Vandana Shiva

(1993, India)

...for placing women and ecology at the heart of modern development discourse.


Globally well-known intellectual and activist, Vandana Shiva has shown ongoing commitment in different fields, making it difficult to label her name under a precise and unique category. At the core of her activism there are: counter-development in favour of people-centered, participatory processes; support to grassroots networks; women rights and ecology. Author of numerous important books and articles, Vandana Shiva has shown a lifetime interest in campaigning against genetic engineering and the negative impact of globalisation, advocating for the crucial importance of preserving and celebrating biodiversity.

Contact Details

Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology
A-60 Hauz Khas
New Delhi 110 016



Dr. Vandana Shiva is trained as a Physicist and did her Ph.D. on the subject "Hidden Variables and Non-locality in Quantum Theory" at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. She later shifted to inter-disciplinary research in science, technology and environmental policy, which she carried out at the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, India. In 1982, she left to set up her Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy in her home town of Dehra Dun in the foothills of the Himalaya.

Shiva's record has been that of the totally committed, very productive and effective activist-advocate-intellectual. As an activist she has co-ordinated, supported and learned from grassroots networks on a wide range of issues across India. As an advocate, especially in international fora, she has proved one of the most articulate spokespersons of counter-development in favour of people-centered, participatory processes. As an intellectual she has produced a stream of important books and articles, which have done much both to form and address the agenda of development debate and action.

Her foundation is an informal network of researchers, working in support of people's environmental struggles, part of the objective of which is the articulation and justification of people's knowledge. The foundation has done important work in a number of areas, including:

  • Agriculture and genetic resources. Shiva's critical analysis of the effects of the Green Revolution, and looking beyond it to the impacts of the 'second' Green Revolution powered by genetic engineering, is of pioneering importance. For more than 15 years, she has been a campaigner on the ethical and ecological impacts of genetic engineering. She has led campaigns on bio-safety and built citizens' responses to the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture.
  • Biodiversity. She started her work on biodiversity with the Chipko Movement in the 1970s. As with forestry and water, her contribution has gone beyond critique with the launch of a 'people's programme on biodiversity'. She has pioneered the organic movement in India and has built a new movement called Navdanya, the country's biggest network of seed keepers and organic producers, for the conservation of indigenous seeds. Shiva sees biodiversity as intimately linked to cultural diversity and knowledge diversity. She has campaigned nationally and internationally against 'biopiracy' - the patenting of indigenous knowledge. Her book on the subject, Biopiracy, deals with the emerging corporate monopolies on the living resources of the poor.
  • World Bank and WTO Campaigns. Shiva has been an important figure in putting pressure on the World Bank, which the Bank has been forced to take increasingly seriously. She represented 'Nature' at the People's Tribunal on the World Bank and IMF in Berlin in 1988 and was on the steering group of the People's Forum, which coincided with World Bank meetings in 1991. Shiva has also initiated major movements in India on World Trade Organisation (WTO) issues, especially on intellectual property and agriculture. She is a founding Board member of the International Forum on Globalisation, the citizens' group dedicated to monitoring and intervening on the impact of globalisation. She is currently leading an International Campaign on Food Rights, for people's right to knowledge and food security.
  • Ecology and gender. Her book Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Survival (Zed, 1989) has had an international impact. She was a co-chair of the 1991 World Congress on Women and Environment, and she directed a dialogue on 'Women, ecology and health' with the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, leading to a volume of Development Dialogue edited by her. Shiva has launched a global movement called Diverse Women for Diversity, for the defence of biological and cultural diversity.

Time Magazine identified Dr. Shiva as an "environmental hero" in 2003, and Asia Week has called her one of the five most powerful communicators of Asia.

Among her many awards are the Order of the Golden Ark, Global 500 Award of the UN, Earth Day International Award, the Lennon Ono Grant for Peace and the Sydney Peace Prize 2010.

Shiva also serves on the boards of many organizations, including the World Future Council, the International Forum on Globalization and Slow Food International.


Acceptance Speech by Vandana Shiva

December 9th, 1993


Distinguished guests,
Honorable Members of Parliament,
ladies and gentlemen.

Four passions have guided my work over the past two decades - search for knowledge, a longing for freedom, a concern for justice, and a deep love and reverence for nature.

It is the passion for knowledge and love for nature, which drew me to physics. Physics after all was supposed to provide the most fundamental picture of nature's working according to the dominant view. But it did not, and I went on to philosophy of science to search for answers to foundational questions in quantum theory. Interaction with the Chipko movement widened the circle of my intellectual quest to include ecology combined with an activism guided by concerns for social justice. It is the combination of the urge for free enquiry and my concern for nature and people, that made me leave the narrow confines of academia where disciplines are fragmented from each other, where knowledge is separated from action but linked intimately to power. In 1982, I left an academic career with a dream to build an independent research initiative for generating a different kind of knowledge, which would serve the powerless not the powerful, which would not get all its cue from Western Universities and international institutions, but would also be open to learn from the indigenous knowledge of local communities, which would break down the artificial divide between experts and non-experts and subject and object.

We did not begin with big grants and big offices. Starting from a cow shed in Dehra Dun and extending a garage in Bangalore, later, we deepened our relationships with local communities and our understanding of local ecosystems.

I am increasingly sensing that the primary threat to nature and people today comes from centralising and monopolising power and control which inevitably generates one-dimensional structures and what I have called "Monoculture of the Mind". The monoculture of the mind treats all diversity as disease, and creates coercive structures to model this biologically and culturally diverse world of ours on the privileged categories and concepts of one class, one race and one gender of a single species.

These simultaneous colonisations are the inevitable result - the colonisations of nature's diverse species, of women and of the Third World. The politics of diversity is for me the ground for resisting all three colonisations. Monocultures have created a violent world order, since violence is intrinsic to the project of transforming diverse, self-organising systems in nature and in society into centrally controlled uniformity and homogeneity. Monocultures first inhabit the mind, and are then transferred to the ground. Monocultures of the mind generate models of production which destroy diversity and legitimise that destruction as progress, growth and improvement. From the perspective of the monoculture mind, productivity and yields appear to increase when diversity is erased and replaced by uniformity. However, from the perspective of diversity, monocultures are based on a decline in yields and productivity. They are impoverished systems, both qualitatively and quantitatively. They are also highly unstable and non-sustainable systems. Monocultures spread not because they produce more, but because they control more. The expansion of monocultures had more to do with politics and power than with enriching and enhancing systems of biological production. For the powerful, monocultures are an instrument of increased power and control. For the powerless and for nature, they are an instrument of impoverishment. Monocultures are maintained only through high levels of external control and inputs. Ecologically it leads to erosion of the earth's resources and pollution of land, water and the atmosphere. Politically this creates centralised control and authoritarian structures.

Making connections between the erosion of biological and cultural diversity, whether violence ethnic or religious, and between centralised governance, has been an important preoccupation for me in recent times as region after region seems to slip into irreversible and violent civil strife.

Not till diversity is made the logic of production will there be a chance for sustainability, justice and peace. If production continues to be based on the logic of uniformity and homogenisation, women, Third World people and nature will continue to be marginalised and displaced, and vicious cycles of violence will engulf more and more communities.

The Green revolution was an exemplar of the deliberate destruction of diversity. The new biotechnologies, are repeating and deepening these tendencies, rather than reversing them.

Further, the new technologies in combination with patent monopolies being pushed through intellectual property rights regimes in GATT and other trade platforms as well as the biodiversity convention are threatening to transform the diversity of life forms into mere raw material for industrial production, and limited profits. They are simultaneously threatening the regenerative freedom of diverse species, and the free and sustainable economy of small peasants and producers which is based on nature's diversity and its utilisation.

As my involvement in these issues grew, the seed started to take shape as the site and symbol of freedom in the age of manipulation and monopoly of life in its diversity. Ethically and ecologically, unrestrained biotechnology development gives new tools for manipulation, patents offer new tools for monopoly ownership of that which is by its very nature free. I thought of Gandhi's Spinning wheel which had become such an important symbol of freedom, not because it was big and powerful, but because it was small and could become alive as a sign of resistance and creativity in smallest of huts and poorest of families. In smallness lay its power.

The seed too is small. It embodies diversity. It embodies the freedom to stay alive. And seed is still the common property of small farmers in India. Seed freedom goes far beyond freedom for the farmer from corporations. It indicates freedom of diverse cultures from centralised control. In the seed, ecological issues could combine with social justice. I could see that it was the seed that could play the role of Gandhi's spinning wheel in this period of recolonisation through "free trade".

I launched a national programme to save seed diversity in farmers fields in cooperation with the movements I have been working with over many years. We call it "Navdanya", which literally means nine seeds and is a beautiful symbol of the richness of diversity.

In 1991, I started to contact the farmers organisations, to alert them on the new trends, to work with them on protecting farmers' rights to freely conserve, use, exchange and modify the seeds. In February 1992, we organised a national conference on GATT and Agriculture with the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS). In October 1992, at a massive farmers' rally in Hospet organised by the KRRS, the Seed Satyagraha was launched following Gandhi's politics of Satyagraha as a fight for truth based on non-cooperation with unjust regimes. In March, we held a national rally in Delhi at the historic Red Fort under the leadership of the national farmers organisation, Bharatiya Kisan Union. Independence Day 15th August this year was celebrated with farmers asserting their "Collective Intellectual Property Rights" (Samuhik Gyan Sanad). On 2nd October 1993, one year of the Seed Satyagraha was celebrated in Bangalore with a gathering of 500,000 farmers. We also had farmers from other Third World countries as well as scientists who work on farmers' rights and sustainable agriculture in an expression of solidarity.

For us, protecting native seeds is more than conservation of raw material for the biotechnology industry. The diverse seeds now being pushed to extinction carry within them seed of other ways of thinking about nature, and other ways of producing for our needs. Uniformity and diversity are not just patterns of land use, they are ways of thinking and ways of living.

Conservation of diversity is, above all, the commitment to let alternatives flourish in society and nature, in economic systems and in knowledge systems. Cultivating and conserving diversity is no luxury in our times. It is a survival imperative, and the precondition for the freedom of all, the big and the small.

Thank you!


Vandana Shiva interview with Bill Moyers

Vandana Shiva on seeds and seedmultinationals

Vandana Shiva and female farmers stand up to Monsanto

Vandana Shiva on the dangers of geoengineering

Vandana Shiva on the Rights of Mother Earth


G8's free trade project is here to stay - along with world poverty. The Guardian, July 4, 2005. Download (pdf)

Turning Scarcity Into Abundance
. The Rising Nepal, August 8, 2005.Download (pdf)

Terrorism, Agriculture and U.S India Cooperation. Znet, August 10, 2005.Download (pdf)

Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development. London: Zed Books, 1989.

Ecology and the politics of survival: conflicts over natural resources in India. New Delhi: Sage/United Nations University, 1991.

The Violence of Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology and Politics. London: Zed Books 1992.

Ecofeminism. M Mies, V Shiva. Halifax/London: Fernwood/Zed Books, 1993.

Monocultures of the mind: perspectives on biodiversity and biotechnology.
Penang: Zed Books and Third World Network, 1993.

Close to Home: Women Reconnect Ecology, Health and Development Worldwide. Library Company of Philadelphia, 1994.

Biopolitics: a feminist and ecological reader on biotechnology. V Shiva, I Moser. Madras, India: Orient Longman, 1996.

Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge. Cambridge: South End Press, 1999.

Tomorrow's biodiversity. London: Thames and Hudson, 2000.

Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply. Cambridge:South End Press, 2000.

Protect or Plunder? Understanding Intellectual Property Rights. London: Zed Books, 2001.
Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit. Cambridge: South End Press, 2002.

Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security. SAGE Publications, 2002.

India Divided: Diversity and Democracy Under Attack. Kindle Edition 2003.

Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace. Cambridge: South End Press, 2005.

Soil not oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis. Cambridge: South End Press, 2008. (Also available in German)



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