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Open-source seeds movement

GS Paper 3

 Syllabus: Agriculture and Issues of Food Security

 

Source: TH

 Context: Inspired by the success of open-source software, a Canadian plant breeder suggested (in 1999) a similar approach to seeds.

Background: The advent of hybrid seeds, the growth of the commercial seed industry, scientific plant breeding, etc., conferred plant breeders and developers of new varieties with the plant breeders’ rights (PBRs)/plant variety rights (PVRs).

 

How is intellectual property (IP) protected in agriculture?

  • There are now two forms of IPR protection in agriculture: PBRs and patents.
    • PBRs give the breeder exclusive control over the propagating material (including seed) and harvested material of a new variety of plants for a number of years, preventing the unauthorised use of seeds to develop new varieties.
  • Together, they restrict farmers’ rights and the freedom to develop new varieties using germplasm from IP-protected varieties.
  • They have consolidated the seed sector by increasing the number of plant varieties covered by IP Rights (IPRs).

 

Evolution of PBRs:

  • The Green Revolution was spearheaded by public-sector breeding institutions and seeds were available as reasonably priced hybrids with no restrictions on farmers to cultivate, reuse and share.
  • But the private sector led the genetic revolution in agriculture, with seeds mostly made available as hybrids/protected by strong IPRs.
  • The WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) requires member states to provide protection for plant varieties either by patents/by an effective standalone system.

 

Problems triggered by IP protection:

  • The private sector began to dominate the seed sector.
  • The high prices of genetically modified (GM) seeds.
  • The State’s Intervention on Bt cotton Seeds in India.

 

Alternative – Open-source seeds:

  • It simply asks for a pledge, that an individual won’t “restrict others’ use of seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means.
  • Open-Source Seeds Initiative in India: The Hyderabad-based Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), part of the Apna Beej Network, developed a model with the help of farmer-producer organisations (FPOs).

 

Potential application of the open-source approach:

  • To use it in farmer-led seed conservation (of traditional varieties) and distribution systems.
  • To promote farmer-led participatory plant-breeding exercises as traditional varieties often lack uniformity and quality.

 

Challenges faced by India: Extreme temperatures or rain triggered by climate change has caused a decline in the quality and size of seeds across India.

 

Way ahead for India:

  • 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.
    • Using the open-source approach here will enable farmers to gain more rights over germplasm and seeds and facilitate innovation.
  • Open-source principles can facilitate testing, improvisation and adoption – all of which will ultimately be beneficial to India’s food security and climate-disease resilience.

 

Best practice – PPP mode of seed development and sale: First time a seed (a new heatwave-resistant wheat variety – HD3385) developed by the government (IARI) is being sold by a private company, ensuring the variety reaches a large number of farmers.

 

Insta Links:

Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority (PPV&FR)

 

Prelims Links: (UPSC 2019)

Consider the following statements:

  1. According to the Indian Patents Act, a biological process to create a seed can be patented in India
  2. In India, there is no Intellectual Property Appellate Board
  3. Plant varieties are not eligible to be patented in India

 

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

  1. 1 and 3 only
  2. 2 and 3 only
  3. 3 only
  4. 1, 2 and 3

 

Ans: 3