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Poverty & Globalisation
by Vandana Shiva

Recently, I was visiting Bhatinda in Punjab because of an epidemic of farmersí suicides. Punjab used to be the most prosperous agricultural region in India. Today every farmer is in debt and despair. Vast stretches of land have become water-logged desert. And as an old farmer pointed out, even the trees have stopped bearing fruit because heavy use of pesticides has killed the pollinators - the bees and butterflies.

And Punjab is not alone in experiencing this ecological and social disaster. Last year I was in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh where farmers have also been committing suicide. Farmers, who traditionally grew pulses and millets and paddy, have been lured by seed companies to buy hybrid cotton seeds referred to by the seed merchants as "white gold", which were supposed to make them millionaires. Instead they became paupers.

Their native seeds have been displaced with new hybrids which cannot be saved and need to be purchased every year at high cost. Hybrids are also very vulnerable to pest attacks. Spending on pesticides in Warangal has shot up 2000 per cent from $2.5 million in the 1980s to $50 million in 1997. Now farmers are consuming the same pesticides as a way of killing themselves so that they can escape permanently from unpayable debt.

The corporations are now trying to introduce genetically engineered seed, which will further increase costs and ecological risks. That is why farmers like Malla Reddy of the Andhra Pradesh Farmers' Union had uprooted Monsanto's genetically engineered Bollgard cotton in Warangal. On March 27th, 25 year old Betavati Ratan took his life because he could not pay back debts for drilling a deep tube well on his two-acre farm. The wells are now dry, as are the wells in Gujarat and Rajasthan where more than 50 million people face a water famine. The drought is not a "natural disaster". It is "man-made". It is the result of mining of scarce ground water in arid regions to grow thirsty cash crops for exports instead of water-prudent food crops for local needs.

It is experiences such as these which tell me that we are so wrong to be smug about the new global economy. It is time to stop and think about the impact of globalisation on the lives of ordinary people. This is vital to achieve sustainability.

The sustainability challenge for the new millennium is whether global economic man can move out of the worldview based on fear and scarcity, monocultures and monopolies, appropriation and dispossession and shift to a view based on abundance and sharing, diversity and decentralisation, and respect and dignity for all beings.

Sustainability demands that we move out of the economic trap that is leaving no space for other species and other people. Economic Globalisation has become a war against nature and the poor. But the rules of globalisation are not god - given. They can be changed. They must be changed. We must bring this war to an end.

Since Seattle, a frequently used phrase has been the need for a rule based system. Globalisation is the rule of commerce and it has elevated Wall Street to be the only source of value. As a result things that should have high worth - nature, culture, the future - are being devalued and destroyed. The rules of globalisation are undermining the rules of justice and sustainability, of compassion and sharing. We have to move from market totalitarianism to an earth democracy.

We can survive as a species only if we live by the rules of the biosphere. The biosphere has enough for everyone's needs if the global economy respects the limits set by sustainability and justice.

As Gandhi had reminded us: "The earth has enough for everyone's needs, but not for some people's greed".

Excerpt from a lecture given by Vandana Shiva to an invited audience at the Nehru Memorial Library in Delhi and hosted by Kate Adie, well-known reporter for the BBC.

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