MASIPAG Seed Commons - Philippines

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= " MASIPAG is a large rice-farmer-breeder network from the Global South, which combines aspects of community seed banks, seed sharing networks and farmer-led breeding". [1]


Kliem, L., & Ficiciyan, A. et al. :

"MASIPAG (Farmer-Scientist Partnership for Development) is a Philippine network of farmers, scientists and non-governmental organizations that promotes small-scale organic farming with the aim of achieving farmer empowerment, leading to food security and seed sovereignty. The network collects and breeds varieties – primarily rice – in a farmer-led approach (Medina 2011). Since its founding in 1985, MASIPAG has worked with over 30.000 farmers in more than 60 Filipino provinces who have collected and bred over 2.000 rice varieties. Their aim is to preserve and develop varieties, which are specifically adopted to organic farming systems and regional environmental conditions, in order to support local food security and contribute to the long-term conservation of agrobiodiversity. To employ a necessary minimum of coordinating staff, MASIPAG is financially supported by European non-governmental organizations.

The network is characterized by a bottom-up approach of decentralized governance. Groups of 10–50 farmers – so called People’s Organizations (POs) – form the basic governance structure. Currently there are over 500 different POs. They are financially and organizationally independent but are encouraged to adopt democratic decision-making structures. Representatives of each PO organize in Provincial Consultative Bodies (PBCs) which coordinate provincial activities and trainings, monitor progress and serve as conflict resolution bodies. On the regional and national level, annual assemblies are the highest decision-making bodies and decide on strategic matters and programming. Regional management teams and a national executive committee coordinate the activities of the different governance levels. In addition, thematic committees (e.g. on sustainable agriculture or climate change resilience) on provincial and regional levels provide technical expertise. In all committees and decision-making bodies, farmers outnumber scientists and MASIPAG staff, to ensure a farmer-centered approach. The strong focus on farmers’ decision-making capacity is based on the belief that responsibility, transparency and self-organization are prerequisites for farmers’ independence and empowerment.

Knowledge exchange and farmer-training are at the core of MASIPAG’s activities. All POs undergo basic trainings in organic agriculture including soil fertility management, alternative pest management and diversified farming. They also learn about MASIPAG’s farmer-scientist approach, which teaches farmers responsibility for their own knowledge collection and knowledge production as part of farmer empowerment. Once a PO has been successfully established, farmers can request optional, more advanced trainings, for example on breeding, marketing and business planning or climate change resilience. Trainings are carried out by other MASIPAG farmers (farmer-trainers), who have been trained to pass on their knowledge and experience. In addition, MASIPAGs ‘Farmer Developed and Adapted Technologies’ program, aims at documenting and proliferating knowledge and innovations throughout the network. Upon establishment, all POs are supported to set up a trial farm on which they test which varieties are especially suited for their regional climatic and environmental conditions. This ensures the use of diverse varieties and equips farmers with the experience and knowledge of selecting locally adopted varieties. Beyond practical aspects of seed provision, trial farms serve to create farmer communities, as farmers have to jointly organize variety assessment and selection. Over time, these communities are reported to strengthen and support each other additionally, for example by providing workforce through a practice called ‘Bayanihan’ or simply collective work in the adoption of organic farming practices.

National and regional back-up farms continuously plant over 2000 rice varieties to ensure their long-term availability, including for future generations, and provide breeding material for new varieties. All varieties are planted and characterized at least every three years (in-situ conservation), to ensure their quality and vitality. The back-up farms also supply each newly developed trial-farm with a random selection of 50 different varieties. Established POs are supplied with additional varieties every couple of years or upon request, to support their process of diversification. At the same time, the PO’s trial farms continuously test these varieties for local suitability and climate change resilience and report to the back-up farms.

The network strictly rejects patents and any other form of private property rights on seeds. Seeds are considered sacred, and are exchanged and shared freely within the network. Seed exchanges are a central activity at meetings from local to national scales and are regarded as a defining cultural practice. Over three-quarters of MASIPAG farmers engage in seed exchange practices (c.f. Bachmann, Cruzada & Wright 2009). Seeds are also shared with non-MASIPAG farmers, once they have been informed about MASIPAG’s core values of sacred seed and organic agriculture, and regarding knowledge on seed saving. Commercialization of seeds is not tolerated, and there is no financial compensation for farmers engaging in breeding efforts. Breeding and seed production are thus not a source for farmers’ income generation. However, replacing costly hybrid or certified seeds with farmer-saved seeds and synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides with low- to no cost organic fertilizers and natural pest management, allows MASIPAG farmers to substantially reduce their input costs (c.f. Velasco 2019).

Breeding of new varieties used to be carried out by associated scientists at the national back-up farm under farmers’ participation, but is now entirely farmer-led. The network works with approximately 600 traditional varieties, 1300 MASIPAG varieties (bred at the back-up farm) and 500 farmer-bred varieties. Farmer-breeders exchange experiences and techniques at periodic regional and national breeder forums. All MASIPAG and farmer-led varieties are open-pollinated and bred through bulk selection method (Medina 2011). The network strictly rejects genetically modified and hybrid varieties, and engages in political activities to lobby against genetic modification of plants. Varieties bred by MASIPAG members belong to the network as a whole and are collectively managed, but breeders’ initials are included in the variety name to recognize breeders’ work. MASIPAG and farmer-led varieties are not officially registered with the Filipino National Seed Industry Council or the Filipino Community Seed Registry, out of fear of appropriation by organizations with commercial interest and in order to provide an alternative to the existing system. The network keeps control over its varieties, but freely shares them – under the premise that variety names are kept the same – with anyone supporting their basic principles related to organic agriculture, seed handling and farmers’ rights. While so far, MASIPAG has not faced enclosures, its de-facto protection of seeds does not provide a legal protection from enclosure through intellectual property rights, such as variety protection and patents."