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Open-source Seeds Movement

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  • Published
    7th Apr, 2023


As public sector breeding declined and the private sector began to dominate the seed sector, the need for alternatives became keenly felt to safeguard the plant varieties and indigenous seeds.


  • Farmers have innovated and shared seeds without any intellectual property rights (IPR) claims for centuries.
  • Farmers also haven’t sought exclusive rights over seeds and germplasm to prevent others from innovating on the seeds.
  • In 1999, a Canadian plant-breeder named E. Michaels suggested an approach to seeds based on the principles of open source software.
  • Seed movement is required to provide proper rights to the plant breeders.

How is IPR protected in agriculture?

  • Presently there are two forms of IPR protection in agriculture: Plant-breeders’ rights and patents.
  • They restrict farmers’ rights and the freedom to develop new varieties using germplasm from IP-protected varieties.
  • They have thus further consolidated the seed sector and increased the number of plant varieties covered by IPRs.

What are ‘open source seeds’?

  • In 2002, Boru Douthwaite proposed an open-source model for seeds and plant varieties.
  • The open seed Agrecol’s model of Europe is based on a contracts approach in which the user agrees inter alia to not patent seeds bought under the open-source licence (OSSI).
  • The OSSI simply asks for a pledge, that an individual won’t “restrict others’’ use of these seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means, and to include this pledge with any transfer of these seeds or their derivatives.

What are plant-breeders’ rights (PBRs)?

  • In some countries, the PBR regulations allow rights-holders to restrict the unauthorised use of seeds to develop new varieties.
  • In 1994, the establishment of the World Trade Organisation and then the Trade-Related IPR Agreement cast a global IPR regime over plant varieties.
  • TRIPS required countries to provide at least one form of IP protection while consolidation in the seeds sector 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.

Are there such initiatives in India?

  • In India, the Hyderabad-based Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), part of the Apna Beej Network, developed a model incorporated into an agreement between CSA and the recipient of the seed/germplasm.
  • CSA’s Open Source Seeds Initiative is trying to use this approach through three farmer producer organisations (FPOs).
  • This is similar to Agrecol’s strategy, using an agreement to ‘shrinkwrap’ a licence with contractual obligations.
  • 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.

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