org