When we buy cereal or bread, few pay attention to the fact that most grains are protected or even patented. Most farmers don’t own the seeds they sow on their fields. “They are renting them,” Kloppenburg, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-founder of OSSI says with disgust. The problem with that? “A few global companies have the monopolies on global seed trade, and they breed cash crops like corn and soy, purely for money. They don’t care about biodiversity, world hunger or about the small farmer.” What sounds like a business problem impacts everybody, Kloppenburg insists. “These few gene giants on top of the food chain decide what ends up on our plates.”
In 2012, Kloppenburg and half a dozen like-minded agriculture experts founded OSSI as an alternative to the monopolies. OSSI’s aim is the “free flow and exchange of genetic resources, of plant breeding and variety development,” Kloppenburg says. With global warming, disease and changing climatic patterns, “we need novel plant varieties that are capable of responding to the changes. Farm to table is popular, but we really need to talk about seed to table.”
The movement faces an uphill battle, particularly in the US where most farmers plant seeds that are patented by the big corporations. Still, about 50 seed breeders have already signed on with OSSI in the US to offer nearly 500 seed varieties. And other open source seed organizations are making their own way in Europe, Argentina, India and more.