Meet Vandana Shiva - a Keynote Addressee at ACFID Conference 2022

Vandana Shiva

Aarti Betigeri

08 Sep, 2022

Many years ago, when I was a baby journalist working in radio, I was sent out to cover a speech being given by a famous environmental activist I'd never heard of. I turned up and spotted an Indian woman in a sari and a woolly cardigan - standard garb for Indian visitors to chilly Melbourne in winter. She sported a massive round bindi. She looked like any number of Indian aunties I knew. 


I watched as the woman shifted in her seat, and caught sight of her shoes - hiking boots. Then she turned to chat to someone behind her, one of the event's organisers, and was laughingly telling her about having been out the previous night drinking beer in a pub, and was now a bit hung over. 


This was my introduction to Vandana Shiva, who, it turned out, is no regular Indian aunty.


She then got up and spoke, and launched into a bitter tirade against the evils of genetically modified seeds, and her work in setting up seed banks in rural India to preserve diverse seeds and promote biodiversity. She spoke passionately of the need to protect the essential freedom of seeds - meaning that corporates can't have patents on them. "Right now, if a Monsanto seed is blown by the wind into the fields of a neighbouring farmer who doesn't buy those seeds, but germinates and a plant sprouts, the farmer has no rights over that plant," she said. 


Everyone in the room was awestruck - by the conviction of her words, the passion of her delivery, and her powerful presence. 


Dr Vandana Shiva has that effect on people. A scientist by training and a longstanding activist for ecological and societal issues including food sovereignty, Dr Shiva is recognised globally as a leading figure promoting farmers' rights, the need for viable ecosystems and biodiversity. She has written a number of books, the most recent one, "Terra Viva" which was published this year, a memoir of her four decades of activism. In it, she details how she came to the awareness that biodiversity is at the heart of sustainable economies.  


Born in the foothills of the Himalayas in the northern Indian city of Dehradun to a forest conservator and a farmer, Dr Shiva studied physics and later did a PhD in philosophy from the University of Western Ontario in Canada.


In the 1970s she was part of the nonviolent Chipko movement - a nonviolent social and ecological movement led by rural villagers in the lower mountains to protect trees and forests, which saw groups of women form human rings around trees to hinder loggers.


In 1982 she founded the independent institute the Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology in Dehradun, which is focused on research into pressing ecological and social issues, later founding Navdanya [], a national movement in defence of food sovereignty, as well as seeds and biodiversity, to protect the integrity of living resources. 


She is also a committed ecofeminist, speaking out regularly on the need to ensure that the voices of women have a place in all discussions of farming and sustainability, given the high presence of women in farming.


Dr Shiva's many awards  include the Right Livelihood Award in 1993 - often called the alternative Nobel Prize - and the 2010 Sydney Peace Prize. She's been recognised for her environmental activism by publications around the globe and is often identified as one of the world's most important activists. 


Her accolades on paper speak to the deep respect she has gained globally for her dogged advocacy, but they don't tell the full story: Dr Shiva's real star power is in her charisma and deep intellect. She's been described as a "rock star in the battle against genetically modified seeds", even compared to Mother Teresa. She is unrelentingly passionate and deeply articulate, speaking with extraordinary dynamism and spirit . There is a reason she is a popular guest on television programs and podcasts like Russell Brand's Under The Skin: the power of her delivery and the conviction of her words are unparalleled.   


We are excited to announce that Dr Vandana Shiva will be a keynote speaker at this year's ACFID conference, during which she will speak on climate change, COVID recovery, the importance of farming practices on good health, women's traditional knowledge systems, decolonisation and more. 


  • Aarti Betigeri
    Aarti Betigeri

    Aarti Betigeri is ACFID's Media and Policy Advisor. An experienced former journalist, working across video, radio, print and online media and foreign correspondent based in India, Aarti uses her voice to champion aid and development.

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