Since 2013, a working group made up of plant breeders, agricultural scientists and lawyers has been exploring possibilities of applying the open-source principle developed in the field of information technology to crop seed. It aims to show a way to legally protect seed as a common good. This would provide a mechanism based on common property rights that would countervail the increasing monopolisation of seed. The working group developed a licence that offers an alternative to the conventional protection of intellectual property rights. It prevents privatisation of seed and makes it possible that crop varieties can be used without variety protection or patents. The “open-source seed” (OSS) licence has now been published in a working paper in German and English that can be downloaded from the website of our Agrecol Association for AgriCulture & Ecology, an NGO Partner in GFAR:
In July 2016, Agrecol held an international workshop “How to sustain agricultural seeds as commons: an analysis of current strategies and initiatives” on a biodynamic farm on the outskirts of Überlingen in southern Germany. Participants involved in OSS initiatives in France, India, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United States and Venezuela presented their strategies and exchanged experiences. For us in Agrecol, an important result of the workshop was the participants’ support to our pursuing the path of licensing OSS initially in Europe. In the meantime, we have found the first plant breeders and seed growers who would like to distribute a newly released variety under the OSS licence. In 2017, a small group of us will work with them through the numerous steps into practical application in this first case of licensing seed as commons.
We are in the process of establishing a European service provider, which will deal with all issues related to the licensing, so that the breeders and growers are relieved of this task. We have registered and are setting up a website “Open-Source Seed”. The website will include a databank of licensed varieties and provide information about the licence and its applicability. It will also appeal for donations, through which the service provider can hopefully one day be able to finance itself. The new website will go online in 2017.
In addition, we are expanding and re-orienting the working group “Open-Source Seed”. Now that the small group has done some detailed preparatory work, it is time to spread the concept more widely. We can learn a lot about this from Jack Kloppenberg and his Open-Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) in the USA, which takes an ethics-based approach through open-source pledges (see http://osseeds.org) – similar to the “copyleft” licence being pursued by Agrecol.
The next phase in licensing open-source seed as common property promises to be exciting, and whoever is interested to join our initiative in whatever way is welcome at any time.
Photo Credit: Mohan Dharmotharan