March 4, 2009
At the 9th annual Dodge Lecture yesterday at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health (video will be posted on CLF’s website soon), world renowned scientist and environmentalist Vandana Shiva stated that the most important issues in sustainable agriculture today are the disappearance of nutrition in food (a major public health concern) and localization of food sovereignty. Much of what passes for ‘food’ today -processed foods heavy with corn and soy byproducts – lacks the nutrition that once was the defining feature of food. The so-called gains of the Green Revolution weren’t so much gains as displacements. More wheat, rice and corn was grown, instead of the varied plethora of grains that had supported humans for centuries with diverse nutrients. Good nutrition in food comes from healthy soil, which is a result of biodiverse and sustainable agriculture practices, not vast monocultures. As we continue to grow chemically dependent monocultures of a few crops, we denude the soil of the organisms that keep it healthy and impart necessary nutrients to our food. Dr. Shiva expands on soil health in her recent book: Soil Not Oil.
Dr. Shiva also discussed the importance of local food sovereignty – local control of food production, and thus local control of soil health and nutrition. Her organization, Navdanya, (whose mission is based on Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) works to reinvigorate local and indigenous culture with over 45 seed banks and resources to support organic agriculture. She pointed out that staple foods ought to be grown locally to guarantee fair access to good food (which the global food system has not guaranteed, as there are still over 800 million malnourished people in the world), and build soil health by managing land in concert with local climate capacities and constraints. When asked what individual Americans can do, she replied, “find a local organic farmer and buy your food from them” (Note: Dr. Shiva’s definition of organic differs from the USDA’s Certified Organic, but can be understood as ‘non-chemical’ or ‘sustainable’).
The Center for a Livable Future is developing a tool to understand Maryland’s food system and ultimately strengthen local agriculture and processing. It was encouraging to hear Vandana Shiva state so clearly that we need to support local, sustainable agriculture. Not only can it potentially help local economies and curb global warming, but it can return nutrition to its rightful place in SOIL and FOOD!