Vandana Shiva in 2014
|Alma mater||Panjab University, Chandigarh|
University of Guelph
University of Western Ontario
|Occupation||Philosopher, environmentalist, author, professional speaker, social activist|
|Awards||Right Livelihood Award (1993)|
Sydney Peace Prize (2010)
Mirodi award (2016)
Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize (2012)
Vandana Shiva (born 5 November 1952) is an Indian scholar, environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate, and anti-globalization author. Based in Delhi, Shiva has written more than 20 books.
Shiva is one of the leaders and board members of the International Forum on Globalization (with Jerry Mander, Ralph Nader, and Jeremy Rifkin), and a figure of the anti-globalization movement. She has argued in favor of many traditional practices, as in her interview in the book Vedic Ecology (by Ranchor Prime). She is a member of the scientific committee of the Fundacion IDEAS, Spain's Socialist Party's think tank. She is also a member of the International Organization for a Participatory Society. She received the Right Livelihood Award in 1993, an award established by Swedish-German philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull, and regarded as an "Alternative Nobel Prize".
Vandana Shiva was born in Dehradun. Her father was a conservator of forests, and her mother was a farmer with a love for nature. She was educated at St. Mary's Convent High School in Nainital, and at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Dehradun.
Shiva studied physics at Panjab University in Chandigarh, graduating as a bachelor of science in 1972. After a brief stint at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, she moved to Canada to pursue a Masters in the philosophy of science at the University of Guelph in 1977 where she wrote a thesis entitled "Changes in the concept of periodicity of light". In 1978, she completed and received her PhD in philosophy at the University of Western Ontario, focusing on philosophy of physics. Her dissertation was titled "Hidden variables and locality in quantum theory" in which she discussed the mathematical and philosophical implications of hidden variable theories that fall outside of the purview of Bell's theorem. She later went on to pursue interdisciplinary research in science, technology, and environmental policy at the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore.
Vandana Shiva has written and spoken extensively about advances in the fields of agriculture and food. Intellectual property rights, biodiversity, biotechnology, bioethics, and genetic engineering are among the fields where Shiva has fought through activist campaigns. She has assisted grassroots organizations of the Green movement in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Ireland, Switzerland, and Austria with opposition to advances in agricultural development via genetic engineering.
In 1982, she founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology. This led to the creation of Navdanya in 1991, a national movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seed, the promotion of organic farming and fair trade. Navdanya, which translates to "Nine Seeds" or "New Gift", is an initiative of the RFSTE to educate farmers of the benefits of maintaining diverse and individualized crops rather than accepting offers from monoculture food producers. The initiative established over 40 seed banks across India to provide regional opportunity for diverse agriculture. In 2004 Shiva started Bija Vidyapeeth, an international college for sustainable living in Doon Valley, Uttarakhand, in collaboration with Schumacher College, UK.
In the area of intellectual property rights and biodiversity, Shiva and her team at the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology challenged the biopiracy of neem, basmati and wheat. She has served on expert groups of[where?] government on Biodiversity and IPR legislation.
Her first book, Staying Alive (1988), helped change perceptions of third world women. In 1990, she wrote a report for the FAO on Women and Agriculture titled "Most Farmers in India are Women". She founded the gender unit at the International Centre for Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu and was a founding board member of the Women's Environment & Development Organization (WEDO).
The Australian publisher Spinifex published Shiva's book Making Peace With the Earth, said to be based on her 2010 Sydney Peace Prize Lecture about Indian social-ecological concerns and insights. This book discusses biodiversity and the relationship between communities and nature. "Accordingly, she aligns the destruction of natural biodiversity with the dismantling of traditional communities--those who 'understand the language of nature'". David Wright wrote in a review of the book that to Shiva, "the Village becomes a symbol, almost a metaphor for 'the local' in all nations".
Shiva has also served as an advisor to governments in India and abroad as well as non-governmental organizations, including the International Forum on Globalization, the Women's Environment & Development Organization and the Third World Network. She chairs the Commission on the Future of Food set up by the Region of Tuscany in Italy and is a member of the Scientific Committee that advised former prime minister Zapatero of Spain. Shiva is a member of the Steering Committee of the Indian People's Campaign Against WTO. She is a councilor of the World Future Council. Shiva serves on Government of India Committees on Organic Farming. She participated in the Stock Exchange of Visions project in 2007.
Shiva has worked to promote biodiversity in agriculture to increase productivity, nutrition, farmer's incomes and it is for this work she was recognised as an 'Environmental Hero' by Time magazine in 2003. Her work on agriculture started in 1984 after the violence in Punjab and the Bhopal disaster caused by a gas leak from Union Carbide's pesticide manufacturing plant. Her studies for the UN University led to the publication of her book The Violence of the Green Revolution.
In an interview with David Barsamian, Shiva argues that the seed-chemical package promoted by Green Revolution agriculture has depleted fertile soil and destroyed living ecosystems. In her work Shiva cites data allegedly demonstrating that today there are over 1400 pesticides that may enter the food system across the world.
Shiva supports the idea of seed freedom, or the rejection of corporate patents on seeds. She has campaigned against the implementation of the WTO 1994 Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, which broadens the scope of patents to include life forms. Shiva has criticised the agreement as having close ties with the corporate sector and opening the door to further patents on life. Shiva calls the patenting of life 'biopiracy', and has fought against attempted patents of several indigenous plants, such as basmati. In 2005, Shiva's was one of the three organisations that won a 10-year battle in the European Patent Office against the biopiracy of Neem by the US Department of Agriculture and the corporation WR Grace. In 1998, Shiva's organisation Navdanya began a campaign against the biopiracy of basmati rice by US corporation RiceTec Inc. In 2001, following intensive campaigning, RiceTec lost most of its claims to the patent.
Shiva strongly opposes golden rice, a breed of rice that has been genetically engineered to biosynthesize beta-carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A. It has the potential to assist in alleviating the vitamin A deficiency suffered by a third of preschool-aged children worldwide. Shiva claims that Golden Rice is more harmful than beneficial in her explanation of what she calls the "Golden Rice hoax": "Unfortunately, Vitamin A rice is a hoax, and will bring further dispute to plant genetic engineering where public relations exercises seem to have replaced science in promotion of untested, unproven and unnecessary technology... This is a recipe for creating hunger and malnutrition, not solving it." Adrian Dubock says that golden rice is as cheap as other rice and vitamin A deficiency is the greatest reason for blindness and causes 28% of global preschool child mortality. Shiva has claimed that the women of Bengal grow and eat 150 greens which can do the same, though environmental consultant Patrick Moore suggests that most of these 250 million children don't eat much else than a bowl of rice a day. In the 2013 report "The economic power of the Golden Rice opposition", two economists, Wesseler and Zilberman from Munich University and the University of California, Berkeley respectively calculated that the absence of Golden Rice in India had caused the loss of over 1.4 million life man years in the previous ten years.
According to Shiva, "Soaring seed prices in India have resulted in many farmers being mired in debt and turning to suicide". The creation of seed monopolies, the destruction of alternatives, the collection of superprofits in the form of royalties, and the increasing vulnerability of monocultures has created a context for debt, suicides, and agrarian distress. According to data from the Indian government, nearly 75 per cent rural debt is due to purchased inputs. Shiva claims that farmers' debt grows as GMO corporation's profits grow. According to Shiva, it is in this systemic sense that GM seeds are those of suicide.
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) twice analyzed academic articles and government data and concluded the decrease and that there was no evidence on "resurgence" of farmer suicide.
Shiva replied to these assertions, that her critics had reduced the issue to GM cottons and ignored the issue of seed monopolies, and that the suicide figures were from the government statistics of the National Bureau of Crime records.
By challenging the neo-liberalization of Indian agriculture, Shiva has opposed multinational companies such as Monsanto and Cargill. In her book, Cargill and the Corporate Hijack of India's Food Agriculture, Shiva examines the actions of both the U.S. and Indian governments which enabled policy shifts which have driven India to become the largest wheat importer in the world, when it already stood as the second-largest wheat producer, which would have satiated most of the nation's needs. She also describes methodologies of food-policy decentralization in government and industry, and says that centralization has disproportionately benefited large multinationals without achieving the promised food security and nutritional requirements where Indian farmers adopted bio-technologies en masse. Under globalization, portions of arable land cultivation turn to non-food and/or non-staple agricultural production; with increasing access to food export to markets where profit margins can rise. This can lead to the aforementioned restructuring of national import economies.
Ecofeminism opposes the dominant paradigm in green theorizing and rejects its reformist environmentalism--in which opponents say environmental problems are solved by the externalization of their costs (onto developing countries), thereby presenting the Western model of development and knowledge as the only acceptable model for mankind in modernity. Ecofeminism, part and parcel of radical ecology, addresses possibilities for changing the hegemonic patriarchal paradigm whereby nature and women are conflated and delegitimated as inferior, passive, and non-productive categories, by means of domination and exploitation.
Shiva plays a major role in the global ecofeminist movement. According to her 2004 article Empowering Women, a more sustainable and productive approach to agriculture can be achieved by reinstating the system of farming in India that is more centered on engaging women. She advocates against the prevalent "patriarchal logic of exclusion," claiming that a woman-focused system would be a great improvement. She believes that ecological destruction and industrial catastrophes threaten daily life, and the maintenance of these problems have become women's responsibility.
Shiva co-wrote the book Ecofeminism in 1993 with "German anarchist and radical feminist sociologist" Maria Mies. It combined Western and Southern feminism with "environmental, technological and feminist issues, all incorporated under the term ecofeminism". These theories are combined throughout the book in essays by Shiva and Mies.
Stefanie Lay described the book as a collection of thought-provoking essays but also found in it a lack of new ecofeminist theories and contemporary analysis, as well as "overall failure to acknowledge the work of others".
In June 2014, Indian and international media reported that Navdanya and Vandana Shiva were named in a leaked, classified report by India's Intelligence Bureau (IB), which was prepared for the Indian Prime Minister's Office.
The leaked report says that campaigning activities of Indian NGOs such as Navdanya are hampering India's growth and development. In its report, the IB said that Indian NGOs, including Navdanya, receive money from foreign donors under the 'charitable garb' of campaigning for human rights or women's equality, but instead use the money for nefarious purposes. "These foreign donors lead local NGOs to provide field reports which are used to build a record against India and serve as tools for the strategic foreign policy interests of the Western governments," the IB report states.
Investigative journalist Michael Specter, in an article in The New Yorker on 25 August 2014 called "Seeds of Doubt", raised concerns over a number of Shiva's claims regarding GMOs and some of her campaigning methods. He wrote: "Shiva's absolutism about G.M.O.s can lead her in strange directions. In 1999, ten thousand people were killed and millions were left homeless when a cyclone hit India's eastern coastal state of Orissa. When the U.S. government dispatched grain and soy to help feed the desperate victims, Shiva held a news conference in New Delhi and said that the donation was proof that 'the United States has been using the Orissa victims as guinea pigs' for genetically-engineered products, although she made no mention that those same products are approved and consumed in the United States. She also wrote to the international relief agency Oxfam to say that she hoped it wasn't planning to send genetically modified foods to feed the starving survivors."
Shiva responded that Specter was "ill informed" and that "for the record, ever since I sued Monsanto in 1999 for its illegal Bt cotton trials in India, I have received death threats", adding that the "concerted PR assault on me for the last two years from Lynas, Specter and an equally vocal Twitter group is a sign that the global outrage against the control over our seed and food, by Monsanto through GMOs, is making the biotech industry panic."David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, responded by publishing a letter supporting Specter's article.
Cases of plagiarism have been pointed out against Shiva. Birendra Nayak noted that Shiva copied verbatim from a 1996 article in Voice Gopalpur in her 1998 book Stronger than Steel, and that in 2016, she plagiarized several paragraphs of an article by S Faizi on the Plachimada/Coca-Cola issue published in The Statesman.
Journalist Keith Kloor, in an article published in Discover on 23 October 2014 titled "The Rich Allure of a Peasant Champion", revealed that Shiva charges $40,000 per lecture, plus a business-class air ticket from New Delhi. Kloor wrote: "She is often heralded as a tireless 'defender of the poor,' someone who has courageously taken her stand among the peasant farmers of India. Let it be noted, however, that this champion of the downtrodden doesn't exactly live a peasant's lifestyle."
Stewart Brand in Whole Earth Discipline described some of Shiva's statements as pseudo-scientific, calling her warnings about "heritable sterility" (Stolen Harvest, 2000) a "biological impossibility" but also plagiarism from Geri Guidetti, owner of the seed supplier company Ark Institute, and a "distraction" created by inflating the potential of terminator genes based on a single 1998 patent granted to a US company. Brand also criticized the position of anti-GMO activists, including Shiva, who forced Zambia's government to reject internationally donated corn in 2001-02 because it was "poisoned", as well as during the cyclone disaster in India. On the latter Shiva argued, "emergency cannot be used as market opportunity", to which Brand responded, "anyone who encourages other people to starve on principle should do some of the starving themselves". In 1998 Shiva was also protesting against Bt cotton program in India, calling it "seeds of suicide, seeds of slavery, seeds of despair", claiming she was protecting the farmers. Restrictive laws established in India under anti-GMO lobbying, however, led to widespread grassroots "seed piracy" where Indian farmers illegally planted seeds of Bt cotton and Bt brinjal, obtained either from experimental plantations or from Bangladesh (where they are planted legally) due to increased yield and reduced pesticide usage. As of 2005 over 2.5 million hectares were planted with "unofficial" Bt cotton in India, of which Noel Kingsbury said:
Shiva's "Operation Cremate Monsanto" had spectacularly failed, its anti-GM stance borrowed from Western intellectuals had made no headway with Indian farmers, who showed they were not passive recipients of either technology or propaganda, but could take an active role in shaping their lives. What they did is also perhaps more genuinely subversive of multinational capitalism than anything GM's opponents have ever managed.-- Noel Kingsbury, Hybrid: The History and Science of Plant Breeding (2009)
In India, farmers planting GM crops illegally eventually formed the Shetkari Sanghatana movement, calling for reform of the restrictive laws created under anti-GMO lobbying and as of 2020 an estimated 25% of cotton farmed is GM.
Vandana Shiva has been interviewed for a number of documentary films including Freedom Ahead, Roshni;Deconstructing Supper: Is Your Food Safe?, The Corporation, Thrive, Dirt! The Movie, Normal is Over, and This is What Democracy Looks Like (a documentary about the Seattle WTO protests of 1999). and Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs Planet of the Humans.
Shiva's focus on water has caused her to appear in a number of films on this topic. These films include "Ganga From the Ground Up," a documentary on water issues in the river Ganges;Blue Gold: World Water Wars by Sam Bozzo; Irena Salina's documentary Flow: For Love of Water (in competition at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival), and the PBS NOW documentary On Thin Ice.
On the topic of genetically modified crops, she was featured in the documentary Fed Up! (2002), on genetic engineering, industrial agriculture and sustainable alternatives; and the documentary The World According to Monsanto, a film made by the French independent journalist Marie-Monique Robin.