Like commons generally, seed commons can take many forms, but the Seed Commons network is based on the Free Software principle of ‘sharing in perpetuity’ and the Open Source methods of keeping things open for access, modification and redistribution.
Each seed commons is unique, embedded bioregionally, culturally and legally in its own place. That is a resilient feature of the network: it is composed of a series of mutations of the Free Software idea adapted to seeds, each deriving its form of social organisation from a variety of inspirations – including from other social movements – and defining its boundaries using the model of the GPL and the lessons learned in other open source settings.
Embodying unique, yet common features and, largely, a shared set of values, seeds as an open source phenomenon has only just begun to reveal its potential. The prospect of a global pool of plant genetic material constantly evolving with local and global changes is exciting. As such, it is perhaps only a question of time – as happened with software – before bigger players join the game. It is therefore of particular interest to strengthen the voluntary associations that form the basis of this movement now, to create a resilient base of seed sharing networks and independent plant breeders, that can speak – if necessary and desired – with a unified voice in policy debates and, thus, further entrench seed sharing customs in the future.
Seed Commons in Operation
- Open Source Seed Initiative in the U.S.
The Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) was formally established in 2012 and has since grown to be a successful seed breeding, sharing, and selling organisation. As of July 2018, OSSI comprises more than 400 OSSI-Pledged varieties of 51 species, 38 plant breeders, and 61 seed company partners.
- OpenSourceSeeds in Germany
OpenSourceSeeds (OSS) is a service provided and managed by the German NGO Agrecol, Association for AgriCulture and Ecology. In April 2017 the cocktail tomato Sunviva was released under the OpenSourceSeeds license by the Organic Outdoor Tomato Project as part of launching the OSS license and website. A year later, seven varieties had been ‘open sourced’.
Initiatives toward Open Source Seed commons…
- Open Source Seed India
The project is coordinated by the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture with the aim to develop an alternative institutional and legal framework to protect farmers’ rights and access to seed. Open Source Seed India has done extensive background research and conceptualisation work, outlined in ‘Building Open Source Seed Systems’, which is a very useful/helpful document for budding seed commons elsewhere.
- Seed Savers Network Kenya
Seed Savers Network (SSN) is an organisation formally created in 2009 to frame, sustain and further the networking processes of 50,000+ farmers across Kenya. SSN facilitates a variety of programs, which include seed saving at farm level, organic agriculture, capacity building and advocacy for food sovereignty, in order to improve access to seeds and strengthen agro-biodiversity conservation.
- Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement (TOAM) is a registered NGO formed in 2005 as an umbrella organization that coordinates and promotes the development of organic farming. TOAM has 115 members, which include various types of institutions and organizations such as farmers associations and cooperatives, NGOs, organic operators, companies, distributors, researchers and trainers, – which works with: TABIO, formed in 2011, which is an alliance of civil society and private sector organizations concerned with biodiversity conservation, with an emphasis on agricultural biodiversity for livelihood security and food sovereignty.
- Open Source Seed Systems Initiative (OSSSI) / Uganda / Contact: Gloria Otieno
OSSSI comprises a group of people that are working towards improving access to seeds for smallholder farmers. Bioversity International in collaboration with the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) and HIVOS are providing access to a diversity of crops for climate change adaptation from both national gene banks and farmers’ collections. The initiative has established a community seed bank in Hoima for the conservation of farmers’ varieties and links with 13 other community seed banks – nine in Uganda and four in Kenya in sharing and conserving crop diversity.
- Bioleft / Argentina – creating a network of farmers, plant breeders and other stakeholders interested in seed sharing and collaborative breeding in Argentina and the rest of Latin America. The project is organized by Fundación Cenit / STEPS América Latina, part of a global research and intervention project coordinated by the ESRC STEPS (Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability) Centre – which is hosted by Institute of Development Studies and the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex.