Vandana Shiva, (born in 1952), is an Indian physicist and social activist. Dr Shiva has contributed in fundamental ways to changing the practice and paradigms of agriculture and food in India. She combines sharp intellectual enquiry with determined activism and her work spans from teaching at universities worldwide to working with peasants in rural India.
In 2003, Time magazine identified Shiva as an “environmental hero” and in 2010, Forbes Magazine identified Dr Shiva as one of the seven most powerful feminists on the globe.
In 1982, Shiva founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy (RFSTN), an organisation devoted to developing sustainable methods of agriculture, working in close partnership with local communities and social movements.
In 1991, she founded Navdanya, a national movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources especially native Indian seeds and to promote organic farming and fair trade. For the last twenty years, Navdanya has worked with local communities and organisations, serving more than 500,000 men and women farmers. Navdanya’s efforts have resulted in the conservation of more than 3000 rice varieties from across India, and the organisation has established 60 seed banks in 16 states across the country. In 2004, Dr Shiva started Bija Vidyapeeth, an international college for sustainable living in Doon Valley in collaboration with Schumacher College, U.K.
Shiva is perhaps best known, however, as a critic of Asia’s Green Revolution, an international effort that began in the 1960s to increase food production in less-developed countries through higher-yielding variety (HYV) seed stocks and the increased use of pesticides and fertilizers. She maintains that the Green Revolution had led to pollution, a loss of indigenous seed diversity and traditional agricultural knowledge, and the troubling dependence of poor farmers on costly chemicals. In response, RFSTE scientists established seed banks throughout India to preserve the country’s agricultural heritage while training farmers in sustainable agricultural practices.
Shiva argued that, particularly in a time of climate change, the homogenisation of crop production is extremely dangerous. Unlike native seed strains, developed over long periods of time and therefore adapted to the conditions of a given area, the seed strains promoted by large corporations required the application of large amounts of fertilizer and pesticides. In addition, many such seed strains are genetically engineered and patented, preventing farmers from saving seeds from their harvests to plant in the following season and instead, they are being forced to purchase new seeds each passing year.
Shiva argues that a decentralized approach to agriculture, based upon a diverse array of locally adapted seeds, is more likely to weather the vagaries of a changing climate than a system relying on only a few varieties. She anticipated the danger of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO’s) Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, which allowed for the patenting of life forms and would, therefore, make it possible for corporations to essentially require farmers to continue to purchase their seeds after local varieties had been eliminated. She spoke out against the agreement at the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle.
Dr Shiva’s contribution to the field of conservation and sustainability in India, therefore, has been unparalleled. She is actively involved in the rejuvenation of indigenous Indian knowledge and the protection of biological and cultural diversity. She has created awareness on the hazards of genetic engineering, defended people’s knowledge from biopiracy, and increased access to food rights in the face of globalisation and climate change.