For a long time, through capitalist modernity and capitalist neoliberal modernity, nature has been regarded as natural capital- a mere product whose value is not intrinsic but is determined by use-value and ‘usefulness’ to humans. 

This is the epistemological drive behind the commodification of nature and the creation of fictitious commodities. This is also the thinking behind the capitalist enclosure of the commons, the dispossession by the accumulation of the life-giving systems of the earth. This logic has driven the capitalocene era into the capitalist ecocidal logic of infinite growth on a finite planet. To rethink the living, we must - in the words of the decolonial scholar Walter Mignolo - engage in epistemological disobedience and rethink our relationship with nature thus reclaiming the earth systems, living within its boundaries, and harmoniously coexisting in a climate justice world. 

To rethink the living, we must rethink our relationship with nature. Photo: Malembo Simbano/RLS Southern Africa.

Just like the mighty baobab, the life-giving systems of the earth begin with a small seed. Seeds are the very essence of life. In fact, they are the foundations of the Neolithic revolution and human societies as we know them today. 

Archaeological evidence tells us that humans ceased being hunter-gatherers when they discovered that by planting seeds, they could grow crops to feed themselves. This meant that they could settle in one place and with that, cities were born. Thus, throughout history, humans have been eating, planting, sharing, storing, and mixing seeds in an evolutionary relationship that has spanned thousands of years. Through this people’s science, seeds have been a commons whose intellectual property was a thousand years of Indigenous knowledge practice and people’s science. 

A San girl on her family's one hectare plot, Namibia. Photo: Tristen Taylor.

Unfortunately and alarmingly, the advent of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and gene editing seeks to change that. Genetically modified seeds under the guise of intellectual property monopolise the distribution, price, and the very nature of seeds. This is done under the guise of improved and climate-resilient seeds but in fact, it is the opposite. GMO seeds have failed to be resilient, instead, they heavily rely on intensive agrochemicals such as pesticides, insecticides, and fertilisers. GMO seeds and patents are a direct threat to our planet and the way of life of billions of subsistence farmers.

South African Rooibos co-operatives recently had to spend millions of Euro in lawyer fees fending off European farmers & conglomerates who wanted to register and have exclusive rights over the world-famous 'Rooibos' tea's appellation (a plant found only in Southern Africa ironically) as well as it's core genetic pattern. Photo: Kenyaa Mzee/RLS Southern Africa.

GMO seeds are expensive and require farmers to buy seeds every year. They cannot be shared without the express permission of the property rights holder. The fact is, such seeds are a form of dispossession. Dispossession of ownership of the life-giving system, dispossession of Indigenous knowledge, culture and people’s science. To reclaim the living, we must reclaim the seed, especially in light of the climate crisis. 

GMO seeds have led to barebone, naked soil agriculture. This has resulted in huge swaths of soil erosion leading to topsoil destruction on a massive scale.

In fact, soil erosion is an insufficient term to describe the disaster; the correct term is soil extinction. Soil is more than just dirt, it is a community of living organisms, a complex web of life that is responsible for life on earth. Through agrochemicals, industrial waste, mine drainage, nuclear tests, and other forms of pollution, the earth’s soil and its life-giving potential are threatened. This is being worsened by the increasing land grabbing activities which are happening at an accelerated global scale. To rethink the living, we must rethink the soil as a living organism, a being; Pacha Mama (Mother Earth). 

To rethink the living, we must rethink the soil as a living organism, a being. Photo: Malembo Simbano/ RLS Southern Africa.

The same thinking must be extended to our oceans which are being polluted by fossil fuel-powered transport, waste and of course plastic. However, we need to remember that although plastic is a huge problem, the biggest threat to our marine ecosystems is overfishing. The capitalocene infinite growth on a finite planet is driving overfishing far beyond the ability of the oceans to recover. 

The marine ecosystem, from coral reefs to the depths of the sea is facing an onslaught due to overfishing and the acidification of the ocean due to increased global levels of carbon dioxide. Fisherfolk who have relied on fishing as a means of sustenance are already suffering because of this. They are struggling to survive, and many will not be able to pass the skill to their descendants. This is not just food or ecological crisis, it is also a crisis of culture and society, a crisis that Professor and activist Vishwa Satgar defines as a crisis of socioecological reproduction (see Satgar, Vishwas. "The anthropocene and imperial ecocide: Prospects for just transitions." The climate crisis. South African and global democratic eco-socialist alternatives (2018): 47-68). 

Fisherfolk are struggling due to overfishing and increased global levels of Carbon dioxide. Photo: Roland Ngam.

But the subaltern is not defeated, the wretched of the earth is fighting back. Communities are reclaiming their seeds through indigenous seed saving initiatives, community biodiversity registers and community seed banks, and seed sovereignty is emerging. Communities are rising up and rejecting overfishing. There are growing calls to rewild parts of the oceans and restore marine life. There is growing awareness about the dangers of agrochemicals on the land. Also, there is a growing movement that is warning about soil extinction and the destruction that follows it. 

All around the world, people, families, communities and nations are rising up to say no to extractivism, fossil fuel dependence and the enclosure of the commons. Post extractivism imaginaries are gaining traction. Activists are calling for systems change, not just climate change. Post-capitalism imaginaries which used to be side-lined as daydreams are challenging mainstream orthodox economic models. 

All around the world, people are standing up to say no to extractivism. Here, activist Stephane Gua leads a protest march in Mauritius. Photo: CARES.

The struggle for the living continues and the subaltern is leading it without retreat and without surrender.