The link between sustainability, diversity, and decentred self-organisation

This post is an exerpt from “Monocultures of the Mind” by Vandana Shiva, p147, slightly paraphrased.


All systems of sustainable agriculture, whether of the past or of the future, work on the basis of the perennial principles of diversity and reciprocity. The two principles are not independent, but interrelated. Diversity gives rise to the ecological space for give and take, for mutuality and reciprocity. Destruction of diversity is linked to the creation of monocultures, and with the creation of monocultures, the self-regulation and decentred organisation of diverse systems gives way to external inputs and external and centralised control.


Sustainability and diversity are ecologically linked because diversity offers the multiplicity of interactions which can heal disturbance to any part of the system. Non-sustainability and uniformity means that disturbance to one part is translated to a disturbance to all parts. Instead of being contained, ecological destabilization tends to be amplified.

The imperative for growth generates the imperative for monocultures

Closely linked to the issue of diversity versus uniformity is the issue of productivity. Higher yields and higher production have been the main push for the introduction of uniformity and the logic of the assembly line. The imperative for growth generates the imperative for monocultures, yet this “growth” only exists when viewed from a particular, narrow, cultural and political perspective. When one takes a different perspective, a perspective that encompasses the whole system with all of its inputs and outputs and all of its diverse functions, this “growth” disappears. Therefore sustainability, diversity and decentred self-organisation are linked together, as are unsustainability, uniformity and centralisation.