This May, I will be speaking at the International Seed Federation (ISF) in Barcelona, Spain. I will be representing the World Farmers Organization (WFO) and North Dakota Farmers Union.

The WFO is an international organization of farmers for farmers. It aims to bring together all producer and farm cooperative organizations to develop policies that favor and support farmers’ causes in developed and developing countries around the world. 

The event I am speaking at is the annual ISF World Seed Congress. It is a flagship event that brings together the principal architects and decision makers of the global seed industry.  

ISF’s vision and mission include: “A world where the best quality seed is accessible to all, supporting sustainable agriculture and food security.” And “to create the best environment for the global movement of seed and promote plant breeding and innovation in seed.” 

ISF facilitates the free movement of seed within a framework of fair and science-based regulations, while serving the interests of farmers, growers, industry and consumers. ISF promotes the establishment and protection of intellectual property rights for seeds, plant varieties and associated technologies.

I plan to focus my remarks in four areas: 

• Continued maintenance of seed vaults for the world’s vast variety of edible plant seeds.

• Continued development of public varieties to eliminate monopolistic practices in seed development and ownership.

• Continued development of seed enhancement tools to provide seeds that will meet world needs.  

• Greater oversight of seed development to ensure new technology serves society. Public research must continue to give options to these new technologies.

NDFU policy states: “We support the United Nations’ International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA).” ITPGRFA, popularly known as the International Seed Treaty, is an agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of all plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of their use, in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity, for sustainable agriculture and food security.

Seed genetics have become a key technological tool in agriculture. Control of these new tools, and genetic access to historic and heirloom seeds, are essential for all of society. This is an area that must be kept in the public domain. 

Monopolistic practices could lead us down a path where a few control the primary source of our food. This currently is an issue facing developed countries, but even more so in developing nations that struggle with quality seed and even lack good germination levels, in many cases. Many developing countries may have the inability to purchase better seed and seed without great characteristics only limits their ability to produce crops successfully.

While we continue our fight on monopolies that are disrupting the farm sector, we cannot ignore the seed industry. They are already trying to write the rules and have taken great profit from exorbitant prices on the seeds we plant. It is essential we maintain a public domain of seeds and research.

— NDFU President Mark Watne