Open Source Seeds Movement

Open Source Seeds Movement

News: Inspired by the success of open-source software, a Canadian plant breeder – T.E. Michaels suggested (in 1999) a similar approach to seeds.

 With declining public sector breeding and rising dominance of private sector in seed sector, the concept of Open-Source Seeds becomes increasingly relevant.

What are Plant Breeders rights?
 The growth of the commercial seed industry, scientific plant-breeding, and the advent of hybrid seeds led to the establishment of Plant Breeders' Rights (PBR) in many countries.
 Under the PBR regime, plant breeders and developers of new varieties have the exclusive right to demand royalties on seeds and legally enforce PBRs. This limited the rights of farmers to use and reuse seeds and restricted their ability to innovate.
 The establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1994 and the Trade-Related IPR Agreement (TRIPS) cast a global IPR regime over plant varieties.
 TRIPS required countries to provide at least one form of IP protection for plant varieties, which raised concerns about the freedom to innovate.
 The Green Revolution was spearheaded by public-sector breeding institutions and seeds were available as ‘open pollinated varieties’, or as reasonably priced hybrids with no restrictions on farmers to cultivate, reuse and share.
 But the genetic revolution in agriculture was led by the private sector, with seeds mostly made available as hybrids and/or protected by strong IPRs.

How is intellectual property (IP) protected in agriculture?
 There are now two forms of IPR protection in agriculture: PBRs and patents.
 Together, they restrict farmers’ rights and the freedom to develop new varieties using germplasm from IPprotected varieties.
 They have consolidated the seed sector by increasing the number of plant varieties covered by IP Rights (IPRs).

What are problems triggered by IP Protection?
 Domination of private sector in the seed sector.
 The high prices of genetically modified (GM) seeds.
 The State’s Intervention on Bt cotton Seeds in India.
 Therefore, the need for alternatives became keenly felt and this is when the success of open-source seeds was inspired.

What is the Open source seeds?
 It simply asks for a pledge, that an individual won’t “restrict others’ use of seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means.
 Open-Source Seeds Initiative in India: The Hyderabad-based Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), part of the Apna Beej Network, developed a model with the help of farmer-producer organisations (FPOs).
 Open source approach can be used in farmer-led seed conservation (of traditional varieties) and distribution systems.
 To promote farmer-led participatory plant-breeding exercises as traditional varieties often lack uniformity and quality.

Way Forward
 Under the Plant Variety Protection and Farmers’ Rights Act (PPVFRA) 2001, farmers can register varieties as ‘farmer varieties’ if they meet certain conditions, and have the right to reuse, replant and exchange seeds. However, they can’t breed and trade in varieties protected under the Act for commercial purposes. Using the open-source approach here will enable farmers to gain more rights over germplasm and seeds and facilitate innovation.
 Open-source principles can facilitate testing, improvisation and adoption – all of which will ultimately be beneficial to India’s food security and climate-disease resilience.

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