Open seeds

We’ve blogged a couple of times about the Open Source Seed Initiative. The first time was when Jeremy interviewed Jack Kloppenburg, whose idea it was, back in 2013. The second yielded this little gem:

“It’s almost like a haiku,” says Irwin Goldman a professor of horticulture at UW-Madison and plant breeder, who has released two of his carrot varieties under the OSSI. “It basically says these seeds are free to use in any way you want. They can’t be legally protected. Enjoy them.”

Well, it turns out there’s a German version as well, as well as a project in east Africa. That’s according to a new policy brief from CIRAD.

It’s not quite a haiku, but here’s how the approach is described by Selim Louafi and his co-authors:

This approach is distinct from the public domain, whereby anyone has free and open access to the seeds, with the inevitable risk of free appropriation. Conversely, the open source approach is based on viral effects (i.e. the same conditions apply for any subsequent use) and non-proprietary assets: it reverses the intellectual property rights rationale by introducing negotiated terms of access and use with the aim of keeping seeds in a protected commons.

Long may it prosper.

Featured: Seed innovation

Susan Bragdon is not so sure about that OECD study about innovation in a consolidating seed sector:

Even if we were to miraculously all agree that these big guys are innovative that does not mean they are behaving in ways that promote or at least do not hurt the public welfare. Corporate concentration allows an exertion of power vertically up and down supply chains and not just in this sector. And unfortunately, powerful, concentrated corporate power increasingly set the rules of the game affecting any kind of true democratic accountability. And it is not just agriculture


And extra points for spotting the link to the post on extension :)

What to do about extension services

Traditional extension does not always provide the most useful information to farmers

You don’t say. Anyway, that’s the first finding of a review of “nearly 50 randomised evaluations on the constraints to the productivity and profitability of smallholder farming” carried out over the past eight years by the Agricultural Technology Adoption Initiative (ATAI) with support from the Gates Foundation. Here’s the second:

At the same time, training and information services can be critical in contexts where novel technologies are being promoted

So what can be done about it? Here’s the short version:

  • tailor information to individual farmers
  • use tools that make information easier to understand
  • leverage social networks
  • offer extensionists performance-based incentives
  • move beyond price information

If you want to hear it from the horse’s mouth, try this:

Is the game worth the candle? Well…

…we…acknowledge that the productive potential of better information dissemination is fundamentally limited by the value of the content being disseminated, and many of these positive results are associated with relatively small improvements in farmer welfare.

So maybe not. What strikes me, though, is that the underlying paradigm is still one-way flow, i.e. FROM extentionists TO farmers. In the context of management of agricultural biodiversity, I’d actually like to see more information going the other way.

Seed sector consolidation and innovation deconstructed

Long story short, I don’t think there is sufficient evidence so far to support the claim that increasing concentration in seed markets reduces innovation. I’m not saying it is impossible; just that the evidence so far does not show it…

Well, that’s a turn up for the books. Koen Deconinck’s OECD study explaining why the recent Civil Eats story making that claim may be wrong is just out, but that quote comes from a Twitter thread which starts with this

and that you can see conveniently unspooled here.

PAGXXVII in the air

The self-styled “Largest Ag-Genomics Meeting in the World” is on again. It’s not really my thing, but I don’t mind following the proceedings at a distance: the hashtag is #PAGXXVII. I particularly recommend Zoë Migicovsky’s live-tweeting, but there are others who are doing a fine job too.