Can you save that seed?

October 3, 2022

SeedChange releases a new guide for farmers to help them navigate Canada’s intellectual property rights restrictions on seeds

Those of us who love seeds know how much power and potential they contain. With a little sun, soil, water, and love and care from farmers, a single seed can produce dozens, hundreds, or even thousands more seeds, all with the potential to grow into nourishing food for our families and communities. 

But not all seeds are legally free to reproduce in the ways that nature intended. In Canada, and around the world, complex intellectual property rights (“IPR”) restrictions govern farmers’ use of seeds. 

While most plant varieties in circulation among gardeners in Canada are not restricted by IPR, a lack of clarity  about these restrictions – and to what they apply – makes it difficult for farmers to know their rights when it comes to saving, sharing, or selling seed. 

A new guide for farmers 

IPR over seeds were established to allow private crop developers to collect fees from farmers who use the new varieties they develop. However, the complexity of these rules and the potential confusion they bring have created new barriers to farmers’ rights to save seed.

That’s why The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, SeedChange’s oldest domestic program, has been working to help farmers navigate the legal framework underlying intellectual property restrictions in Canada by creating a first-of-its-kind guide for them: Can I save it? A guide for seed savers on plant intellectual property rights in Canada

What you’ll find in SeedChange’s Guide for Farmers

Our new guide for farmers explores patents, plant breeders’ rights, and seed contracts to help them better understand the rules to which the crops they work might be subject. 

The guide also explores alternatives to proprietary seed systems, such as the public domain and the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI). Farmers and gardeners who use OSSI-pledged seeds are free to save, share, and even breed their own varieties, as long as they promise to keep their seed free from IPR restrictions.

By educating farmers and gardeners about how IPRs are applied to seeds in Canada, we are helping empower them to choose the right seeds for them, and support the seed systems they believe in. Alongside this education, a growing movement for resilient seed systems will help create space for ethical alternatives to IPR restrictions.

You can read the guide and find out more about The Bauta Initiative’s work with farmers in Canada by checking out their website

When farmers breed a new variety and want to ensure it will remain available to other farmers to use, save and sell, they can pledge the variety to the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI). Many local seed producers in Canada grow and sell OSSI pledged varieties. Among them, SeedChange Board Member Kim Delaney, who owns and operates Hawthorn Seeds in Palmerson, Ontario, sells the Outredgeous variety of romaine lettuce, originally bred and pledged to the OSSI by veteran seed farmer Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seeds.

You can help keep seeds in farmers’ hands – to save, share, and sell 

At SeedChange, we work with farmers and partners to build a seed system in Canada that supports food sovereignty, and supplies farmers with the kind of regionally-adapted seeds they need to be as resilient to climate change as possible. 

If this work is important to you, please consider donating to SeedChange. Thanks for your support!

Also, if you grow food, don’t forget to support seed growers in Canada that are working to keep seeds accessible to all! You can find seeds for just about any crop you might be looking for through the Ecological Seed Finder, a project of Seeds of Diversity and SeedChange.