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It brings together critical examinations of contemporary biotechnology development and puts forward possible alternatives written by critical scholars. The contributions in this publication are for students and scholars in a wide range of disciplines such as social and political sciences, science and technology studies, and development studies. They have published extensively on social and political theory and biotechnology. If you have personal access to this content, log in with your username and password here:. New titles:. Related titles:. For institutional orders, please contact sales wageningenacademic.

Recommend this book to a librarian. Reconstructing biotechnologies. Critical social analyses. Description Full-text The main subject of this publication is the co-creation of society and biotechnology. High-yielding cultivars were developed using breeding techniques such as hybrid breeding, facilitated through cytoplasmic male sterility systems that prevent the use of farm-saved seed [ 5 ].

Uniform cropping systems with only a few crops and cultivars spread over large areas. At later stages, intellectual property rights such as plant variety protection and utility patents were implemented [ 6 , 7 ]. Increasing market consolidation led to a few transnational corporations dominating the global seed market [ 8 , 9 ]. Consequently, the number of breeding programs was greatly reduced, and decreasing competition between companies has restricted innovation [ 10 , 11 , 12 ].

There is also a significant loss of cultivars caused by consolidation, as companies reduce portfolio size after mergers.

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Economies of scale act in favor of large-scale propagation of single cultivars and against breeding for diverse pedoclimatic conditions. The access to plant genetic material is increasingly constrained for farmers, plant breeders in public institutions [ 13 ], small breeding companies, and public domain initiatives. Thus, after genetic bottlenecks significantly reduced diversity from early domesticates to modern cultivars, [ 14 ] the next bottleneck has been created by intellectual property rights and market consolidation.

The loss of agrobiodiversity is critical. Plant genetic diversity is essential for food security as a means of adaptation to variable weather conditions, as it enhances social and ecological resilience against extreme events [ 15 , 16 , 17 ]. Cultivars are needed that not only satisfy the needs of large-scale farming but also give smallholders—by far the majority of farmers in the world—a livelihood that allows them to contribute adequately to global food supply in quantity and quality [ 3 , 18 ]. The demand cannot be met by the private seed sector alone [ 11 ].

While public sector plant breeding has undergone a steady decline in Europe [ 19 ], new stakeholders have evolved. During the past 40 years, public domain initiatives, mainly in the context of organic agriculture, have been established [ 20 ].


In many countries of the Global South, participatory plant breeding with smallholders has been established successfully [ 21 , 22 , 23 ]. Also, in large international institutions of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research CGIAR , open access systems have been effectively applied for crop improvement [ 24 , 25 ].

First the Seed The Political Economy of Plant Biotechnology Sci

Most of the organic plant-breeding programs in Europe are organised by associations, foundations or informal networks and operate on a nonprofit basis. This allows users to privatize subsequent derivatives or reproductions of that plant germplasm. In other words, commons are created but not protected. Access to plant germplasm for the nonprivate seed sector is not sufficiently granted. As a new tool, the Open Source Seed Licence for plant germplasm new cultivars, breeding lines, and populations was developed by an interdisciplinary working group of the nongovernmental organization NGO Association for AgriCulture and Ecology Agrecol.

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The primary target area is Europe. We will describe and discuss i approaches to create open source plant germplasm, ii the Open Source Seed Licence and the steps needed for its implementation, iii the analysis of existing seed laws for potential conflicts with open source plant germplasm, and iv potential effects of the Open Source Seed Licence on breeding for diverse pedoclimatic and social environments and on access to plant germplasm. The aim was to allow developers and users of computers to investigate how software works and be able to modify and share their work freely with others.

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Several authors have suggested the analogy of plant breeding with software development [ 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 ]. The open source rules for plant germplasm imply that anybody may use plant germplasm for production, breeding, multiplication, and distribution. At the same time, any user is obliged to impose the same rights on future owners of the plant germplasm.

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  8. Any limitation beyond this is prohibited. Essentially, open source safeguards access to a common good and is therefore creating a protected commons preventing privatization [ 35 ]. During the past six years, approaches to create open source plant germplasm have evolved in the United States [ 36 ], in Germany [ 37 ], in India [ 38 ], and in East Africa [ 39 ]. The Open Source Seed Initiative OSSI was founded in the US by a group of academic and nonacademic plant breeders, farmers, nonprofit agencies, seed advocates, and policymakers as the first organization for the development of open source seeds [ 36 ].

    But the licence proved too cumbersome for practical use, and subsequently, the OSSI Pledge was developed as a social mechanism that requests an ethical commitment from seed users to comply with the open source rules [ 13 ]. It involves cooperation with partners in East Africa and India.

    An interdisciplinary working group of agricultural scientists, plant breeders, and lawyers compared ethical approaches using a pledge with legal approaches using a licence. A pledge seemed to meet acceptance by potential users more easily than a licence. On the other hand, it is less binding than a licence, as it might be withdrawn or disregarded.

    In addition, a licence meets favorable conditions for legal enforcement in the European Union EU : according to the Nagoya Protocol and unlike in the US, the mandatory documentation of germplasm that is used for new cultivars facilitates tracing licence infringements. This in turn inspired apiculturists from Apimondia, the World Beekeepers Association, to use an open source licence for honey bees [ 41 ], and the first animal genetic open source licence was developed.

    The OSS Licence grants users many freedoms and demands little: the licensee is obliged to grant the same rights he or she has enjoyed to future owners of the plant germplasm. With the first licensing, a chain of contracts is started, which, in principle, is endless. Licensees become licensors, who pass on the germplasm with the same licence. The licence is a material transfer agreement for seeds and vegetative parts of plants. It confers user rights together with the material object and its genetic information.

    When the material is transferred, a contract is established that ensures the rights and duties associated with the material in question as well as all future derivatives and reproductions of that plant germplasm. The OSSI pledge also intends to do this, but unlike a pledge, the licence can be used to legally protect newly developed cultivars, breeding lines, populations, and other germplasm.

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    Thus, the open source character of germplasm can be legally enforced. This is a novelty. To transfer germplasm under the OSS Licence, the licence conditions must, unambiguously, be disclosed. This means that any transfer is valid if the licensee is able to become aware of the terms and conditions of the licence. For traders, this means that an abridged version of the OSS Licence must be printed on the wrapping of small bags with reference to the online full-text version.

    For larger quantities, the licensors must ensure that a copy of the licence accompanies the material being transferred, and they must explicitly inform the recipient the licensee. Licence infringements can be examined through a combination of measures. The most important one is to analyze the breeding process that the new cultivar has undergone.

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    4. According to the Nagoya Protocol [ 43 ], a detailed documentation for each breeding process is mandatory. Additionally, phenotypic and genotypic data can be used.

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      Monitoring of licence infringements is considered the responsibility of all users to ensure that open source remains open source. OpenSourceSeeds aims to initiate a social process to this effect because licence infringements could have negative repercussions for everyone. OpenSourceSeeds, under the legal entity of Agrecol, licenses newly developed cultivars on behalf of breeders. It documents OSS licensed germplasm in a database and stores samples of plant germplasm. In addition, the development of value chains with OSS-licensed cultivars is supported.

      OpenSourceSeeds started with two cultivars, a vegetable and a field crop. The project is based on participation and the free exchange of tomato genotypes and related knowledge [ 46 ]. The project aims to improve plant-breeding methodology [ 47 ].


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      Culinaris, a seed company that exclusively sells seeds free of intellectual property rights, is in charge of legal issues and maintenance breeding. Meanwhile, seven cultivars of different crops including maize have been licensed. The laws on securing intellectual property rights on plant germplasm have been strongly developed, whereas plant germplasm as a commons receives almost no legal protection.