Open Source Seed Systems

Two of the so-called progressive legislations in India in the form of PPVFR Act (Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act) and BDA (Biological Diversity Act), the former under TRIPS’ compliance obligations and the latter under CBD obligations for India. However, both these legislations are basically located within IPR frameworks, which primarily uphold breeders’ and researchers’ rights and treat farmers’ rights almost as residual rights.

While there are several efforts by farmers and civil society organisations around conserving and using existing diversity it is under severe threat from the onslaught of newer technologies like GM and also legal systems make seed a proprietary resource preventing further development.

In this context, it is essential to think of a newer frame of institutions, legal frameworks which protects farmers’ interests and at the same time ensure free and open access the germplasm for crop improvement and also use.

The new IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) regime will further worsen the situation as few people will get exclusive rights over seed and technology. In addition to existing technical restrictions on reuse of seed, legal restrictions will now apply.  Bt Cotton experience in India is a classical example.

Open Source Seed Systems for us are arrangements that facilitate and preserve freedom of access and use of plant genetic material, prohibit exclusive rights, and apply to any subsequent derivatives of those materials

Key Principles

  • Freedom of access: Any one committing to OSS agreement receives freedom of access and use for the material under Material Transfer Agreements (MTAs)
  • Equitable Benefit Sharing: all players in the supply agree to equitable benefit sharing to sustain the initiative
  • Freedom of use: Open source seeds would be available for farmers and breeders with freedom to use

Open Source Seed System brings all the players on to a platform, build trust among each other and coordinate the activities and act as a nodal agency.  This agency can also for bringing together breeders and farmers and for guiding farmers on aspects of conservation, data generation, participatory breeding, registration and licensing as Open source.   The network maintains a collection of germplasm consisting of folk varieties, farmers varieties, improved varieties which are being selected for better performance in organic growing conditions and have Value for Cultivation and Use (VCU) data catalogued.

How to implement Open Source Licencing?

  • The access to material is through a Standard Material and Knowledge Transfer Agreements (SMTAs) which are governed under contractual law and have open source clauses
  • The end user licence agreement is through a declaration on the seed wrap

Terms and conditions

  • Reuse is free (for Individual Farmers) implemented through seed wrap
    • Free to use and reuse any no. of times
  • Commercial Seed Production (Farmers and Farmers Cooperatives)
    • Benefit sharing of 1-2% (depending on volumes) on commercial sale of seeds
    • Have to use the same varietal name but can brand differently
  • Selections and Breeding newer varieties
    • Clear acknowledgement of the source of breeding material
    • Freedom for derivative use
    • Derivatives also to be declared ‘open source’ and can only be distributed under open source arrangement
    • Genetic Modification not allowed

How Open Source Seed System helps?


  • Helps to increase access to plant germplasm
  • Prevent or impede
    • Biopiracy by establishing prior art
    • Use of farmer derived genetic resources in proprietary breeding
    • Further development of GMOs
  • Develop a legal/institutional framework
    • that recognizes farmers collective sovereignty over seeds
    • That allows farmers to freely exchange, save, improve, and sell seeds
    • In which farmers cooperate with farmer breeders/ scientists/ institutions in the development of new plant varieties
    • For marketing of seed that is not patented or use-restricted


Know more about our work on Sustainable Seed Systems

Downloads from Open Source Seed Systems, India

Sustainable Seed Systems Concept Note

Open Source Seed Material Knowledge Transfer Agreements

Building Open Source Seed Systems

Best Practices in Biodiversity Conservation

Speciality Rice Varieties

Downloads from Open Source Seed Systems, Global Community

The Open Source Seed Initiative: Liberating Seeds From (All but One!) Use-Restrictions


Financing Organic Plant Breeding—New Economic Models for Seed as a Commons

Open Source Seed, a Revolution in Breeding or Yet Another Attack on the Breeder’s Exemption?

How do consumers perceive open-source seed licenses? Exploring a new credence attribute

Open source: an opportunity to strengthen farmers’ seed systems – nine propositions

Open Source Seeds and the Revitalization of Local Knowledge

Farmers’ Rights and Digital Sequence Information: Crisis or Opportunity to Reclaim Stewardship Over Agrobiodiversity?