An initiative called Open Source Seeds has launched its first offensive against the world’s largest agricultural corporations and seed distributors. Open Source Seeds applies open source licenses to new cultivars in order to prevent agribusiness from patenting and privatizing these varieties in perpetuity.
Their newest example: the golden Sunviva tomato. Thanks to its license, anyone can plant, breed, and sell Sunviva plants and seeds. Yet, it also means no patents can ever be applied to it, and all new varieties bred from it can’t be patented either.
Open Source Seeds vs. Agribusiness
Open Source Seeds is trying to counteract developments in the agricultural industry forcing farmers into greater dependency.
It was once common practice that farmers grew their own seeds: they would retain part of their own harvest of the grains, fruits, and vegetables they’d planted in order to gather the next season’s seeds.
Today, farmers are often forced to buy seeds from agricultural corporations or seed distributors every year, because those companies retain certain legal rights with regard to distribution. Giants like Monsanto have patented certain varieties, retaining exclusive control over their cultivation or sale.
Today’s tomato hybrids have been bred to infertility, making it impossible for farmers to collect their own seeds and therefore dependent on large companies to provide them seeds annually. Further, these corporations are patenting ever greater numbers of varieties; mergers within the agribusiness world consolidate these effects even more.
Everyone Benefits Thanks to Open Source Licensing
The open source licensing structure, however, turns this process on its head, making such breeds a common good. Anyone can use or sell plants under such a license, ensuring that profit remains in the hands of the many rather than the few.
So far, only two varieties have been patented under Open Source Seeds’ open license: the aforementioned Sunviva tomato, as well as a summer wheat varietal known as Convento C. Anyone who would like to register their variety under an Open Source Seeds open license begins by filling out a simple form with details on the plant in question. The only requirement is that the variety is entirely new and free from existing patents.
by Nadja Ayoub