Licensing Seeds as Commons

You’ve heard about open-source software and hardware, but can the concept be expanded to address other copyright challenges … like seeds and biopiracy?

Today, in this era of privatisation, just a handful of companies account for most of the world’s commercial breeding and seed sales. Increasingly, patents and contractual restrictions are used to enhance the power and control of these companies over the seeds and the farmers that feed the world.

Patented and protected seeds cannot be saved, replanted, or shared by farmers and gardeners. And because there is no research exemption for patented material, plant breeders at universities and small seed companies cannot use patented seed to create the new crop varieties that should be the foundation of a just and sustainable agriculture.

German Nonprofit has Seeds Open-Sourced


OpenSourceSeeds (OSS) recently launched a licensing process for open-source seeds, to create a new repository of genetic material that can be accessed by farmers around the world, in perpetuity. Their strategy is aimed to protect this valuable resource from the takeover of seed rights by corporate interests.

OSS are an offspring of the Association for AgriCulture and Ecology (AGRECOL), which focuses on sustainable and organic agriculture mainly in the developing world,  which has worked on open-source seeds for about five years ago.

There is a similar initiative in the United States – the Open Source Seeds Initiative, (OSSI). Rather than licensing, they add a pledge to seed varieties – an ethical approach …

The OSSI Pledge: “You have the freedom to use these OSSI- Pledged seeds in any way you choose. In return, you pledge not to restrict others’ use of these seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means, and to include this Pledge with any transfer of these seeds or their derivatives.

Working together We are the Commons

Debate about the preservation of common goods – or simply commons – was instigated by Elinor Ostrom. Together with her
working group she studied countless commons and has confirmed: commons do not come into existence by themselves, they are made. Commons are the result of complex interactions of resources, communities and care taking; that is, of commoning.

In her lifework Ostrom defined universal rules – which she calls “design principles” – and demonstrated that compliance with these rules guarantees the sustainable use of common goods. In 2009 she was the first woman awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics.

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