Vandana Shiva is an eco-feminist and author based in India.
Q: How did you get interested in the environment?
Vandana Shiva: My father was a forest conservator in the Himalayas, and my mom had become a refugee during India’s partition and opted to become a farmer. I couldn’t imagine life without the land or the forests. But it was the mid-1970s that really made me consciously committed. I’d gone back to my favorite places before heading off to Canada to get my physics Ph.D. I just wanted to walk in my favorite forests, and swim in my favorite rivers. But the forests were gone and the rivers were gone.
Q: What was your reaction to the Copenhagen conference on global warming?
Vandana Shiva: Copenhagen was destroyed to protect corporate rights. Citizens’ rights were destroyed, but most importantly the Earth’s rights were ignored. However, a beautiful thing came out of it: Bolivia put the rights of Mother Earth as the organizing principle of the future of humanity. This is the kind of shift we definitely need. We are undergoing a tectonic shift. To the extent that the possibilities are open for organizing life differently, it’s a very, very hopeful time.
Q: What are Mother Earth’s rights?
Vandana Shiva: She has a right to continue to provide. If we defend her right to have water and soil and biodiversity, we will have food and water. All human concerns are ultimately predicated on her rights.
Q: You’ve done a lot of work against Monsanto and its genetically modified organisms.
Vandana Shiva: Monsanto’s use of GMOs is an attempt to establish a dictatorship over our food system and our seed system—and not just in India. In the United States, most farmers don’t have a choice. They have to buy GMOs. We need to think very deeply about reclaiming our seed sovereignty and reestablishing food democracy. It’s probably the most important political challenge facing any society anywhere in the world today.
Q: How do you do that?
Vandana Shiva: I try to create community seed banks of seeds that are not genetically modified, that are not patented. Everyone should have the right to have a garden with their own seeds. Every farmer should have a right to have seeds that are not genetically modified and not patented. In terms of food democracy, one example is this amazing gardening movement that has emerged all over. Another is the movement on campuses to get rid of junk food. These are all steps toward establishing food democracy. It has to be one meal at a time, one family at a time, one school at a time, one seed at a time.