Seeds are a central input for agriculture, which in turn is the basis of food. For millennia, generations and generations of farmers learned to improve seeds by breeding and selection. At the beginning of the last century, with advances in scientific knowledge, professional breeders appeared who interacted with farmers and each other. Companies began to get involved when it became possible to appropriate seeds, first through a technical innovation, hybridization, and then through an institution, intellectual property rights. The possibility to create genetically engineered gene sequences for seeds, which can be patented, has been associated in recent years with an enormous process of concentration. In the mid-1980s, the nine largest companies were responsible for 13% of the world seed market. In 2017, only six companies controlled more than 60% of that market, and the trend towards concentration advances.
The ability to patent genetic sequences, and in some countries entire seed varieties, allows seed companies to prevent germplasm from being used by other firms, the public sector and farmers as an input for breeding new seed varieties. This restricts the free circulation of knowledge that is essential for diverse forms of innovation. This contributes to market concentration; it undermines developing countries sovereignty over seed breeding, both in the public and private sector, and it reduces the diversity of seed varieties that are made available, as innovation increasingly focuses on varieties that work with the technological packages sold by multinational chemical firms, with fewer varieties bred and adapted for different types of agriculture and for different kinds of farmers.
In Argentina and other countries in the region patents, for now, can only be used in a few crops, for which genetic modification is permitted. However, this may change in the future as more crops are genetically modified, and as seed intellectual property law is modified. That is why we consider it necessary to find an alternative to protect the unhindered circulation of germplasm – the genetic material of seeds – from future restrictions. Bioleft was born with that intention.