Closed-Source Crops

Good article in the latest issue of Conservation on Closed-Source Crops. This is the nightmare world that Richard Jefferson is trying to avoid.  A dystopian vision of this future is depicted in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, where a few “calorie companies” have locked up the world’s genetic resources with disastrous consequences.

That world is at our door-step. In the year 1900, 7,100 types of apple trees were grown in the U.S.  Now 6,100 of them are extinct. In 1949, Chinese farmers grew 10,000 wheat varieties. By the 1970s about 1,000 varieties remained in cultivation. A decade ago, seed companies were largely independent. Now more than 200 of them are owned by a handful of pharmaceutical/chemical companies (an excellent visualization of this can be found here – slow it down by hitting stop/play, so you can really see the dynamics of global consolidation).

Can Jefferson’s  PatentLens initiative, and David Bollier’s advocacy for the commons, and Beth Noveck’s open government projects help us steer away from this future at this late date? Hope so.

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