Open Sourcing Our Food System: Planting Seeds For The Future

Jim Berets and Megan DeGruttola | Open Source Delivers | September 17, 2013

Food. It’s a basic human need.  But as the world population has moved farther and farther from our agrarian roots, the food industry has shifted away from independent farmers and toward an industrial agricultural system.  Increasingly, large agricultural companies are turning to monocultures and genetic engineering for efficiency of production and competitive advantage.  Big numbers are involved. U.S. agriculture generated a gross output of over $374 billion in 2011 and employed more than 750 thousand people.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously backed Monsanto’s patents on its genetically engineered soybeans. The ruling held that any farmer who purchases “Roundup Ready” soybeans is required to follow the company’s licensing agreement limiting the planting of its seeds to a single season.  Wired’s David Kravets noted, “Regardless of how unnatural the conditions may seem, the licensing agreement with farmers also forbids the seeds to be resold for commercial planting, and they cannot be used for research, crop breeding or seed production.”

Increasingly, the agricultural community is examining the idea that a better, more sustainable system should be based around open source principles of collaboration and transparency. Just as open source has sparked a new wave of rapid innovation within software, hardware and manufacturing, open and collaborative approaches to agriculture have the potential to improve our global food system.