VANDANA SHIVA, an Indian physicist and social activist. Shiva founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy (RFSTN), an organization devoted to developing sustainable methods of agriculture, in 1982.
SHIVA, the daughter of a forestry official and a farmer, grew up in Dehra Dun, near the foothills of the Himalayas. She received a master’s degree in the philosophy of science from Guelph University, Ontario, in 1976. The thesis “Hidden Variables and Non-locality in Quantum Theory” earned her a doctorate from the department of philosophy at the University of Western Ontario in 1978. Shiva developed an interest in environmentalism during a visit home, where she discovered that a favourite childhood forest had been cleared and a stream drained so that an apple orchard could be planted. After completing her degrees, Shiva returned to India, where she worked for the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Management. In 1982 she founded RFSTN, later renamed the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE), in her mother’s cowshed in Dehra Dun.
In 1991 Shiva launched Navdanya, meaning “Nine Seeds,” or “New Gift” in Hindi. The project, part of RFSTE, strove to combat the growing tendency toward monoculture promoted by large corporations. Navdanya formed over 40 seed banks in India and attempted to educate farmers on the benefits of conserving their unique strains of seed crops. Shiva argued that, particularly in a time of climate change, the homogenization of crop production was 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.
Shiva thinks that the biological wealth of poorer countries was too often appropriated by global corporations that neither sought their hosts’ consent nor shared the profits. In her 1997 book, Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge, she charged that these practices were tantamount to biological theft. Shiva expounded upon her ideas on corporate trade agreements, the exponential decrease in the genetic diversity of crops, and patent law in Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply (1999), Tomorrow’s Biodiversity (2000), and Patents: Myths and Reality (2001), respectively. Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit (2002) criticizes corporations for attempting to privatize water resources. Shiva also edited Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed (2007). In 1993 she was the recipient of the Right Livelihood Award.