German Nonprofit Creates New Open-Source License for Seeds
We know about open-source software and hardware, but can the concept – decentralized development and open collaboration for the common good – be expanded to address other global challenges? The nonprofit OpenSourceSeeds based in the German town of Marburg has just launched a licensing process for open-source seeds, to create a new repository of genetic material that can be accessed by farmers around the world, in perpetuity.
We spoke with one of the leaders of this initiative, Dr. Johannes Kotschi, to learn more about exactly how the open source model was adapted for seeds, and why this initiative is so important in an era of increasing global concentration of power in the agriculture industry.
Can you tell me a bit about the open-source seeds movement in Germany as well as around the globe? How big is it, is it growing, and who are the members?
Open Source Seeds (OSS) is a newly created organization, and we had our launch on the 26th of April in Berlin. We launched with a tomato called Sunviva. A tomato is quite a good symbol – everybody likes tomatoes, and everyone can grow a tomato. From all over in Germany we got requests from gardeners, plant breeders, from open-source activists for our open source tomato.
We are an offspring of AGRECOL, [which] is about 30 years old and focuses on sustainable and organic agriculture – mainly in the developing world. Within AGRECOL we started working on open source seeds about five years ago – first as a small working group.
There is a similar initiative in the United States – the Open Source Seeds Initiative, based in Wisconsin – but they are not licensing, they are giving a pledge to varieties. We have different strategies, we, OSS, pursue the legal strategy, and they pursue the ethical strategy, but we are working closely together.