21 Oct What is Earth Democracy, Living Soil, Regenerative Farming and GMOs
Earth Democracy: This month, I found my life coming a full circle after I took a little break from the day-to-day research work of our textile craft company Marasim. I invested my time into studying a course ‘Return to Earth: A-Z of biodiversity, agroecology, and regenerative organic systems’ with the Earth University by Navdanya foundation under the tutelage of Dr. Vandana Shiva ( A global impact leader on Climate Change, farmers rights, organic farming, biopiracy and a lot more.)
In 2011, I took a leap of faith when I ended my newly started career as a software engineer. The primary reason for that decision was to follow the recently found interest and passion for health and nutrition. As I read and practiced more, I realized that the traditional wisdom of living and eating that every culture offers is humankind’s most significant ‘wealth.’ Therefore, traditional food wisdom became the philosophy of my life too.
Fast forward to October 2021. I am so glad that the course taught by Dr. Vandana Shiva and esteemed guest lecturers reconnected me to our roots. Dr. Shiva’s concept of Earth Democracy has opened up a new world for me on our relationship with the Earth. It also strung a right note in my heart since now I work with many grassroots artisan communities, including cotton farmers.
On that note, our industry (fashion industry) is so obsessed with trends that even words like organic, regenerative, sustainability, or seed to sew that are the basis of rich and biodiverse agrosystems are now trending in fashion as a piece of cake. The fact is that these are not just buzz words. These are the basis of profound agricultural philosophies related to our existence or extinction on mother Earth. Therefore, as Earth citizens, it is our moral responsibility to not ‘misuse’ them rather understand them and then work together to protect the integrity of the soil beneath our feet and the life within our mortal selves.
As I delve deeper into my reading, research, and grassroots work related to agriculture, I want to use this blog to share knowledge to help us understand and enhance our relationship with our beautiful mother Earth. Let’s begin!
What is Earth Democracy?
Earth is the only planet in the universe with a living and breathing skin called the dirt. In Earth’s economy, the currency is not money. It is the living soil that can then sustain all other forms of life. However, in the economy of our current global agricultural systems, the currency is capital, even if it comes at the cost of farmers’ rights/lives, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically modified seeds that are slowly changing our gardens of abundance into gardens full of poison and death.
In the words of Dr. Shiva, “Earth Democracy is rooted in the ancient Indian concept of Vasudhaiva kutumkam, meaning the Earth family. As one family, all beings have equal rights to sustenance through the gifts of the Earth. Its three components: economy, environment, and people, must be in balance to maintain sustainability.”
During my research on cotton farming in India, I came across the work of a group in Southern India. A few years ago, this group discovered brown-colored cotton in a village not too far from Dharwad in Karnataka. They found one farmer who has been growing a wholly rain-fed, pesticide-free cotton for close to two decades. This farmer’s story is what intrigued me the most. Before switching to organic farming, he used the ‘conventional’ genetically modified seeds, chemical pesticides, and fertilizers to grow his cotton crops. One day, when he picked up the soil in his hand, he realized that there was no life, no earthworm left in the soil. The living breathing organic matter had transformed into a barren, chemically infested dead matter, thus becoming a turning point in his agricultural practices.
What is Living Breathing Soil in Earth Democracy
Each small or big plant that we see on the surface of the Earth is supported by a vibrant and biodiverse organic matter underneath the surface of the Earth called the Soil Microbiome, which connects and communicates with every part of the plant via the plant’s roots. This, my friends, is called living and breathing soil! A gram of soil Microbiome can contain billions of individual microbes, including viruses and members of all three domains of life.
What is polyculture and monoculture farming?
Traditionally, the seeds of various crops are planted together to develop a biodiverse ecosystem. This practice is called polyculture. It also safeguards crops from pest infestations amongst various other benefits. However, the current agriculture system, with its requirement to churn high yields per crop, covers large land areas to grow only one crop type. This practice is called monoculture. No diversity in crops attracts pests in large quantities specific to the planted crop.
What are GMOs and pesticides?
With the onset of Monoculture farming practices, a lot of research and development on the use of pest-killing poisonous chemicals have happened over the years in the form of GMOs (genetically modified seeds ) or chemical pesticides. GMO seeds mean that the naturally gifted biological seeds are genetically modified into chemical-laden seeds that bear the toxicity to kill pests naturally. However, once the pests develop immunity to the GMO seeds, heavy chemical pesticides are sprayed on the crops’ surface to eliminate the pests.
What is the Regeneration of Soil on Earth Democracy?
Soil regeneration means removing all forms of chemicals from the soil and making it living and breathing again – dense in the soil microbiome.
What is Leaching?
The soil is like a sponge. When rain falls, the soil near the top absorbs as much as possible, keeping the moisture available to the plants growing there. Once the soil is filled with all the water it can hold, it begins to leak down through the layers of rock and subsoil beneath. When the water sinks, it takes soluble chemicals with it, such as nitrogen and other fertilizer components and any pesticides used. This process is called leaching. Once these toxic chemicals reach the soil, the degradation of our living breathing soil starts.
How do Leaching and Desertification affect the lives of the species above the Earth?
We saw how the leaching of toxic chemicals takes away the vibrant life that once existed below the surface of the Earth, leading to desertification. Over the history of human evolution, the leaching and desertification of soil had led to the displacement of many communities around the globe. Many mass immigration in the history of humankind happened when communities were not left with living and breathing dirt under their feet. These communities then came running to the cities searching for jobs that did not exist and ended up living in unimaginable conditions. Slums in the cities are the phenomenon of such mass displacement of communities from their living breathing soil.
The City dwellers depend on the soil and labor of farming communities to grow our produce- whether it is the cotton we wear or the food we eat, it is our responsibility to make sure that we respect their soil. We should promote organic farming and buy produce that is grown using organic and regenerative farming practices.
I hope this article inspired and informed you. I look forward to sharing more and more with you!
More power to our farmers!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nidhi Garg Allen is an alumnus of Parsons School of Design and Adjunct Professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She is a technologist turned artisan entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of Marasim. Marasim based in NYC is committed to preserving artisanal textiles that make use of regional techniques without uprooting craftspeople from their native communities.