Redesign (seeds and plants)

Creating Seed Commons

At this stage of transition, seeds, propagating material (and essential  traits) are increasingly public goods, with private sector needs subservient to the public interest.  As with other foundational resources for the food system, seeds must be a common pool resource. Bollier (2014) describes it thus: “a commons arises whenever a given community decides to manage a resource collectively, with an accent on fair access, use, and long-term sustainability”.  In this view, seeds are resource, knowledge and cultural commons, not to be owned and their use controlled by individuals.  Managing seed as a commons, according to Sievers-Glotzbach et al. (2020) means:

"(1) collective responsibility; (2) protection from private enclosure; (3) collective, polycentric management of seeds and/or varieties; and (4) sharing of knowledge and practical skills relating to breeding, seed management as well as cultivation and use." (quoted in Rattunde et al., 2020).

Such approaches are still practiced in many parts of the world, resisting the industrial seed model (see for example Tin et al., 2011; Access to Seed Foundation, 2018;  Sievers-Globzbach et al., 2020; Rattunde et al., 2020) but in Canada, seeds have been largely enclosed for many decades and the policy and regulatory environment has reinforced this process. At the redesign stage, these enclosures continue to be removed. Although policy development for Seed Commons is relatively nascent (strategies at the Efficiency and Substitution stages can contribute), including  in Canada:

"Specific policy elements supportive of Seed Commons include: Recognition of collective responsibility for seed and variety development, possibly including options for funding such activities for ‘the greater public good'; Legal pathways for the protection of varieties from private enclosure and seed laws supporting the exchange of material among and between Seed Commons; Support for polycentric, collective management structures, such as locally based breeding initiatives with linkages between actors operating in different areas or at different levels, and; Support for effective knowledge-sharing activities in Seed Commons that cross boundaries between ‘science’ and ‘practice’. (Sievers-Glotzbach and Christinck, 2021).

At this stage, Canada is fully implementing the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.  As discussed under Substitution, Canada's regulatory regime is not consistent with the spirit of the treaty.  Canada should also sign and implement domestically the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants (UNDROP), in part to meet its international aid objectives (see Goal 10), in part because Article 19 sets out the conditions for treating seeds as a common pool resource.  Although the language of the treaty focuses on peasants (sometimes referred to as people of the land), the article requires that States recognize the rights of farmers to rely on their own seeds and on seeds available locally, including commercial seeds (Article 19(5)).  Seed availability and access is guaranteed, even in the face of  property rights of  industrial seed companies.  According to article 19(8) of the UNDROP: "States shall ensure that seed policies, plant variety protection and other intellectual property laws, certification schemes and seed marketing laws respect and take into account the rights, needs and realities of peasants and other people working in rural areas."

Full compliance with these treaties means that Canada must abrogate the Plant Breeders Rights Act.