Vandana Shiva wears many hats: Indian author and scholar, physicist, ecologist, anti-globalization and food sovereignty advocate, ecofeminist and environmental activist. She is primarily known for her fight against GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and multinational agricultural corporations.
About Vandana Shiva’s Beginnings
In an article for “Yes! Magazine,” Vandana Shiva describes her beginnings not in terms of when and where she was born and raised but in terms of her ecological awakening, which occurred in the Himalayan forests. Born on November 5, 1952 the daughter of a forest conservator father and a farmer mother, it could be argued she had environmentalism coursing through her veins since birth. She says in the article that most of her knowledge of ecology she learned from those forests of the Himalayas. When Vandana Shiva was growing up, her mother composed poems and songs for her and her siblings that were all about forest and trees and the civilizations living in India’s forests.
Vandana Shiva graduated Punjab University in 1972 with a B.S. in physics. Thereafter, she spent a short time at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre before moving to Canada to earn a philosophy of science master’s degree in 1977 from the University of Guelph. She then attended the University of Western Ontario, where, in 1978, she earned her PhD in philosophy with a focus on the philosophy of physics. Later, she conducted interdisciplinary research at the Indian Institute of Management at Bangalore and the Indian Institute of Science in environmental science, technology and science.
She founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) in 1982. This led in 1987 to the formation of Navdanya, a farmer’s rights, organic farming and biodiversity conservation movement. By 2019, Navdanya, which translates to “New Gift” or “Nine Seeds,” helped farmers establish 100 community seed banks nationwide and saved over 3,000 varieties of rice. The Navdanya movement also aids farmers wishing to transition away from chemical and fossil fuel-based monocultures to ecologically biodiverse systems.
She later formed the Navdanya Farm in the Doon Valley, Uttarakhand in 1994. There, she and her colleagues grow hundreds of different species, including 150 wheat varieties and 630 rice varieties.
In addition, she founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy, for which she also serves as director. In collaboration with the U.K.’s Schumacher College, she formed the international sustainable living college Bija Vidyapeeth (“School of the Seed”) in Doon Valley. She was also a founding member of WEDO (the Women’s Environment and Development Organization) and founded the gender unit at ICMOD (the International Centre for Mountain Development.)
Vandana Shiva’s anti-genetic engineering campaigns include assisting grassroots Green Movement organizations in Australia, Africa, Switzerland, Asia, Ireland and Latin America. She and her RFSTE team brought challenges against the biopiracy of wheat, neem and basmati.
She has advised Indian governments and non-governmental organizations alike, such as the Third World Network, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, the Asia Pacific People’s Environment Network and the International Forum on Globalization. She’s also served on government Biodiversity and IPR legislation expert groups. She advised the Sri Lankan government in 2021 to ban inorganic pesticides and fertilizers, though, seven months after, it was overturned.
She is the chairperson of the Region of Tuscany, Italy’s Commission on the Future of Food and member of former Spanish prime minister Zapatero’s Scientific Committee. She belongs to the Indian People’s Campaign Against WTO’s Steering Committee, serves as a World Future Council councilor and sits on the Government of India Committees on Organic Farming and the boards of the International Forum on Globalization, Slow Food International and the World Future Council. In 2007, she played a part in the Stock Exchange of Visions project.
Shiva plays a major role in the worldwide ecofeminist movement, including having written the 1988 book “Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Survival.” This book helped change how people perceive women in the Global South and fostered the creation of Diverse Women for Diversity to defend cultural and biological diversity globally.
Shiva is a fervent and vociferous opponent of globalization, identifying it as a significant factor in new manifestations of slavery, apartheid and holocausts. She also calls it a war against women, children, nature and the poor that has transformed both homes and communities into veritable war zones.
Achievements and Accolades
Her written contributions to environmental activism and advocacy expound on topics of bioethics, biodiversity, intellectual property rights, genetic engineering and biotechnology. These include more than 300 papers in major technical and technical journals, such as a noteworthy 1990 report for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization called “Most Farmers in India are Women.” She also published numerous books including “The Violence of the Green Revolution,” “Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge,” “Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace,” “Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit,” “Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply,” “Soil Not Oil” and “Monocultures of the Mind.”
In addition to winning the so-called “Alternative Nobel” prize, aka the Right Livelihood Award, in 1993, she also won the Sydney Peace Prize, the Lennon Ono Grant for Peace, Earth Day International Award, Global 500 Award of the UN and Order of the Golden Ark.
Time Magazine described her as an “environmental hero” in 2003. Asia Week named her among Asia’s five most powerful communicators. American journalist Bill Moyers once called her, “the rock star in the worldwide battle against genetically modified seeds.”
In the 1970s, when she was in her early twenties, Vandana Shiva joined the Chipko andolan, or Chipko movement, as the peasant women in her Garhwal Himalaya region started speaking out in the forest’s defense. This was a nonviolent movement in rural India of mainly women trying to protect forests and trees the government had slated for logging. Already the land around them had become prone to flooding, landslides, droughts and shortages of fuel and fodder. Since women were responsible for providing basic needs like firewood and water, they had to trek farther and bear the burden of carrying them all that extra distance back to the villages. The movement involved the women forming circles around trees slated for logging and forming “hugging circles,” making Vandana Shiva a so-called “tree hugger” in the tradition of Amrita Devi who hugged a tree three centuries prior, in 1730, to protect it against the Raja of Jaipur cutting it down along with the rest of the forest the Bishnoi community called home.
Vandana Shiva did not win the Nobel Prize itself. However she did win the Right Livelihood Award in 1993, which is commonly referred to as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”)
Vandana Shiva is known as a fierce advocate for changing the paradigms and practices around food and agriculture.