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.

Monsanto spells failure – peasants want it gone

Many of the studies Monsanto uses to justify its claims did not look at hybridised and indigenous seed (non-GM).

In Argentina

Monsanto has now announced that it will dismantle its multi-million dollar GMO seed plant in Malvinas.
A spokesman for the company conceded that protests, local pressure, and resistance by environmentalists, anti-GMO activists and local residents was indeed part of the reason the company decided to dismantle the plant. In addition, a number of lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto over the legality of the construction permit as well as environmental impacts.

It’s been almost three years that Monsanto has not been able to put a brick or a wire at the construction site… The company is leaving the field but does not yet recognize its defeat in this battle. We remain on alert and continue blocking, waiting to see what will happen. We want the site to now be devoted to organic and sustainable agriculture.” – Sofia Gatica, one of the main activists and leaders of the protest blockade.

In India

The Indian government is now actively promoting the use of indigenous seed, and has called Monsanto out for profiteering illegally on Bt cotton seed.

Monsanto has already lost nearly $75 million in royalties this year (5 billion rupees) due to the change in seed choice by farmers. Sales in India have fallen by 15 percent, and though this is a relatively small market share, it is still making a huge impact on the company’s bottom line.

This could be the end of Monsanto altogether, in India. Just wait for the crucial three to four years to see a complete, natural turnaround. By then most farmers will give up Bt cotton and go for the indigenous variety.” – Keshav Raj Kranthi, head of India’s Central Institute for Cotton Research

In Africa

Drought-hit Burkina Fasso (West Africa) also recently rejected Monsanto’s Bt cotton seed after finding the seed produced a poor quality cotton that fetched low prices for the farmers who bothered to grow it.

In Russia

In 2015 Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, at the 12th International ‘Science and Technology in Society (STS) forum’ in Kyoto, stated that it is not necessary to use genetic modification to feed the world. The Russian Government has stood firm against increasing pressure from U.S. biotech companies, managing to see through the U.S-based pro-GMO forces’ misleading claims and pseudoscience.

In February (2016) they banned all imports of U.S. soybeans and corn due to microbial and GMO contamination. Russian authorities are now stepping up efforts to limit the import of GMO animal feed, the country’s food safety regulator Rosselkhoznadzor announced in August. The move comes following a complete ban on the cultivation of GM crops and the breeding of GMO animals that was signed in to law by President Vladimir Putin in June.

In July Russia introduced temporary bans on imports from a number of Brazilian, Chinese, Argentinian and German trading companies, due to the large percentage of GMOs in their animal feed products.


References

  1. Monsanto Backs Out of Seed Plant in Argentina After Protests: Activist Post
  2. Argentina Has A “City Of Death” Thanks To Monsanto: Natural Blaze
  3. India Calls Out Monsanto: Underground Reporter
  4. Russia Sets Limits to Animal-feed Imports: Sustainable Pulse