Vandana Shiva: Seed Rights and Ecological Farming

A modern day Gandhi who is protecting and conserving Traditional Knowledge, seeds and biodiversity.

The year was 2002. My father had recently passed away and my employer, Anita Roddick suggested I go to India to find out about Vandana Shiva. Anita had arranged a get together with her at Bija Vidyapeeth, Vandana's organic farm and Earth University. I was a year that that transformed me from within. I would have died blind had I not met Dr.Shiva and experienced the depth of her wisdom, brilliance and generosity of spirit. Her attentive care and support both introduced me to the the importance of seeds, and brought me to this work. Upon returning to Santa Barbara the following year, I started Edible Gardens, an organic seed company and Biodiversity farm. In March 2011 Vandana and I were both engaged in a Federal lawsuit in the United States, Organic Farmers vs. Monsanto, challenging the company's patents on technologies for genetically modified seeds. It was an extraordinary experience to witness the forces at work behind the complex ecological collapse.

"The control of seed equals the control of life on earth" - Vandana Shiva

If you are unaware of who she is, Vandana Shiva is someone worth knowing. She is an Indian physicist, environmental activist, and advocate for food sovereignty. For decades she has played a significant role in protecting India from biopiracy, and her tireless efforts span across multiple disciplines including promoting sustainable agriculture, biodiversity conservation, and the protection of traditional knowledge and resources. Shiva’s efforts have focused on addressing the unethical appropriation and exploitation of India’s biological resources and traditional knowledge, particularly in the context of agriculture and seed conservation.

  1. Advocacy for Seed Sovereignty: Vandana has been a vocal advocate for seed sovereignty and the protection of traditional seeds from biopiracy. She founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology (RFSTE) in 1982, which led to the establishment of Navdanya in 1991. Navdanya is a national movement aimed at protecting the diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seeds, and promoting organic farming and fair trade. The initiative has established over 40 seed banks across India to provide regional opportunities for diverse agriculture, thereby safeguarding traditional seeds from exploitation and unauthorized commercialization.

  2. Opposition to Green Revolution Practices: Shiva has been a critic of the Green Revolution, an international effort to increase food production in less-developed countries through higher-yielding seed stocks and the increased use of pesticides and fertilizers. She has argued that the Green Revolution has led to the loss of indigenous seed diversity and traditional agricultural knowledge, as well as the troubling dependence of poor farmers on costly chemicals. In response, RFSTE scientists established over 140 community seed banks throughout India to preserve the country’s agricultural heritage while training farmers in sustainable agricultural practices, thereby protecting traditional agricultural knowledge and resources from exploitation.

  3. Promotion of Sustainable Agriculture: Shiva’s work on agriculture, particularly in response to the violence in Punjab and the Bhopal disaster, has focused on advocating for sustainable and productive approaches to agriculture. She has highlighted the detrimental impact of the seed-chemical package promoted by green revolution agriculture, which has depleted fertile soil and destroyed living ecosystems. Through her studies and activism, Shiva has raised awareness about the need to protect India’s agricultural heritage and traditional farming practices from biopiracy and unsustainable agricultural methods.

  4. International Advocacy and Collaboration: Vandana Shiva has also been involved in international advocacy and collaboration to address issues related to biopiracy and the protection of traditional knowledge. She has served as an advisor to governments in India and abroad, as well as non-governmental organizations, and has been a member of various scientific committees and organizations focused on sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, and environmental protection. Her international engagement has contributed to raising awareness about the importance of protecting traditional knowledge and resources from exploitation and biopiracy on a global scale.

I was fortunate to accompany Dr.Shiva when she won the Sydney Peace prize, a video of her talk is here.

Vandana Shiva has played a pivotal role in protecting communities around the world from biopiracy through her advocacy for seed sovereignty, opposition to unsustainable agricultural practices, promotion of sustainable agriculture, and international collaboration to address issues related to the exploitation of traditional knowledge and resources. Her work has been instrumental in raising awareness about the importance of preserving agricultural heritage and traditional farming practices while safeguarding seeds them from unauthorized commercialization and exploitation.

You can find out more about Dr.Vandana Shiva here. I highly recommend you take the time to read her books and, if possible, attend one of her courses in India - you can find them through her website here