"New varieties, like works of art, bear the signature of their authors."
Seeds – private or common good? Breeding as a public benefit
Seeds are an essential good. Without seeds, there would be no harvest. Farmers and gardeners need seeds to grow their products. In industrialised countries they are purchased; only rarely are they produced by farmers themselves.
Today, the financing of selection happens primarily by means of the breeder license fee included in the price of seeds. This is why commercial breeders focus on the most important crop plants, such as wheat and maize, as well as hybrid seeds, which enable them to achieve maximum profit, necessary because every planting season farmers and gardeners have to buy new seeds.
Selections are works of art
However, like air, seeds and their selection represent a common good. If access is not kept open, or is too expensive, or associated with additional expenses for fertiliser and insecticides, sooner or later acute social problems will arise. But the work of individual breeders has also to be recognised and protected because new varieties, like works of art, bear the signature of their authors and remain bound to them.
Selection, particularly the diversity of varieties necessary for organic farming, is a shared, common task, the responsibility of everyone involved in production. Funding is an especially important aspect because the foundation of each product is the varieties appropriate to its development. This means that selection is not only the only concern of farmers and gardeners, but also traders, processors, retailers and consumers.
Much education is still needed, however, to ensure that everyone involved in a product recognises the important role selection has in making it possible, and take collective responsibility for this, including its funding. Understanding for this is growing; the first initiatives for collective financing of selection work are emerging. Joined by a growing number of partners, initiatives concerned with biodynamic breeding play a leading role here. In the Section for Agriculture a research programme is underway looking into the social context of the work concerning seeds, so that they can become considered as a common good.
Ueli Hurter, Peter Kunz, Johannes Wirz, Section for Agriculture