Open-Source Agriculture: The Sprouting Of A New Food Movement?

Jessica Leber | Fast Company | June 10, 2014

The Open Source Seed Initiative is trying to preserve some of the world's seeds from patents and licenses.

Walk through the produce aisle today and you can find labels for organic, fair trade, and local items. For shoppers who oppose the practices of seed agri-giants like Monsanto, one day there may be a new option to consider: open-source.

Inspired by the open-source software movement, the Open Source Seed Initiative has quietly spent the last two years developing a cache of seeds that they released to the world at a launch event at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in May. With names like “Sovereign” (a carrot variety) and “Midnight Lightning” (a zucchini), they packaged together 37 varieties of 14 crops attached to a pledge: Open-source seeds must stay freely available for use by all--no intellectual property rights can be claimed to the seeds or derivatives bred from them.

Today only three companies, Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta, account for half of all seed sales. For crops like corn and soy, there’s almost no genetic material left that’s not already owned and patented. With hundreds of new patents filed every month, an emerging movement of scientists, breeders, and farmers is realizing that there is only a limited-time opportunity to save seeds for the public domain...