Kultursaat e.V. Seed Commons - Germany

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= " a biodynamic breeding initiative from the Global North that embraces decentral breeding for an organic agriculture and rejects the private enclosure of varieties". [1]


Kliem, L., & Ficiciyan, A. et al. :

"Kultursaat breeds vegetable, herb and flower varieties for commercial cultivation and hobby gardeners. It is an association of independent breeders, who self-govern their breeding efforts. A guiding principle of the initiative is the conviction that varieties are cultural heritage and common goods that should not be privatized but governed collectively and responsibly (Kultursaat e.V. 2018).

For Kultursaat, the value of cultural heritage encompasses the responsibility for contemporary crop plant biodiversity, farmers’ rights to use seed freely and have access to seed knowledge and intergenerational responsibility to maintain future societies’ needs for food. In relation to past generations of farmers and breeders, Kultursaat’s breeders honor the heritage of plant genetic diversity, which was historically developed by farmers and was openly accessible. Since variety development builds on the outcome of past farmers’ work, the breeders see it as their responsibility to preserve crop biodiversity through cultivation (in-situ) and to openly dispense novel varieties. This practice enables current farmers to continue developing crop plants, as they are free to save and breed seeds. Furthermore, Kultursaat’s breeders perceive it as the responsibility of the current generation to preserve current biodiversity, in order for future generations to have equal access to healthy varieties, especially in view of climate change. The preservation of biodiversity both entails diversity amongst plants, as well as within a plant’s genome. Kultursaat’s values have implications for the breeding process, the legal arrangements and the organizational structure of the initiative:

Kultursaat rejects private property rights on seeds and varieties. No legal variety protection is claimed for new varieties, i.e. the members of the initiative waive any royalties and make their varieties freely available. In Germany, it is obligatory to register any commercially grown variety. Kultursaat hence registers its varieties to its non-profit association rather than to individual breeders or third-party companies. This limits appropriation and ensures that varieties remain common property. So far, Kultursaat’s approach has been successful, as the initiative has not faced enclosures of their varieties. However, the increasing number and often unclear scope of patents, being granted on conventionally-bred varieties, presents a potential threat of enclosure.

According to Kultursaat’s guiding principles, breeding efforts should not be aimed at profits. The financing of their projects stems from donations, grants, research funding and breeding contributions from multipliers and organic retailers. As income sources such as licenses and replication fees do not apply and the breeding of regionally adapted varieties implies small sales markets, long-term financing of the breeding activities by Kultursaat is challenging. Specifically, cooperation models along the value chain (e.g., investing a certain percentage of retailers’ revenues from organic vegetable sales into Seed Commons initiatives) provide a promising approach, but require further investigation.

Kultursaat’s breeders deliberately use the traditional breeding techniques of selection and crossbreeding. These result in open pollinated varieties that are reproducible, and thus limit gardeners’ and farmers’ dependence on seed companies. To not restrict the further use of varieties and to recognize the plants’ intrinsic value, breeding methods that in any way limit the reproductive ability or phenotypical stability of the offspring and thus lead to biological variety protection (e.g. F1 hybrids) are rejected. In addition, organic breeding is a norm of the organization. Apart from aligning with their personal beliefs, organic breeding ensures the biological accessibility of seeds for farmers, as the resulting varieties are reproducible and stable. Rather than producing few high-yielding varieties for the global seed market, the members of Kultursaat aim to breed genetically diverse plants that are locally adapted (Kultursaat e.V. 2018).

Kultursaat is organized in a decentralized network structure and the initiative aims to keep flat hierarchies. The association is aware of the importance of a functioning community for their work, which is reinforced by promoting values of trust, transparency, appreciation and respect. Decisions on finances, organizational matters and breeding goals are taken collectively in annual meetings and working groups focused on specific crops. Breeders are often gardeners by profession and all breeding projects take place on-farm, with the aim of taking into consideration growers’ knowledge and needs.

The breeding process itself is made transparent to other breeders and consumers. Information on variety development – including methods, selection criteria and parent varieties – is recorded and partially made available to the public. The members of the initiative also share practical knowledge with new breeders through a two-year long course that is free of charge. This introduces newcomers to the techniques of organic breeding and enables direct access to the breeders’ network." (https://www.thecommonsjournal.org/article/10.5334/ijc.1043/)