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Open-Source seeds to help poor farmers
By Jerry Brownstein
A new initiative will help farmers overcome the intellectual property laws that deprive them of quality seeds. Many farmers cannot afford the high prices charged for quality seeds by the giant multinational companies that control them. They end up using poor seeds that produce low yields and bad crops, and this contributes greatly to global poverty. The US-based Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI), is one of several organisations that believe genetic resources – in the form of seeds – should be a common resource that anyone can use as they see fit. Recently they have released free seeds for 36 varieties of 14 important food crops.
OSSI wants to “restore the practice of sharing planting materials freely between breeders, which was a wonderful way to work until about 20 years ago”. Today, the large agricultural business companies have convinced governments to enact complex laws involving patents and other forms of intellectual property protection that gives them control over seeds. This means that farmers are actually prohibited from harvesting their own seeds to use them the following season. Thus they are forced to buy new seeds each year from these big companies. According to professor Irwin Goldman who coordinates OSSI, “a handful of big agribusiness companies including Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow and BASF control over 66% of the market for commercial seeds”.
The immediate aim of OSSI is to change the international rules that limit the exchange of seeds for crops such as carrot, kale, lettuce, broccoli and quinoa. Goldman concludes that: “Open source means sharing, and shared seed can be the foundation of a more sustainable and more just food system. This movement has an impact on poor farmers in the developing world that could dramatically change their situation and livelihoods.”