On International Seeds Day, Farmer-led network Strengthens its Call against the Patenting of Life and Promotion of Farmers Rights

April 26, 2022

by MASIPAG National Office

Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) enjoins the Global Coalition of Open Source Seed Initiatives (GOSSI) in envisioning a world in which all seeds are free to be used, saved, shared, bred, and sold by anyone. Such freedoms will enhance the world´s cultivated diversity and the number and diversity of individuals, communities and organisations engaged in breeding new locally adapted varieties and seed saving. 

In 1985, the trend of corporate control of agriculture in the Philippines began through the International Rice Research Institute’s (IRRI) genetically modified (GM) rice seeds where it displaced more than 4000 traditional rice varieities. With the establishment of IRRI and the proliferation of its chemical-dependent and hybrid  rice seeds, it is clear that agriculture and food is being controlled by transnational corporations through genetic engineering of rice seeds and other crops. 

In many agricultural countries such as the Philippines, seeds goes beyond to its common function as sustenance as it is also vital in the realm of politics and sociality; making sure that the food security of the community is secured thru farmer-to-farmer seed exchange, influencing communal decisions with regards to land utilisation, trading of goods etc. and thus ingraining itself with countless social, cultural, and political narratives as human civilization progresses thru time.

Yet, about 80% of varieties of seeds grown globally a century ago have been lost forever either to patenting or through gene contamination from the introduced GM rice seeds by entities such as IRRI. Today, the Philippines is slated again for a new wave of extinction of the remaining local and traditional rice varieties with the entry of GM yellow rice, alternatively known as Golden Rice, among others, created by IRRI itself. 

By 2018, only four corporations controlled over 60% of global proprietary seed sales. Additionally, increasing legal restrictions are being implemented through various forms of intellectual property rights (IPRs). IPRs, such as patents and “breeders’ rights”, are being widely supplemented by contractual restrictions required by licences, “bag tags,” and material transfer agreements. Farmers worldwide are increasingly unable to legally save, share, or breed varieties for sustainable methods with their own seeds. In fact, now, there are farmers behind bars for sharing seeds. In fact, now, there are farmers behind bars for sharing seeds.

As a response to the interlocked challenges of concentrated corporate power and IPRs, a variety of initiatives around the world have found “open source” and “copyleft” approaches to be a potent compelling response to create more regenerative and fairer alternative seed systems, and protect agricultural biodiversity not only in distant seed banks, but in its growing environment where it can continue to adapt to changing climatic conditions.

Both MASIPAG and GOSSI share a set of core principles to which all open source seed projects adhere:

  • Anyone may freely use open source seed – that is, grow it, save it, propagate it, breed it, and sell it.
  • Recipients of open source seed may not privatise the seed or its progeny through IPRs or other use restrictions.
  • Recipients of open source seed must assign the same rights and obligations to subsequent recipients.
  • The breeder of open source seed shall be recognised through attribution of credit.
  • Benefits shall be shared all along the seed value chain.

“Open source” and “copyleft” approaches are open to those who will share and excludes those who will not share. It is important to clarify that while open source seed is free with respect to use, it is not necessarily free in price. Open source seed is best understood as “freed” seed, not “free” seed. Inspired by the open source software and digital commons movements, open source seed projects create pools of crop genetic material that cannot be appropriated and monopolised by private interests. These initiatives thereby strengthen the independence of farmer-breeders, public breeders, and independent breeders, enhance diversity in both the social and genetic foundations of plant breeding, and facilitate the development of effective responses to the challenges of climate change.

Both GOSSI and MASIPAG work to strengthen the role of farmer-based and participatory breeding and to provide support for open source seed systems that are unencumbered by the use restrictions usually applied in the conventional dominant, power and market concentrated commercial seed sector.

Trial Farm in Quezon Province
Trial Farm in Bukidnon

What can you do to support Open Source Seed?

As a consumer, you can ask your local fruit and vegetable retailers and market traders to stock local and traditional varieties, and inquire about the origin of the seed that your food comes from. As a farmer, you can ask your seed trader to stock restriction-free varieties and maybe even start experimenting with your own seed saving and breeding. As a breeder, you can join your national OSS initiative or if there is not one yet in your country, consider finding like-minded people to start your own. As a concerned citizen you can help spread the word for no-IPRs on seed and be an ambassador for OSS and the options for diversity and sharing that it offers. For more information, stories and inspiration on Open Source Seeds, visit www.seed-commons.net  

Related links

GOSSI website [www.seed-commons.net]

GOSSI supporting organisations and initiatives: