(Adapted from Pham 2019)
The solutions proposed here are designed to enhance the role of farmers and participatory breeding processes, carried out within an agroecological context, as important features of a breeding system that supports public purposes. As the transition unfolds, the strategies re-balance the relationship between public and private actors that is not too skewed to private firms and associations.
Farmer’s Privilege must be changed from a “privilege” to a “right”
Farmer’s Privilege must be changed from a “privilege” to a “right” because rights cannot be changed or taken away. Canada claims to be entirely consistent with the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which includes an article (#9) on Farmer's Rights, but the Farmer Privilege approach of the PBR is not consistent with the article, except that the article provides each nation with an "out" by saying the Right is subject to national laws. So, Canada having decided that it will be a privilege and that farmers will likely have to pay royalties for farm - saved seed, is certainly violating the spirit of the Article.
In the PBR Act, section 5.3 (2) Farmer's Privilege, needs to be modified as follows.
Farmers’ [right]- (2) The rights referred to in paragraphs 5(1)(a) and (b)and — for the purposes of exercising those rights and the right to store — the right referred to in paragraph 5(1)(g)do not apply to harvested material of the plant variety that is grown by a farmer on the farmer’s holdings and used by the farmer on those holdings for the sole purpose of propagation of the plant variety.
No additional royalties for farm-saved seed
Recent seed sector consultations on this issue have been highly controversial, essentially pitting farmers against breeders and seed companies. Essentially the breeder position rests on the view that increased revenues will result in better varieties, but given that much of varietal development is not consistent with the themes of this site, this is not a justifiable position. No additional royalties should be charged.
Sustainable farmers allowed to sell seed among themselves
Varieties under variety registration are defined as uniform, distinct, and stable (Seeds Act c. 1400, s. 67(1)). Some older types of seeds do not meet the definition of a variety under the Act because of their variability. They do not express uniformly, particularly under different environmental conditions. This variability helps farmers adapt to the circumstances of their farm, but plants listed in Schedule III, Part I of the Seeds Regulations can not be sold as heritage varieties. Variety recommending committees do not typically include those with expertise in ecological production, so the focus is on a narrower range of traits. Performance trials are rarely conducted under ecological production conditions. Achieving pedigree seed standards is very difficult under ecological production (Bauta Family, 2014). Many heritage and landrace varieties also do not meet the definition of distihttps://foodpolicyforcanada.info.yorku.ca/citations/nctiveness because there are many regional versions of the same variety with different names. Their current low level of commercial interest means that, even if the cultivar had the possibility of being registered, no one would be willing to cover the expense.
Such farmer and conservation varieties would go on an alternative varietal registration list with a different set of conditions, under the name of the farmer, or perhaps in some cases under the certification agency. Something akin to this has been done in a number of countries, including France, Italy, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, Finland, and Switzerland. This could be part of a Quality Declared Seed (QDS) approach originally proposed by the FAO (Halewood and Lapeña, 2016). Under this approach, seed producers are responsible for quality control, and inspectors check a limited portion of seed lots (FAO, 2006).
Better public consultation and participant funding
The seed sector consultations also revealed how difficult it is for farmers and NGOs to participate in complex discussions about seed policy. Farmer and NGO participants reported difficulty accessing consultation documents, lack of time to digest their complexity and implications, feeling unprepared to participate in public discussions, too great distances to travel to consultation events, and a lack of communication and transparency with public officials. This left many with a feeling of disenchantment, particularly because they knew it was much easier for well-resourced conventional breeding organizations and private firms with significant resources to participate and have influence. These problems are generally consistent with provincial and federal government approaches to consultation (see Goal 7, New structures for participation). The solutions outlined there are pertinent to this Seed Sector problem.
In addition, the Seeds Act and Regulations and Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) Act do not include provisions requiring a participant funding program. Such provisions do or have existed in environmental assessment legislation (CEPA; IAA; CEAA 2012) and should be applied to seed regulation.
The PBR Act has provisions for 10 year reviews and annual reports on effectiveness to Parliament. The PBR Act also allows the minister to create advisory committees. Such provisions are absent in the SAR and should be added. This would help widen participation beyond those experts on recommending committees and expert lists (which the minister can establish) who have a more limited set of experienes within the seed system as discussed under Strengths and Weaknesses. In combination with participant funding, and ministerial commitment to participation in advisory committees by a wider policy network, this provides greater opportunities for broader participation in evaluations of the seed system. Alternately, such discussions can be linked to the creation of a National Food Policy Advisory Council (see Goal 7).
Protections and support for indigenous seed savers
The Three Sisters project with AAFC and indigenous seed savers is an example of government supports, but is insufficient on its own to provide long term protections.
With the federal government introduction of a bill to recognize UNDRIP (Dec. 2020), following a decade of varying levels of opposition to participating in the agreement, is created the possibility of closing many gaps in Canada's legal framework and greater protections for indigenous seed savers. Article 31 broadly recognizes the indigenous control of their seed. As Burrelli (2019) sets out, the meaning of "their" is not clearly specified but, in combination with other international documents, including the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Nagoya Protocol on access to genetic resources and benefit sharing, implies a significant level of control because under these provisions, states are obliged to ensure that consent of communities is obtained, and benefits shared, when seeds are acquired. The federal bill and subsequent regulations must codify this assurance, in particular to clarify that UPOV rights for breeders do not trump indigenous rights to control and share in benefits from their seeds. Related to this, Canada should become a signatory to the Nagoya Protocol and apply its provisions retroactively in order to assure access to benefits from aboriginal seeds in the national gene bank system.
Burrelli (2019) also notes that seeds may be covered, as with hunting, fishing, trapping and language, under provisions related to ancestral rights, but this has yet to be fully explored.
Support for heritage seed organizations
If governments are relying on such organizations to support in-situ conservation work, then they have to do a better job of supporting them financially. Right now, much support comes from private foundations, membership dues, and individual donations, a notoriously unreliable long term strategy, especially private foundations who typically allocate dollars on a limited term project basis. Leaders of such organizations have to spend much of their time fundraising and allocating scarce resources to keep initiatives alive. Governments should provide at least 30% of their annual core operating budgets on a 5-year rolling basis.
Agroecological training for breeders
There's an urgent need for university training in plant breeding to include agroecological education and participatory research. Agroecology remains on the margins of academic plant breeding programs in Canada. Some graduate programs include a course on sustainable agriculture, but this material is not integrated with the core aspects of breeding in the foundational courses. This weakness in agricultural training is not unique to the plant breeding programs and reflects ongoing and deep-seated paradigmatic disputes within the agricultural sciences about which scientific approaches bring the most explanation to the problems and solutions of the food system (see MacRae et al., 1989; and Goal 3 Public Research).
Part of the difficulty also rests with the main commodity organizations that have significant influence on breeding objectives and the financing of breeding projects. Their shallow understanding of sustainable production and diets is reflected in these programs. Canola provides an example of the problem. First importantly developed as a source of domestic oil post WWII primarily by the public sector (see Kneen, 1992), once breeding work shifted to the commodity organizations and the private seed sector, more specialized traits become the focus, including certain agronomic characteristics to facilitate large scale production and oil characteristics that aided food processors. In the early 2000s the canola industry had an importunity to significantly advance sustainable crop production (with urging from the federal government) but failed to take advantage of it. More recently the breeding focus has shifted to biodiesel, animal and fish feed and the human plant protein market, which means both significant pivots in breeding programs given the history and also more specialized food science applications, most of which are problematic given the shift to sustainable diets (see Goal 2, Demand Supply Coordination, Substitution). Private sector executives and breeders think of canola as 45% oil, 20% protein, and the rest of little value, in fact often problematic constituents. Current breeding technology would allow them to reduce these problem constituents and create a higher protein cultivar (Arnason, 2020).
All foundation courses should have a module on agroecological and sustainability considerations within plant breeding purposes and breeding methods. Creating a uniform approach would likely require involvement of the Association of Canadian Faculties of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, which claims to be advancing sustainability. Additional strategies to address these challenges are outlined in Goal 3 Public Research, Efficiency.
Some of the numerous problems with the dominant plant breeding model, including too narrow a set of traits and purposes, high expense and infrastructure to support the system, and low resilience in the face of ecological disruptions (see Strengths and Weaknesses), are addressed with participatory plant breeding.
Participatory plant breeding (PPB) refers to selection methods which were developed in response to meet the needs of low-input producers who were largely without suitable varieties for adverse conditions ..... This method of selection, which occurs on-site, resulting in ‘island effects’ with significant, but specific, local adaptations that improve crop stability, farm sustainability, and increase local marketing opportunities...... Participatory breeding strategies have been successful in developing improved varieties that are able to adapt to the low-input production environment, and are more locally accepted than modern varieties..... Initial participatory breeding programs have successfully led to the development of varieties of a global significance (Fess et al., 2011: 1761).
There are significant research institutional challenges to operationalizing this approach and this is addressed under Goal 3 Public research.
Restricting corporate concentration in the seed sector, Part I
The seed sector is highly concentrated (see Get started, Problems, Corporate Concentration). Changes to the Competition Act to reduce concentration are discussed under Goal 3, Reducing Corporate Concentration, Efficiency.