Copyleft for crop and lifestock breeding?

  • Posted on: 2 September 2012
  • By: Georg Dürr


The privatisation in the seed industry is moving on unimpeded and the boundaries of meaningful privatisation and concentration have been crossed since long. Only ten international seed companies control more than 75 percent of the worldwide commercially trade seed, through patents or laws for varietal protection. The creation of private ownership rights in the hands of few demonstrates in a glaring manner, how the trend of the formation of monopolies negatively affects biological diversity and innovation in plant breeding. An increasing number of voices are being raised, also from breeders, that see in the overemphasis of intellectual property rights an impediment to innovation development. Breeders complain more and more about lack of access to basic materials for genetic improvements.

Encouraging counter-models focussing on the creation of common goods are still at an infant stage. This includes international sets of regulations such as the seed convention with farmers rights, the convention on biodiversity with the access and benefit sharing regime and the Interlaken Convention with the demand for Livestock Owners Rights.

At the same time, there are a number of initiatives, which endeavour to maintain or develop seed or animal races as common goods. This poses the question, how these alternative approaches can be designed conceptionally, legally secured and turned into a power base. This does not only refer to the creation of say varieties to be registers as common goods, but also to maintaining the character of commons for subsequent generations.

For about 10 year, under the term of „Bio-Linux“, the idea to take up the principle of open source developed for information technology, also in the area of genetic resources, to apply the principles for the development of seed, and to develop corresponding procedures. Thereby, important questions are:

  • how can the Copy-left principle be realised in plant breeding

  • which possibilities are there to sell seed (to be able to finance future breeding) and, at the same time, maintain its common source character

  • how could a Bio-Linux look like

During our AGRECOL-Weekend in October, we tackled these, and other questions.

The programme was

Fr. 17:00       Registration, Coffee/Tea

Fr. 17.30       Welcome, Introduction to the theme

Fr. 18:30       Supper

Fr. 20.00      

  • Silke Helfrich: Wealth throught Sharing – the actual status of the commons-movement (Presentation / Discussion 45/15’). A paper on this topic may be obtained from Böll-Foundation (

Sa. 9:00 – 10:30

  • Susanne Gura: The contribution of Farmers’ Rights towards maintaining common goods – case study  (Presentation / Discussion 30/15’)
  • Lorenz Bachmann: Free Access to Seed, the example of Masipag, Philippines
  • Evelyn Mathias: The Livestock Keepers Rights and the state of their implementation (Presentation / Discussion 30/15’)
  • Gebhard Rosmanith: Open Source – Breeding – how can it be financed? (Presentation / Discussion 30/15’)

Sa. 14:00 – 15:30

  • Walk around Dottenfelder Hof, visit of the seed breeding in the research section

Coffee and cake

Sa 16:30 – 18:30

  • Gregor Kaiser / Johannes Kotschi: Open-Source Models for seed – how could a „Biolinux“ function? (Präsentation / Diskussion 30/15


Sa 20:00

  • AGRECOL Information session and informal get together

So 9:00 – 10:30

  • group work

Tea/Coffee Break

So 10:30 – 12:00

  • Plenary Presentation und Discussion of results of group work

So 12:00  Closing, possibly joint lunch

The meeting took place at Dottenfelder Hof,, a well established Eco-farm. Lively discussions centred around the questions, whether one should aim at changing the legal frame for breeding, reviving the ideas of „common goods“, or to issue licences for „Open Source“ varieties. On fincancing, the concept of crowd funding, a mechanism of collecting funds through internet, was raised as an option. A  documentation of the findings, though only in German, is attached below:


Presentations, Discussions and Follow-Up of the meeting


For further discussions, please

Contact: Johannes Kotschi, E-mail: