Vol 12 No 1 (2020)

Seeds of Knowledge, Seeds of Being

Paola Federica Di Paolo
Athabasca University
Published July 10, 2019


Using textual analysis this paper presents the debate between the proponents and critics of the use of genetically modified (GM) Bt cotton seeds in India. Epistemological positions of traditional ethnobiological knowledge and Western scientific knowledge are contrasted as are the ontological implications of these respective positions. The developers of GM seed ontologically prioritize the commodification of seeds within agriculture. The proponents of GM seeds place such seeds hierarchically above small landholding farmers such that farmers must abandon traditional methods of agriculture in service to GM seeds. Indeed, an analysis of statistical data regarding farmers suicide in India suggests a correlation between farmer suicide and the widescale introduction of GM seeds in India. This correlation emphasizes the vital importance of traditional ethnobiological knowledge and practices for communities and individuals. In contrast to the proponents of GM seeds, advocates of traditional farming methods have supported organic farming practices, biodiversity, and seed development and trading between farmers. For scientist and activist, Vandana Shiva, not only does biodiversity support vibrant life in society, but the converse is also the case: monoculture of crops destroys human life and a sense of social belonging by destroying the social network by which seeds have been developed and distributed for generations. Solutions to farmer suicide must address ontological issues and involve traditional ethnobiological knowledge.