Vandana Shiva

An Indian physicist who fights for small farms.

| November-December 2001


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Is the notion of globalization still a little mysterious to you? Is it hard to understand how everyday people are affected by corporations’ growing power over the world economy?

Think rice. And then let Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva break it down for you.

“Rice . . . to many of the people of Asia, is life itself,” Shiva writes in The Ecologist (Jan. 2001). “This is why the ongoing corporatization of rice varieties is such a tragedy. Rice must be owned and controlled by the small farmers—the people—and not by foreign corporations.”

That’s why Shiva led opposition to a Texas corporation that had gained a U.S. patent for basmati rice, a crop grown throughout India for centuries. As a result of protests, the U.S. patent office greatly narrowed the company’s patent, which Shiva claims as a victory although she adds that farmers will continue to oppose any corporate claims upon their traditional crops. Europe also has thrown out a patent on the neem tree, a source of traditional Indian medicine for many ailments, she notes.

Shiva, director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy in Delhi, was a physics professor in India before turning her attention to the protection of her country’s native plant species and the people who cultivate them. As one of India’s most prominent feminists, Shiva is especially concerned about what effect Western corporations’ control of the food system could have on women, who make up the majority of agricultural workers in India.

Shiva is the author of 13 books, the latest of which is Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply (South End Press, 2000). Using many real-world examples, the book builds a strong case for the necessity of small farms and farmers, damning, in the process, multinational corporations’ efforts to colonize—control all aspects of agriculture from the seeds to the dinner table—the very food on which life depends.

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