Book Review: Biopiracy by Vandana Shiva

Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge

Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge

In “Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge” (1997), Vandana Shiva explores the exploitation of the Third World by the North (West).  Major corporations have invaded native communities and environments for commercial interests. In referencing the shift from colonialism to more modern forms of oppression, Shiva writes, “the duty to incorporate savages into Christianity has been replaced by the duty to incorporate non-Western systems of knowledge into the reductionism of commercialized Western science and technology”.

Community knowledge of the intricately interwoven ecosystems of forests, crops, and livestock has for generations sustainably maintained local economies. Biopiracy refers to the theft of this knowledge by corporations seeking to patent indigenous crops, animals and methods of farming.

Vandana Shiva argues that in the return to sustainable practices, science and society have much to learn from indigenous practices and native populations. The rate at which resources are used has spiked only in the last two centuries as globalization and the rise of technology and industry increased production and waste. Our current overzealous habits represent a discord between man and nature as ecosystems are disrupted, species lost, and native communities exploited. Instead of man and woman cohabitating with nature, Shiva explains, we have come to view nature as something to be dominated. Because indigenous knowledge is inherently gendered, both nature and women have come to be dominated and exploited by man. In regarding indigenous knowledge and the work of women, western frameworks have systematically undervalued both systems and their contributions to modern networks.

The Indian view of nature and man, in contrast, presents “..a duality in unity”. In modern society, science and technology have become cognitively inseparable, creating a form of social control. Because science is seen as verifiable and objective, consequent uses of science and technology are rarely questioned. In order to remedy gender relations as they relate to science and technology, it is important not to vilify knowledge, which, although previous misused, may be helpful in a more egalitarian framework. Keeping in mind the past injustices suffered by native communities at the hands of European colonists, indigenous knowledge has survived many setbacks. Regardless, indigenous knowledge systems have contributed greatly to modern science, agriculture and medicine.

Biopiracy was a great book. Vandana Shiva is great writer who makes her claims boldly and references many examples. Her main claim, that no person or corporation can claim ownership of nature is repeated throughout her writing. Shiva fights for independence and autonomy from corporations who only seek profits from the countries they have exploited. Governmental institutions have been complicit in these crimes, enforcing restrictions on Third World countries and limiting them from using their own land sustainably.

This book is relevant to all that we have learned this quarter because as we each become urban agriculturists (or support others who do so) we must be mindful of the agroeconomic systems that we are benefiting from. It is important to realize that everything, from the seeds and soil to the techniques we use are all in some form, are the effect of generations-old techniques used by indigenous and Third-World peoples.

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