Vandana Shiva was born in the valley of Dehradun in India in 1952. A Brahmin, she was rasied in prosperity. Educated in her homeland, she pursued graduate studies in Canada, receiving an MA at Guelph and a PhD at the University of Western Ontario. The Indian-born environmentalist has emerged as an international icon in the movement criticizing conventional agriculture and biotechnology.
Shiva has been referred to as a an Eco Warrior Goddess” by the e-Zine Punk Rock Permaculture, a “global sustainability expert” by the University of Kentucky. Time Magazine called her an “environmental hero” in 2003 and Forbes identified her as one of the Seven most powerful feminists in the globe in 2010. She has more than 23,000 followers on Twitter and 43,000 on Facebook.
In the most recent sign of her celebrity status, in January, Beloit College in Wisconsin conferred on her a prestigious honor as the Weissberg Chair in International Studies, calling her a “one-woman movement for peace, sustainability and social justice.”
Whether that accurately describes Shiva is debatable—there appears to be a sizable gap between her self-representations and the subjects she claims to be an expert on. However her status as a celebrity activist is not in question. Shiva’s unbridled opposition to GMOs has made her a favorite in liberal and environmental circles. She hopscotches the globe, making frequent appearances at anti-GMO rallies and on lecture tours, such as in in Costa Rica earlier this year.
Shiva is an energetic campaigner against globalization and a vocal critic of agricultural genetic engineering—GMOs, invoking religious imagery rather than science to defend her beliefs. “G.M.O. stands for ‘God, Move Over,’ we are the creators now,” she said in a speech earlier this year. She has written more than 20 books. In Biopiracy, Stolen Harvest and Water Wars, she examined the social, economic and ecological costs of corporate-led globalization. The Violence of Green Revolution and Monocultures of the Mindchallenged what she referred to as the dominant paradigm of non-sustainable, reductionist Green Revolution agriculture.
Many prominent intellectuals herald her as a forward-thinking scientist and visionary opponent of genetic engineering. When Beloit conferred its honorarium upon her, and in accompanying news releases and the website announcement touting her selection, it prominently noted her “PhD in nuclear physics,” calling her “a recognized expert on agriculture and biotechnology.”
On Farmer Suicides
Most controversially, Shiva is also a vocal promoter of the much disputed game that the introduction of GMOs in India has prompted the suicides of hundreds of thousands of impoverished Indian farmers.
“Suicides have intensified after the introduction of GMO Bt cotton [in India],”she has written “…[S]eed monopolies… the collection of super-profits …has created a context for debt, suicides and agrarian distress which is driving the farmers suicide rate in India.”
She alleges a link between farmer suicides and the adoption of Bt cotton in India where no casual link actually existsThe International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) reviewed the government data, academic articles and media reports about Bt cotton and suicide in India in 2008 and 2010, concluding that farmer suicides predated the introduction of GMOs, reflect the broader trend in suicides in the general population and have in fact leveled off in the agricultural sector in recent years.
“[I]t is nonsense to attribute farmer suicides solely to Bt cotton,” wrote Dominic Glover, an agricultural socio-economist at Wageningen University and Research Center in the Netherlands in an article Nature last year. “Although financial hardship is a driving factor in suicide among Indian farmers, there has been essentially no change in the suicide rate for farmers since the introduction of Bt cotton.”
Source: Nature, May 2013
Kloor provides a contexualized deconstruction of the ‘suicide myth’ and an analysis of what really has been going on in India’s farm belt in a superb article in the current Issues in Science and Technology, a publication of the National Academy of Sciences.
Shiva is perhaps best known for claiming that the introduction of genetically modified cotton seeds in India has led to mass genocide by poor farmers seduced by the false promises of GMO’s
“270,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide since Monsanto entered the Indian seed market,” she has said. “It’s genocide.”
That’s a remarkable claim, and if true it is a tragedy of staggering proportions.
Vandana Shiva’s influence in the worlds of politics, agriculture, technology and development shows no signs of waning. She continues to receive accolades in the media, collects humanitarian awards and is regularly bestowed with honorary degrees from universities across North America .
Shiva says Golden Rice can’t work but published studies show that it does work. She claims Indian farmers commit suicide because of Bt cotton while careful academic studies show that Indian farmers who plant Bt cotton earn more money per hectare and are no more likely to commit suicide than organic farmers. She claims that seed companies are distributing ‘terminator genes’ that will will bankrupt them when no such seeds exist. She claims that no famine existed in India before the Green Revolution when the Indian government itself has published the data on lives lost to starvation.
In overstating her credentials and in spreading her political agenda, Vandana Shiva asks the public to believe she is an expert in agriculture, crop production and genetic engineering. She influences the public debate. She is called upon as an expert witness as legislators, oh so sensitive to public opinion, debate how to best regulate agricultural technology. That’s concerning. At best, Vandana Shiva is a provocative lay observer. She deserves to be judged and listened to based upon the quality of her arguments and the evidence.
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