For an open source breeding license

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A few international corporations have gained control over the global market for seeds. In the past few decades many small seed producers have disappeared, absorbed by larger companies. Farmers gradually outsourced their breeding to companies such as BASF, Bayer, Dow/Dupont or Syngenta... 

These "Big 4" companies control today 70% of crop biodiversity. This concentration process is still going on.

This situation is putting farmers and cultivators under tremendous pressure, by forcing them to procure new seeds on a recurrent basis, or pay royalties for propagating these proprietary seeds. 

The trend towards seeds monopolies threatens food security and medicine access and restrains the ability of agriculture to adapt to climate change. Seed companies breed crop varieties to be uniform. This reduces plant diversity and increases the dependence of our food and agriculture on a few multinational companies.

Seeds used to be a common good for thousands of years. All over the world, crops have been cultivated, enhanced and bred by farmers. This practice resulted in a rich diversity of crops and varieties that belonged to all and was used without any restrictions. Only in the last century did seed start to be privatized. This trend has produced the monopolies of today.

Instead of relying on a dwindling number of crop types, we need a wider range of crops in our fields. And instead of growing only a few varieties over a large area, we need lots of different varieties. Ecologically oriented agriculture means looking at which crops grow well where. Only if the varieties are suited to the local conditions they will produce good yields without lots of fertilizer, pesticides and irrigation water.

We need not only varieties that grow well in favourable locations, but also varieties that can tolerate sites with poor soils and challenging climatic conditions. This is essential to adapt to climate change and achieve food security.

Future crops will have to be both economically and environmentally sound. Widespread adoption is not always the most sensible goal. Many adapted varieties will be suited only to niche locations and may be important only in certain areas. But they still fulfil an important role: where they are grown they produce good yields, help maintain landscapes and ensure clean air and water. These ecosystem services are as important as ensuring food security.

Many independent breeders are needed to secure and foster a rich diversity of crop varieties. The private seed sector is unable to fulfil this function. With OpenSourceSeeds we aim to establish a non-private, commons based seed sector. We envision that this will become the second pillar of seed provision. Making seed a commons has huge potential and is necessary to conserve seed diversity.

WE NEED TO SECURE SEEDS AS COMMONS

Until now, it has not been possible to legally protect seeds as a commons. If breeders forego variety protection and grant unrestricted access to their varieties, they risk others converting the varieties into a private good. Commons could be created but not protected from private appropriation.

Let's use open-source licensing against patents and plant variety protection.
We need an open-source seed licence as a way to prevent patents and variety protection. This counters the approach of the private seeds industry that is based on intellectual property rights. An open-source licence would ensure that seeds can be used by everyone. This also would apply to enhancements to the seeds.

An open-source licence would stop the privatization of seeds from the pool of open and commonly owned plant genetic resources. 

We currently see no way to counter legally established intellectual property rights other than the legal protection of commons. In the long run, we hope that society will change its values, making intellectual property rights and the open-source licence redundant.

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