By Dr Vandana Shiva – Jivad, Vandana Shiva’s Blog, 14 August 2021 | Source
One Earth, One Health
The Industrial agriculture model is based on violence and war -war against the earth and against our bodies. It has created structural hunger, malnutrition, and disease.
We need to make a transition to non-violent alternatives which protect the health of the planet and people, which regenerate biodiversity, create healthy soils and healthy food.
Biodiversity is the source of health in the continuum of the web of life. Biodiversity makes healthy living soils, which produce healthy, nutritionally biodiversity rich plants, which produce healthy biodiverse food, which nourish the biodiversity of our gut, the basis of our health. The health of our gut microbiome is increasingly being recognized as the basis of our health.
The biodiversity outside and the biodiversity within us is interrelated. The Biodiversity in our soils, the biodiversity on our farms and plates, cultivates and nourishes the biodiversity in our gut microbiome.
The planet’s health and our Health is “One Health”.
We can be connected through Health when we respect the integrity and limits of species and ecosystems, or we can be connected through disease when we violate their integrity.
When we destroy forests and their biodiversity to grow commercial monocultures of GMO soya in the Amazon and Palm Oil in Indonesia and Africa, we create epidemics like Ebola, HIV, Zika, the Kyasanur Forest Disease, and the 300 new infectious diseases that have emerged over the last 3 decades of Globalisation and market growth without limits.
We are invading into ecosystems because our agricultural paradigm and economic paradigm is based on maximizing extraction of raw materials and profits from ecosystems rather than taking care of the biodiversity to maximise “One Health” as indigenous cultures have done over millennia. 80% of the biodiversity today is in the 25% land which are home to indigenous people.
Species and cultures have been driven to extinction and the health of the planet and our health has degenerated.
When we destroy biodiversity in forests, we create emergent infectious diseases. When we destroy the biodiversity within us, we create chronic diseases.
When we destroy the biodiversity of our gut microbiome with industrial food and ultra-processed food, chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer take on epidemic proportions. 72. 69 million Indians have diabetes. 1. 39 million have cancer. This number is expected to increase 1. 57 million by 2025.
Chronic diseases, referred to as co morbidities during the Covid pandemic, increase the risks of mortality during a pandemic. Risk of dying with a Covid infection jumps to 9. 2% with diabetes, and to 7. 6% with cancer.
“One health” means we respect the rights of all species and their safe ecological space, ecological processes and ecological limits. One health calls for an integrated, ecological approach, not a militarised, mechanistic, reductionist approach of declaring species who are part of our body and part of the earth as “enemies” to be exterminated. Disease is dysbiosis, the disruption of symbiosis and self-organisation and self-regulation that allows living organisms and ecosystems to be in a state of health.
We have a choice to stop invading into forests and instead regenerate them. We have a choice to stop the chemical invasions into our farms and gut which destroy our agricultural biodiversity of soil organisms and plants, and our gut biodiversity. By eating diversity, we can regenerate our gut biodiversity and reverse food related diseases.
Food and nutrition are the currency of life which flows through the web of life, creating health. The web of life is a food web woven through biodiversity.
The Industrial Agriculture paradigm is a militaristic, mechanistic paradigm which over the past century has developed multiple and sophisticated instruments of exterminating biodiversity and threatening health.
First a war was declared on bugs and insect biodiversity.
Pesticides and Insecticides were developed to kill insects. We are witnessing an Insectageddon and the disappearance of pollinators which produce 1/3rd of the food we eat. 200, 000 people die annually due to pesticide poisoning according to the UN.
Then a war was declared on plant biodiversity.
Herbicides like RoundUp were developed to kill “everything green” which includes food crops, uncultivated foods, medicinal plants, plants that are food for pollinators. Glyphosate/RoundUp is also a carcinogen according to the WHO. Globally, 1 million people die of cancer every year.
With Covid, a war has been declared on microbes.
However, without microbes, there is no life and no health.
Microbial biodiversity is the very basis of the fabric of life. Microbes -bacteria, viruses, fungi – are essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems -in soils, plants, animals, and our bodies. The loss and erosion of biodiversity with excessive use of chemicals to destroy them has allowed the emergence of pathogenic microbes. We are part of nature and her ecosystems. Harm to ecosystem health causes harm to our health.
Health is a relationship of balance and respect, of awareness and responsibility.
A food system that destroys biodiversity by depriving other beings of life, also deprives a large part of humanity of the rightful share of food, their right of life and right to health.
Hunger and malnutrition pandemics were already taking millions of lives before Covid. According to the 2015-2016 National Family Health survey, 35. 7% of our children are underweight, 38. 4% are stunted and 21% are wasted.
Of the 1. 04 million under five deaths in 2017, more than 706, 000 can be attributed to malnutrition.
Covid has increased the vulnerability as people have lost livelihoods and jobs. 7 people died per minute due to the Covid virus. 11 people are dying every minute due to the hunger virus.
The UN SDG goal 2 is: Zero Hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
GOAL 3 is: Good Health and Well-being
Both are connected through the biodiversity in food systems.
Chemical intensive, monoculture based non-sustainable and unjust food systems create hunger and disease. Ecological, Biodiverse, sustainable and just systems have the potential to reduce both hunger and disease by cultivating biodiversity within us and around us.
We can cultivate biodiversity through care and responsibility and stopping to do harm.
Seeing this connection between biodiversity, food and health, between hunger and disease, between our sickness and the hungry child, between sustainability and justice is “One Health”.
And we can begin cultivating health through the food we grow and eat. Science is now teaching us that food is living. Eating is an act of communication. In eating we communicate with the earth, the farmer, and those who transform our food. And our food communicates with the beneficial bacteria in our gut, and through this communication, our health is maintained, and our resilience to disease is increased.
Soil Health is our Health
Soil Our Health
“The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible. ”
― Albert Howard
Our health and the health of the planet is one health. Our health is connected to the health of the soil, of the seeds and plants we grow, the food we eat, the insects and microbes on which we depend, the water and the climate which sustain life.
Our health begins in healthy soils. Healthy soils are living systems.
The soil, the gut and our brain are one interconnected biome- violence to one part triggers violence in the entire interrelated system.
The soil is not an empty container for pouring synthetical chemical fertilisers. Plants are not machines, running on NPK from factories and mines.
We know that the Soil is living. Prof. Rattan Lal, who received the 2020 World Food Prize, has said,
“I believe Soil is a living thing. That’s what soil health means. Soil is Life. Every living thing has rights. Therefore, soil also has rights.”
That is why indigenous cultures call the land and soil Mother Earth, Bhoomi Ma, Pachamama.
And because the Earth is our Mother, we cannot violate her with poisons and chemicals, heavy machinery that tramples and compacts the living soil.
The Atharva Veda invokes the prayer to Prithvi, the Earth, which is also about the consciousness of restraint and respecting limits:
“Let what I dig from thee, O Earth, rapidly spring and grow again.
O Purifier, let me not pierce through thy vitals or thy heart”
Today’s dominant policies and laws seem to be saying the opposite to the Earth—“We will dig so deep and so violently, we will bulldoze so brutally, on such a large scale and at such a high speed, that we will tear through your vitals and your heart, ensuring that nothing can grow from you again.”
Both ecological science and our ancient wisdom teaches us that all life depends on soil. But we are now unthinkingly adopting the illusion that human progress is based on how fast we can destroy, bury and consume the soil.
Indian civilization has sustained itself over thousands of years because it revered the soil as sacred and inviolable. It treated the soil and the land as Vasundhara, Bhoomi, Dharti Ma, Maati Ma, Mother Earth. Our culture of reverence for the Earth shaped our consciousness.
The soil is not inert, dead matter. The soil is not an empty container. Soil is living.
Healthy soils are full of biodiversity which maintains the planet’s health by participating in and maintaining the carbon and nitrogen cycles.
1 g. of soil contains up to 1 billion bacteria cells consisting of tens of thousands of taxa, up to 200 m fungal hyphae, and a wide range of mites, nematodes, earthworms, and arthropods.
One teaspoon of living soil contains 6 billion microorganisms including 1 billion bacteria which translate to 1 tonne per acre. One square cubic metre of soil contains 1000 earth worms, 50, 000 insects, 12 trillion roundworms.
One cubic meter of healthy soil can have 25, 000 kilometres of mycorrhizal fungi, twice the distance of the earth. The fungi are living, intelligent systems that select and discriminate, give and take nutrients in mutuality. They are intelligent filters which are seeking out essential nutrients, absorbing them and sharing them with plants. They exclude harmful substance. Intelligence is to choose and discriminate good from bad. And the ability of living organisms to discriminate between essential and harmful substances, and only encourage exchange of the beneficial through the protective membranes, is what makes life and health possible in living systems, from the tiniest cell, to microbes, to organs in our bodies and our bodies as a whole.
Albert Howard reminds us:
“The soil is, as a matter of fact, full of live organisms. It is essential to conceive of it as something pulsating with life, not as a dead or inert mass. There could be no greater misconception than to regard the earth as dead: a handful of soil is teeming with life. The living fungi, bacteria, and protozoa, invisibly present in the soil complex, are known as the soil population. This population of millions and millions of minute existences, quite invisible to our eyes of course, pursue their own lives.”
― Albert Howard, The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture
In taking care of the soil, we also produce more food on less land. Fertile soils are the sustainable answer to food and nutrition security. Organic agriculture is the only real answer to climate change. The air pollution that has built up in the atmosphere is roughly 400 parts per million (ppm) carbon dioxide today. This is the reason for the greenhouse effect and climate chaos, including temperature rise. To cap the rise of temperature at two degrees centigrade, we need to reduce the carbon build up in the air to 350 ppm.
There is a need to reduce emissions and phase out fossil fuels, but it also requires reducing the stocks of excess carbon from the atmosphere and putting it back into the soil where it belongs. Here, organic, regenerative agriculture offers us the way out. In the process, it also addresses food insecurity and hunger, reverses desertification, creates livelihood security by creating ecological security, and, therefore, creates the path to peace.
Above all, it allows a transition from a violent paradigm, structures and systems to the non-violent paradigm, structures and systems based on ahimsa, which include the well-being of all. Organic farming is the answer to drought and climate change. It is also a peace solution. If we do not respect the soil and our cultural diversity and if we do not collectively recommit ourselves to ahimsa, we can rapidly disintegrate as a civilisation. For me, organic agriculture is the dharma that sows the seeds of peace and prosperity for all. It helps us break out of the vicious cycle of violence and degeneration, and create virtuous cycles based on non-violence and regeneration.
Howard worked on the centrality of the mycorrhizal fungi in creating humus and living soil.
When we practise the law of return, we have a symbiotic relationship with the soil. We give food to the soil organisms. The living organisms do the rest of the work in producing food, nutrition and health for the plants, which in turn feed us and bring us health.
Soil Organisms like the Mycorrhizal fungi and plants have a symbiotic relationship. The fungi select and bring nutrients to the plants and protect them from toxins while plants provides the fungus with carbohydrates formed from photosynthesis. Soils rich in beneficial organisms stimulate plants to produce health giving, disease fighting molecules polyphenols, which are anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory.
Industrially farmed soils with external inputs of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers destroy soil organisms like the mycorrhizal fungi which are creative filters that bring nourishment to plants. Plants are left to deal with a toxic cocktail of synthetic fertilisers, herbicides like RoundUp, pesticides, fungicides which contaminate our food. Plants have to live on a chemical diet and are deprived of the symbiotic help of fungi to find essential nutrients like zinc and magnesium. Yet these are the nutrients plants and animals, including humans, need to create enzymes necessary to regulate our metabolism and biochemistry, build immunity, fight disease and stay healthy.
By destroying Soil Biodiversity, industrial agriculture produces nutritionally empty, toxic food which is harming our health.
The nutritional content of vegetables and fruits has been declining in the United States for the past 70 years, according to a study in the journal of the American College of Nutrition (ACN) and the American Journal of Agricultural Sciences (AJAS) in Washington, DC.
Our food is becoming less nutritious: The nutritional content of vegetables and fruits has been declining in the United States for the past 70 years. An exhaustive study by Prof. Donald Davis at the University of Texas quantified the amount of nutrients loss in fruits and vegetables over during the last 70 years — 6% decline in protein content, 9% decline in phosphorus, 15% decline in iron and Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid), 16% decline in calcium, 18% decline in Vitamin A, and 38% decline in Vitamin B (Riboflavin).
A British meta study covering more than 400 studies has found that organic foods can have upto 60% more beneficial nutrients than chemically produced food.
A Navdanya study comparing soils under chemical and organic over 20 years showed a dramatic decline in Soil nutrients under chemical farming, and a significant increase in diverse nutrients under organic farming.
Not only have beneficial nutrients increased in the soils of organic farms, beneficial soil organisms have dramatically increased. the fungi population increased 6-36 fold in organic farms. It declined 2. 5-49. 7% in chemical farms.
50-241% increase in bacterial population was found in organic soils
Through the law of Return, through the duty to care for the health of the living soil by giving back, we cultivate our own health.
Our health and Soil Health is One Health
Organic farming is care for the soil, it is a public health system
That is why more and more doctors are moving their practise to organic farms.
We are connected to the soil. When soils are healthy, societies are healthy. When soils are sick and desertified, societies become sick, people’s hearts and gut become desertified.
Just as humus in soil binds soil particles and prevents soil erosion, it also binds the society and prevents violence and social disintegration. Since humus provides food, livelihood, water and climate security, it also contributes to peace. Just as wet straw cannot be put on fire by a matchstick, communities that are secure cannot be put on fire by violent elements feeding on insecurity created by an economic model that is killing swadeshi and is only designed for global economic powers to extract what they want. Care for the soil is the highest Ahimsa and peace making through relations that do no harm to the earth and each other.
In taking care of the soil, we reclaim our humanity. Our future is inseparable from the future of the earth. It is no accident that the word “human” has its roots in humus which is the Latin word for living soil. And Adam, the first human in Abrahamic traditions, is derived from Adamus, soil in Hebrew.
Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “To forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves.”
Biodiversity produces more health and nutrition per acre
Over the last few decades, industrial agriculture based on the mechanistic industrial agriculture paradigm has promoted monocultures and led to major biodiversity loss. It has also promoted a distorted measure of productivity which creates the illusion that we are producing more food, when we are producing nutritionally empty commodities, which are increasingly going for biofuels and animal feed.
An agriculture exclusively focussed on selling agrochemicals as external inputs for commodity production has reduced the measure of productivity of agriculture to a reductionist category of “Yield per Acre”. But Yield per acre leaves out the most important aspects of food and farming. Yield measures mass, the quantity of a commodity, not the nourishing quality of food. Hence it is inadequate as a measure of food in the context of health. Nor does “yield” measure the destruction of biodiversity that provides nourishment and health. “Yield” does not measure the high financial costs of toxic inputs which are trapping farmers in debt and pushing them to suicide. Nor does it measure the cost of the disease burden due to toxics in our food. Finally, yield per acre does not measure the ecological cost of chemical monocultures.
We need to move away from measuring “yield per acre” of nutritionally empty toxic monocultures produced at high cost which are destroying biodiversity and health to measuring nutrition per acre of diversity of crops.
We at Navdanya have evolved measures of “Health per Acre” to measure the nutrition per acre. If instead of chemical intensification and capital intensification of our agriculture, we intensified food production ecologically and in terms of biodiversity, we can feed two India’s with healthy, balanced, nutritionally rich food as the Navdanya study Health per Acre shows
Biodiversity rich agriculture produces more nutrition per acre.
Diversity in our farms and on our plates is the answer to malnutrition and hunger and disease. Organic mixed cropping when compared to conventional mono cropping produces on an average:
106% more copper
61% more manganese
243% more molybdenum
64% more zinc
120% more chromium
Biodiversity is One Health: From the soil to the plants we eat, to our gut microbiome
We are interbeings. We are multispecies organisms. We are an ecological community. A Complex self-organised, self-regulated ecosystem.
We are 90% other beings, primarily our fellow microbes that keep us healthy. And the biodiversity within us is shaped by and maintained by the biodiversity in our external environment and food.
The human microbiome consists of all the microbes- bacteria, fungi and viruses that live within us or on us, including the skin, mammary glands, seminal fluid, uterus, ovarian follicles, lung, saliva, oral mucosa, conjunctiva, biliary tract, and gastrointestinal tract.
It has been estimated that there are over 380 trillion viruses inhabiting us, a community collectively known as the human virome. More than 38 trillion bacteria are part of us, the human biome.
Our gut microbiome has 100 trillion microorganisms and 100 species
There are 100, 000 times more microbes in our gut than people on the planet.
There is an intimate connection between the biodiversity and health of soils, the plants, our gut and our brain. Our gut is a microbiome which contains trillions of bacteria.
To function in a healthy way, the gut microbiome needs a diverse diet, and a diverse diet needs a diversity in our fields and gardens. A loss of diversity in our diet creates ill health.
The sophisticated understanding of nutrition in Ayurveda has shaped the diversity and healthy basis of India’s traditional food cultures. Today this rich dietary culture is threatened with the invasion of junk food. It is time for making Ayurvedic guides for healthy eating, and carry out more research on indigenous foods, not on the basis of a reductionist mechanistic Cartesian paradigm but on the basis of the Ayurvedic paradigm of interconnectedness, and the Biodiversity Paradigm of One Health.
Ayurveda has recognised that biodiversity of food is the basis of health, and diet and the digestive system are central to physical and mental health.
Ayurveda is based on the quantum principles on non-separation and potential, not the mechanistic assumptions of separation, absolutism, and external inputs and control.
Even Western science is beginning to realise what Ayurveda understood 10000 years ago – that the body is not a machine, and food is not fuel that runs the machine on Newtonian laws of mass and motion. Food is not “mass”, it is living, it is the source of life and the source of health.
The gut is increasingly being referred to as the second brain. It has its own nervous system- which is being referred to as the enteric nervous system-or ENS, with 50-100 million nerve cells. Our bodies are intelligent organisms. Intelligence is not localised in the brain. It is distributed. And the intelligence in the soil, in the plants, in our bodies makes for health and wellbeing.
A healthy gut has diversity as well as an effective barrier between the inside of the gut where microbes break down the food, and the gut associated immune system which allows healthy interaction and communication between gut microbes and immune cells. Healthy community and interaction lead to overall health. The greater the biodiversity in any ecosystem, the higher is its resilience and resistance to disease. This also applies to our gut ecosystem. Biodiversity destruction in the gut microbiome is responsible for inflammation and metabolic dysregulation leading to many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, cognitive behaviour, cognitive decline, depression and degenerative brain disorders. When our gut biodiversity plummets because of the toxics or deficiencies in the food we eat, health pandemics can emerge -gastrointestinal infections, autoimmune diseases like asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, autism spectrum disorders, obesity and metabolic diseases.
“One health” means we recognise that microbial biodiversity is important for building our immune system. Just as Soil Microbes help plants grow and stay healthy, microbes in our bodies provide us with nutrients and maintain our physical and mental health. They strengthen our resilience while facing disease. Because we are more bacteria than human, when the poisons we use in agriculture such as pesticides and herbicides, reach our gut through food, they can kill beneficial bacteria. Our gut microbes process the food we eat, transform it into nourishment for our body and brain. Like Soil Biodiversity, our gut microbiome biodiversity provides the vital ecological functions of providing and absorbing nutrients, protection against pathogens, maintenance of barriers to filter what is benefical and harmful to health, and to transform our food into the diverse chemicals and enzymes that maintain our health. The gut microbiome participates in vital processes including digestion, energy homeostasis and metabolism, the synthesis of vitamins and other nutrients, and the development and regulation of immune function. It also contributes to the production of numerous compounds that enter the blood and affect various tissues and organs of the body.
Ayurveda recommends six tastes in order to have a balanced diet – Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Hot, Bitter, Astringent.
Behind each taste are potentials for processes that create and sustain the self-regulating systems of our body. Agni in the digestive tract is the great transformer, creating emergent properties. Taste receptors do not just lie in the tongue but are distributed throughout the gastrointestinal tract and are located on sensory nerve endings and hormone containing transducer cells in the gut wall.
New biological science is now finding out that the gut has sensors for different tastes, and different metabolic processes are governed by the diversity of tastes. There are 25 different bitter taste receptors.
As the research of Dr Eric Seralini shows, the sophisticated intelligence in the complex ecosystem of our gut communicates with the food we eat. When we eat fresh and organic food the regulatory processes that ensure health are strengthened. When we eat chemical food with toxics, the communication leads to disease.
Specific molecules and phytochemicals found in herbs and spices activate specific taste receptors and trigger particular metabolic processes. Sweet receptors stimulate the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream and release of insulin from the pancreas when they sense glucose. As Mayer states, “The multitude of phytochemicals derived from a diet rich in diverse plants, combined with the array of perfectly matching sensory mechanisms in our gut, synchronizes our internal ecosystem, our gut microbiome with the world around us …. (Mayer, p. 59). The gut’s sensory systems are the National Security Agency of the human body, gathering information from all areas of the digestive system, including the oesophagus, stomach and intestine, ignoring the great majority of signals, but triggering alarm when something looks suspicious or goes wrong. As it turns out, it’s one of the most complex sensory organs of the body” (Mayer, p. 63).
Eating is a conversation between the soil, the plants, the cells in our gut, and the cells in our food, and between our gut and our brain. Eating is an intelligent act at the deepest cellular and microbial level. The cellular communication is the basis of health and wellbeing. It is also the root of disease. Poisoned food creates disease. We might be ignorant about the links between food and health. But our cells know them. Our body is more intelligent than the reductionist mechanical mind contemporary humans have developed. And if we would listen to our bodies, our knowledge would be more in sync with the intelligence of our bodies which is the real intelligence of our minds through the gut-brain dialogue. And because food carries with it the memory of the biodiversity in soil and the plants, how food is grown is a major determinant of health. Through the ecological science of Agroecology and Ayurveda our minds could catch up with the intelligence of the earth, our bodies, its doshas, its cells, its microbes which are trying to alert us to the dangers in our food and environment through the disease epidemic.
The Hunger and Health emergency calls on citizens and governments of overcome the separations between humans and nature, between agriculture, food, nutrition and health and see the interconnectedness. Interconnectedness calls for Integration. Biodiversity and Integrity of our food needs to be at the centre of public health policies. Agriculture and food systems need to be viewed as health systems which maintain and sustain a healthy planet and healthy society. We need to reward farmers for growing healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy communities, instead of subsidising them to use fossil fuels, chemicals and poisons which contribute to climate change, water pollution and depletion, and disease. Given how severe the hunger, malnutrition and health crisis is in India, we need to make a transition from a chemical system of producing nutritionally empty commodities to a nutrition sensitive agriculture which increases “health per acre” and “nutrition per acre”. We need to redefine the PDS system and ICDS system as a public health system based on One Health. And we need public awareness campaigns that cultivate the One Health approach among citizens.
We need to revisit our ancient time-tested scientific systems of Agroecology and Ayurveda in the context of the disease epidemic and new biology which goes beyond mechanistic reductionism, and recognises the body is a complex self-organised ecosystem.
Food systems are at the heart of health and disease. COVID-19 has made people wake up to the links between food and health. Healthy food creates a healthy gut which creates immunity. People started to eat more turmeric, ginger, ashwagandha. The pandemic made people start living the teaching of Ayurveda “Annam Sarva Aushadhi” and of Hippocrates “let food be thy medicine”.
Biodiversity in soils, in plants, in our gut, is the basis of the self-organisation of living systems -from bacteria in the soil, our gut, to Gaia.
Biodiversity of the Soil Food web, Biodiversity of Plants, Biodiversity of our Gut Microbiome working in mutuality, symbiosis, harmony and quantum coherence create “One Health”.
Regenerating biodiversity as the organizing principle for One Health is the most important step in regenerating the health of the planet, and people’s health.
It is this science of Biodiversity and interconnectedness between living soil, living seed, living food, living economies of wellbeing which Navdanya has been practising and promoting for the last 3 decades. For us Earth Care is Health Care, of people and the planet.
Our work has shown that we can address both SDG 2 on zero hunger and SDG 3 on good health and well-being for all by regenerating and cultivating biodiversity in our minds, on our farms, in our gut.
How we grow our food, and what we eat is the single biggest change each of us can make to regenerate the earth by being conscious that nature is living, not dead matter. We can cocreate with the living Earth and her biodiversity to create One Health. A healthy earth grows healthy people.