Substitution (seeds and plants)

Introduction

Redefining the traits of importance and breeding programs

Public and participatory plant breeding regimes

Further changes to existing legislation to support sustainable and conservation varieties

A Canadian network of community seed banks, co-ops  and libraries

Controlling who controls seeds and germplasm, Part II

Paying farmers to  grow heritage varieties

Introduction

The priority at this stage is development of an integrated seed system, with harmonious linkages between the formal and the informal systems, the public, the private and the community sector. for the purpose of securing seed that serves the needs of a sustainable food system.  This includes breeding for sustainable diets (see Goal 2, Demand - Supply Coordination, Substitution) which means that the traits in demand by many food processors, particularly those traits that facilitate formulation of hyperprocessed foods, would no longer be a priority.  To be avoided is a dual track system, one that reinforces the dominant industrial model, the other that caters to the alternative and small scale sector.

There must be increasingly free exchange of germplasm to faciltate the search for a broader array of traits of importance (Bocce and Chable, 2014).  Despite what AAFC reports to the FAO on compliance with the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, Canada is only partially fulfilling its obligations under Articles 5,6 and 9.  Developing an integrated system and establishing the policy and legislative supports for it, will bring Canada into actual compliance.

Redefining the traits of importance and breeding programs

Under the Seeds Act and Regulations, the minister creates recommending committees and the CFIA runs the variety registration office and provides guidance on variety registration.  Both have to impose a new approach to traits of importance and breeding programs consistent with sustainability.  The European Union’s Framework Programme 7 project, “Strategies for organic and low-input integrated breeding and management” (SOLIBAM) has set out the main trait concepts that must inform breeding work if we are to create sustainable plant breeding: resilience, robustness, functional biodiversity, yield stability, adaptability, intercropping capacity,  evolutionary processes, and organoleptic quality (Bocce and Chable, 2014).  The Minister would need to make sure that the Recommending Committees have members with expertise in these areas.  The CFIA would need to modify it's guidance document to require applicants to submit evidence that these trait characteristics were central to the new varieties, particularly in regards to the section on eligibility requirements for varietal registration and the conception of "merit".  These measures on the approval side, combined with enhancements to the training of plant breeders (see Efficiency), will create up and downstream pressures for change. Public research funds will have to be pivoted to these objectives. Check-offs funds from commodity groups devoted to breeding research will also have to be reconfigured.  Private breeding programs will still have to adjust their purposes in order to receive registration approval.

Public and participatory plant breeding regimes

The European participatory breeding project SOLIBAM, using participatory plant breeding approaches in multiple locations, "developed a range of agro-ecological innovations. These include new approaches to plant breeding and development that consider diversity and quality, performance and stability, co-breeding for intercropping or crop pollinator interactions. Researchers also investigated new food products with improved properties. In addition, they developed new tools for participatory plant breeding and management. These enabled farmers, researchers and other stakeholders to design new breeding methods and better select more flavoursome products .... ", ones that were consistent with local cuisine, culture and ecologies.  Many barefoot agronomy projects from across the globe have similarly demonstrated that different pathways for plant breeding are possible (Sciences Citoyennes. 2012).

The incentives to help create such participatory processes are set out under Goal 3, Public Research.  Enhancement and redirection of public breeding infrastructure must be part of this process, with the hiring of more breeders, but also reducing focus on laboratory and small plot work, with more collaborative on - farm efforts.

Further changes to existing legislation to support sustainable and conservation varieties

Legislation must additionally be altered from the Efficiency stage to better support the protection of conservation varieties, those landraces and varieties naturally adapted to  local and regional conditions and because of commercial inattention, now threatened by genetic erosion. European Commission Directives (e.g., Art 1(24) and 1(1a), Council Directive 98/95/EC, supra fn 148; Commission Directive 2008/62/EC of 20 June 2008) provided derogations for acceptance of such agricultural landraces and varieties and for marketing of seed and seed potatoes of those landraces and varieties. Similarly, Commission Directive 2009/145/EC of 26 November 2009 contained derogations for acceptance of vegetable landraces and varieties and for marketing of seed. In all these cases, registration was permitted without technical assessment (Bocci, 2009).

Jarvis et al. (2011) elaborated on these provisions.

"The special treatment consists, of 1) a certain degree of flexibility in the level of uniformity that is required, and 2) an exemption from official examination if the applicant can provide sufficient information about the variety through other means such as unofficial tests and knowledge gained from practical experiences."

The Seeds Act and Regulations need to add provisions for these kinds of heterogenous materials (amendments to c. 1400, s. 67(1)).

Additional changes are needed to the Seeds Act and regulations and the PBR Act to provide exemptions for agroecological and participatory plant breeding. Either a special schedule needs to be created for this category of material, or exemptions from registration that provide a derogation for PBR, and permit sale by variety name, and allow seed certification for seeds and clonal material that meets agroecological requirements.

The following information would be sufficient to assess and provide exemptions: ‘(a) the description of the conservation variety and its denomination; (b) the results of unofficial tests; (c) knowledge gained from practical experience during cultivation, reproduction and use ....; (d) other information, in particular from the plant genetic resource authorities or from organisations recognised for this purpose ...... In addition, for conservation varieties ,,,, ‘the region or regions in which the variety has historically grown and to which it is naturally adapted’ ..... Last, a number of marketing restrictions apply: conservation varieties may only be marketed if produced in their region of origin or approved additional regions; marketing is restricted to their region of origin or approved additional regions (Golay and Bessa, 2019).

A Canadian network of community seed banks, co-ops  and libraries

Canada does have over 100 organizations working on the construction of a resilient, agroecological seed system (Seed Change, 2018). Many of these organizations essentially operate on the margins of the market.  Building on the Efficiency stage funding of heritage seed organizations, a network of community - based organizations promoting seed diversity for use in the non-commercial sector has become an important resilience network for the seed system.  With core funding, more stable organizations can be created that fill geographic and plant material gaps across the country.  However, they also need to service their membership, something that can be done with dues but also training, and sales of plant materials and related services.  They may though then run afoul of existing regulations.

To expand the effectiveness of this network, changes need to be made to the Seeds Act and Regulations and PBR to exempt them from general seed marketing requirements. In the EU, under Council Directive 2008/90/EC, Article 10(1a),  EU Member States can exempt ‘small producers all of whose production and sales of propagating material and fruit plants is intended for final use by persons on the local market who are not professionally involved in plant production (local circulation)’ from general seed marketing requirements.  Denmark and Austria have placed this exemption in national legislation.  Canada must do similarly.

Controlling who controls seeds and germplasm, Part II

Given the very high levels of concentration in the seed sector (see Get Started, Problems, Corporate Concentration), reducing corporate concentration is a priority.  Given, however, the level of transnational corporate control of seeds, many forces are beyond the reach of Canadian legislation. The proposals in Goal 3, Reducing Corporate Concentration, Substitution, will have some positive impacts.

Paying farmers to  grow heritage varieties

In the EU,  agri-environmental payment schemes can include traditional crop varieties and endangered animal breeds, typically available to both conventional and organic farmers (Sanders et al., 2011).  As part of payments for ecological goods and services (see also Goal 5, Sustainable Foods), payments for in-situ conseration of heritage should be included.