Background Information on Seeds and Varieties

Background Information on Seeds and Varieties

Composite Cross Populations (CCPs)

in the German Organic Wheat Sector | 31.01.2020

Changing climatic conditions and the increased occurrence of unforeseeable extreme weather events have an impact on yields, grain quality and the spread of diseases and pests in the cultivation of common wheat. In recent years, a reduced yield stability, a lack of further yield increases and a rapid disappearance of disease resistance has been observed for common wheat varieties for organic farming (AbL NRW, 2010). One strategy for increasing resilience towards changes in environmental conditions is the diversification of cropping systems – both in terms of the crops grown on a farm and in terms of genetic diversity within a crop species (Petersen-Schlapkohl & Weigel, 2015).

One of the possible approaches in this area are so-called composite cross populations (CCPs). What exactly are CCPs and where are their strengths and weaknesses? What drives and hinders an increased use of these “varieties” in practice? And: What is the opinion of practitioners (organic farmers) on these questions?

Three of our students investigated these questions during the last summer. They worked out the current state of research and legislation on this topic and interviewed organic wheat farmers in Northern Germany.

What are CCPs?

Organic agriculture in Germany mainly uses line varieties for common wheat cultivation. This is due to the fact, that up to now, breeding activities for self-pollinating plant species have mainly been focussing on pure line varieties. In the breeding process, two parent varieties (line varieties each) are crossed, propagated and then specifically selected (see Fig. 1). The offspring of these crosses remain genetically identical. This very narrow genetic basis leads to a high homogeneity among the individuals within a line variety. Thus, all individuals have the same optimal cultivation characteristics and the same susceptibility to diseases (Messmer et al., 2012).

In contrast, CCPs serve to achieve a higher genetic diversity within a variety of common wheat (Finckh, 2008; Finckh, 2017). Compared to line varieties, the individuals in a CCP are no longer homo-, but heterogeneous – also in their phenotype. CCPs should thus be more resilient in weather extremes such as drought or heat, as well as to infestation with pathogens and pests, and also counteract the loss of genetic diversity in current common wheat varieties (line varieties) (BLE, n.y.; Beckhoff, 2019a).

Breeding Methods

In the breeding process (see Fig. 2), a large number of high-performance varieties is selected according to the desired characteristics in the first step and then crossed with each other as parents. Since wheat is a self-pollinator, this must be done by hand (Döring et al., 2011). The resulting seeds are then cultivated at one location and propagated there by perennial reproduction. The individuals that are genetically best adapted to the current environment should develop more strongly. Selection according to certain traits is thus not actively carried out by the breeder, but by natural means. This should ensure that CCPs actively adapt to the respective site conditions through natural selection (Messmer et al., 2012; Burwitz, 2019; Spieß, 2017). A further development of this initial idea of CCPs is the involvement of farmers in the selection process. This not only allows CCPs to be adapted to individual needs, but also gives farmers the opportunity to actively participate in the breeding process (Vollenweider & Spieß, 2016; Döring et al., 2011).

Challenges and opportunities of CCPs

As mentioned above, CCPs provide the opportunity to ensure yield stability in times of more volatile environmental conditions (Döring et al., 2011; BLE, n.d.; Beckhoff, 2019a), which in turn can contribute to risk reduction for farms. They are said to have greater flexibility and good local adaptability (Döring et al., 2011; BLE, n.d.; Kim, 2016; Dottenfelderhof, 2017; Brumlop & Finckh, 2014). They are also discussed as a possibility to preserve genetic diversity in agriculture in a cost-effective way (Döring et al., 2011; BLE; n.d.; Beckhoff, 2019b).

However, the characteristics of a Cross Composite Population also depend strongly on the choice of parental lines used to assemble the respective CCP variety (Brumlop et al. 2017; Beckhoff, 2019b). It is also doubted that CCPs alone can be sufficient to ensure the breeding progress (Döring et al., 2011; BLE, n.d.; Brumlop et al., 2017). Furthermore, there are no clear research results on the equivalence or even superiority of CCPs compared to line varieties in terms of yield volume, disease resistance or quality. Besides, there are concerns about seed-borne diseases, as CCPs can only show their advantages (e.g. local adaption) by means of perennial reproduction, which increases the risk of e.g. bunt infections (Döring et al.2011; Beckhoff, 2018). Moreover, there are still open questions relating the distinctness and quality assessment of CCP varieties (Döring et al., 2011) and concerns regarding the acceptance along the value chain (Weedon, 2018; Beckhoff, 2018). The current legal situation pertaining to the registration of CCP varieties has been a challenge for breeders of CCP varieties in the past as well (BLE, n.d.).

Current legal framework and state of research

Since CCPs cannot meet the Distinctness, Uniformity and Stability (DUS) criteria required for the marketing of seed, the legal marketing of these seeds was not possible for a long time (BLE, n.y.). The EU-Regulation on the promotion of biodiversity (2014/150/EU) finally allowed the release of such varieties for a limited period of time (until the end of 2018). This trial is intended to simplify the testing of ‘populations’ and to contribute to the creation of a suitable legal framework or the development of suitable identification and evaluation criteria for appropriate seeds (BÖLW, 2018; European Commission, 20.03.2014). In 2018, the experiment was extended by the Commission for another two years (until February 2021) (European Commission, 12.10.2018).

In addition, heterogeneous material has been defined in the new EU Organic Regulation and its use in organic farming has been regulated (Messmer, 2018; European Parliament & European Council, 30.05.2018). The regulation, which enters into force in 2021, also recognises that a variety suitable for organic production “is characterised by a high degree of genetic and phenotypic diversity of the individual propagation units” (Messmer, 2018, p. 8; European Parliament & European Council, 30.05.2018).

CCPs have already been studied for several years, mainly in Europe but also in the USA (Döring et al. 2011), within the framework of various research projects. Most aimed at describing and analysing CCP properties and behaviour over time, or to further develop the varieties and create markets. However, there are only a few projects that have investigated the acceptance and implementation measures in practical cultivation and sales to processors. One project from this area is the INSUSFAR project. Burwitz et al. (2019) conducted interviews in order to learn more about “breeders’, farmers’ and millers’ perceptions of CCP”. In her research, Burwitz (2019) examines factors that influence the integration of CCPs in the value chain of bread, as well as strategies for the acceptance of CCPs involving breeders, farmers (with CCP cultivation experience) and processors.

In order to build on the findings of this work on the attitudes of farmers, three practitioners from Northern Germany, without previous CCP experience, were interviewed for the project conducted by our students from Oldenburg. The farm structure of the interviewed farmers is very diverse and ranges from pure crop farms without livestock (with a large share of wheat in the total production volume) to farms that do both, arable farming and livestock farming. Thus, the cultivation of common wheat has a different (economic) value for the surveyed farmers.


The interviews conducted, showed that the concept of CCPs is hardly or not at all known among the interviewees. Similar to the findings from literature, the farmers saw the greatest potential in the improved long-term stability of CCPs in comparison to line varieties and also in possibly improved resistance to various pathogens. Seed-borne diseases were confirmed as important challenges as well as the high level of uncertainty about the behaviour of previously unknown varieties over time (especially with regard to quality characteristics). Both regularity in maturation and spread of diseases should definitely be (further) investigated, as it became clear from the interviews, that both aspects can have a considerable influence on the acceptance of CCPs. The lack of reliable information on the performance of CCPs (in terms of yield but also in terms of quality) and the associated economic uncertainty were thus also identified as important hurdles for the further application of CCPs in practical cultivation. In line with this, positive test results and their communication via industry-standard channels such as national variety trials were identified as important drivers.

Overall, it can be said that both variety characteristics themselves and the communication of knowledge about them can become drivers or barriers. In addition, framework conditions such as legal security or the financial assurance of experiments can make a decisive contribution to faster dissemination or their absence can become a barrier. It also became clear that openness and acceptance along the entire value chain and not only in cultivation must be promoted in order to establish CCPs on a broad scale.

Winter Wheat Brandex Population. Photo: S. Kußmann (Forschung und Züchtung Dottenfelderhof)

How can the barriers to the cultivation of CCP be lowered?

From the drivers and barriers identified, various approaches have been derived, which can help to improve the dissemination of CCPs:

– Information on the behaviour of CCP varieties should be made available to a much larger group of growers. More trials with practitioners will be necessary to increase the visibility of the varieties and to enable farmers to assess whether they see potential for practice in these varieties.

– Experiments involving different actors in the value chain, especially more artisan-oriented farms and processing companies, can generate further insights and serve as a model for other actors.

– The awareness and acceptance of the CCP varieties will depend on how successfully the knowledge about CCP varieties can be brought to established information channels (sector specific journals or events such as organic field days) for organic farms. This will require the individual commitment of multipliers from research and practice.

– Concentrating on locations that tend to be exposed to more extreme environmental conditions would highlight the property of yield stability of CCPs. The extent of fluctuations in environmental conditions and the frequency of extreme weather events will also play a role in the discussion about varieties of the future.

– Communication concepts that focus on emotional aspects such as regionality and independence of farmers could be tested in marketing.

– In addition, financial security for farms willing to test CCP cultivation, could be implemented and the cooperation among farms in building up the necessary infrastructure (e.g. for seed hygiene) could be promoted. In order to sustain organic breeding and CCP development in the long term, CCPs as well, new financing models need to be developed.


Based on many ongoing cultivation trials and research projects, it can be assumed that the information on the performance of CCPs will continue to improve. This will enable clearer findings to be communicated to practitioners in the future.

In order to gain further insights on promoting and inhibiting factors for the increased application of CCPs, the consideration of the entire value chain is necessary, also taking into account different business models and marketing channels. In particular, the views of processors, retailers and end consumers have been rather underrepresented so far and require further research.

Further surveys of a larger group of different growers with different orientations from several regions will be necessary, in order to gain a more comprehensive picture of the acceptance of CCPs by this stakeholder group. This could help to promote the broader testing of CCPs in practice.

The current legal situation in Europe (extension of the EU experiment on CCP approval, as well as the inclusion of heterogeneous material in the new EU Bio Regulation), currently creates good conditions for further development, research and testing of CCPs. However, it remains to be seen whether researchers and breeders will succeed in developing suitable alternative description and evaluation criteria for the heterogeneous varieties and if they are able to trigger legal changes as well as to transfer their findings into practice.

Authors: Svenja Puls, Caroline Hoops, Isabel Schödl


AbL NRW (2010). „Dickkopfweizen“ und „Champagnerroggen“ – Tagung über alte Getreidesortenund Populationen der AbL NRW. Retrieved 31. August 2019 from d06964b24a292

Beckhoff, J. (2018). “Über die Jahre stabilere Erträge”. Züchtungsansätze. In: Bioland Fachmagazin (10), pp. 27–28. Retrieved 02nd September 2019 from

Beckhoff, J. (2019a). Composite-Cross-Populationen – Das Potenzial moderner Landrassen. Retrieved 20th September 2019 from

Beckhoff, J. (2019b). Moderne Landrassen haben Potenzial. Neue Ansätze in der Weizenzüchtung. In: Bauernblatt Landwirtschaftskammer Schlesweig Holstein, 09.02.2019, pp. 37–38. Retrieved 02nd September 2019 from

BLE (Bundesanstalt für Landwirtschaft und Ernährung) (o.J.). Interview mit Dr. Carl Vollenweider von der Forschung und Züchtung Dottenfelderhof zur Composite Cross-Züchtung. Retrieved 26th June 2019 from

Brumlop, S. & Finckh, M. R. (2014). Populationszucht auf Anpassungsfähigkeit durch Diversität und partizipative on-farm Selektion am Beispiel Winterweizen. Schlussbericht. Project period: 01st July.2011 – 28th February.2014. Kassel University.

Brumlop, S., Pfeiffer, T., & Fickh, R. M. (2017). Evolutionary Effects on Morphology and Agronomic Performance of Three Winter Wheat Composite Cross Populations Maintained for Six Years under Organic and Conventional Conditions. Organic Farming, 3(1).

Burwitz, L. (2019). Factors influencing the adoption of heterogeneous wheat populations – A qualitative study along the value chain. M.Sc. Thesis, University of Kassel, Department of Farm Management, Department of Ecological Plant Protection.

Burwitz, L., Siegmeier, T., Weedon, O., Finckh, M. R., & Möller, D. (2019). Winterweizen Composite Cross-Populationen im Ökolandbau–Stärken und Schwächen aus Sicht von Supply Chain Akteuren. In: Universität Kassel, Fachbereich Ökologische Agrarwissenschaften (Witzenhausen) (Hg.): Tagungsband Wissenschaftstagung Ökologischer Landbau. Retrieved 04th September 2019 from

Bund Ökologische Lebensmittelwirtschaft e.V. (BÖLW) (2018). Ökologische Pflanzenzüchtung: Ein Beitrag zu Vielfalt und Resilienz in der Landwirtschaft. BÖLW Positionspapier. Berlin. Retrieved 04th September 2019 from

Forschung & Züchtung Dottenfelderhof (Dottenfelderhof) (2017). Jubiläumsbericht 2017, Bad Vilbel. Retrieved 04th September 2019 from

Döring, T. F., Knapp, S., Kovacs, G., Murphy, K., & Wolfe, M. S. (2011). Evolutionary Plant Breedingin Cereals—Into a New Era. Sustainability, 3(10).

European Commission (12th Oct 2018). Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2018/1519 of 9 October 2018 amending Implementing Decision 2014/150/EU on the organisation of a temporary experiment providing for certain derogations for the marketing of populations of the plant species wheat, barley, oats and maize pursuant to Council Directive 66/402/EEC. Retrieved 20th September 2019 von

European Commission (20th March 2014). COMMISSION IMPLEMENTING DECISION of 18 March 2014on the organisation of a temporary experiment providing for certain derogations for the marketing of populations of the plant species wheat, barley, oats and maize pursuant to Council Directive 66/402/EEC. Retrieved 20th September 2019 from

European Commission & European Council (30th May 2018). Regulation (EU) 2018/848 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2018 on organic production and labelling of organic products and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007. Retrieved 20th September 2019 from

Finckh, R. M. (2008). Integration of breeding and technology into diversification strategies for disease control in modern agriculture. European Journal of Plant Pathology, 121, pp. 399-409.

Finckh, R. M. (2017). Pflanzen für die Zukunft: Das Konzept Moderne Landrassen und Möglichkeiten der Weiterentwicklung der genetischen Vielfalt. Retrieved 25. August 2019 from 2017/07/Finckh_Moderne_Landrassen.pdf

Kim, J. (2016). Composite cross populations (CCPs) of Winterwheat under low-input farming systems in the Netherlands: G x E interaction, Adaptability and Stability of yield over years. Wageningen University and Research; Louis Bolk Institut. Retrieved 26th  June 2019 from

Messmer, M. (2018). Neue EU Ökoverordnung und Konsequenzen für Saatgut und Sortenzulassung.

Biozüchtungstagung Frick (19th July 2018). Forschungsinstitut für biologischen Landbau (FiBL). Retrieved 04. September 2019 from ttp://

Messmer, M., Wilbois, K.-P., Baier, C., Schäfer, F., Arncken, C., Drexler, D., & Hildemann, I. (2012). Techniken der Pflanzenzüchtung – Eine Einschätzung für den ökologischen Landbau. Retrieved 31st August 2019 from

Petersen-Schlapkohl, Ute; Weigel, Hans-Joachim (2015): Klimaresilienz durch Agrobiodiversität? Literaturstudie zum Zusammenhang zwischen Elementen der Agrobiodiversität und der Empfindlichkeit from landwirtschaftlichen Produktionssystemen gegenüber dem Klimawandel. Braunschweig: Johann Heinrich from Thünen-Institute (Thünen Report, 25).

Spieß, H. (2017). Neue Gesichtspunkte zur Öko-Pflanzenzüchtung. Retrieved 29th August 2019 from

Vollenweider, D., & Spieß, D. (2016). Populationssorten: Strategie für den Klimawandel. Retrieved 29th August 2019 from

Weedon, O. (2018). Using crop genetic diversity to improve resilience: Agronomic potential of evolutionary breeding under differing management systems. Dissertation. Universität Kassel, Witzenhausen. Organic Agricultural Sciences. Retrieved 20th August 2019 from

International Seed Markets

Some facts we collected | 10.09.2019

Already in 1997, the FAO pointed out that out of 7000 species historically used as food, humanity focuses on 30 crops to satisfy 90% of calorie consumption (FAO, 1997). Wheat, rice and maize provided 50% of calories alone (FAO, 1997). In international seed markets a few crop species are disproportionally important. Grains like maize, wheat and rice currently represent almost half of global seed production (IMARC, 2019). Using less and less available edible plant species for global human consumption has manifested as a trend in the 20th century.

At the same time, the seed value chain has grown more complex since seeds are not produced in farming communities anymore. Breeding, seed treatment, multiplication, distribution, as well as laboratory screening in between can all happen under one roof, but are mostly divided between specialized companies (Mammana, 2014). The Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food department gives an illustrative example for a seed value chain on its website.

The value of the global seed market was estimated at 60-67 billion USD in 2018 and is expected to be growing for the next years (IMARC, 2019; MI, 2018b). North America compromises the largest market of global seed sales, but Asian and Pacific regions are identified as the most promising investment markets in the near future (MI, 2018b; AMR, 2017).

Seed market power is located within North America (one third of the market; IMARC, 2019; MI, 2018b), Europe and Asia, which all brought forth multinational agrochemical and seed corporations. In 2017, of the top 20, two were based in the US, 12 in Europe (France, Netherlands, Germany and Denmark) and six in Asia (China, Japan and India) (Zhang, 2017). The most successful corporations are Bayer-Monsanto, DowDuPont (technically divided into three sub-corporations after the merger (see, Syngenta (ChemChina) (IMARC, 2019). During the last years the global seed market has been a stage for spectacular mergers and acquisitions between the most important players in the sector (DowDuPont, Syngenta/ChemChina, Bayer-Monsanto).

Consolidation processes in seed markets

This consolidation is a concern for the global seed industry as it leads to economic inefficiency and market failures. Estimates of the degree of consolidation (in 2012) vary from 48% (Ragonnaud, 2013) to 58% (ETC-Group, 2013) market share of the top four companies or 50% for the top eight companies in 2018 (MI, 2018b). It needs to be noted, however, that some of the corporations are specialized on certain crops (for example, two Dutch companies focusing on vegetables and turf grass respectively; Zhang, 2017) and control market shares exceeding the general estimates in those particular areas.

The consolidation trend is unlikely to change in the near future, unless political steps are taken, as new companies are unlikely to enter the market due to economic entry barriers such as required investment, genetic resources and experience (Ragonnaud, 2013). It is logically consistent then that markets for genetically modified seeds tend to be more consolidated than conventional seed markets (Bonny, 2014).

For example, due to its feature as a non-GMO (GMO = Genetically Modified Organism) market, the EU seed market is less consolidated than worldwide markets (Mammana, 2014). As biotechnology plays almost no role in the European market, it has prevented stark consolidation. However, while the overall EU market is quite diverse, concentration processes do occur for specific countries and crops (Mammana, 2014). Vegetable and maize seed markets are highly consolidated (Mammana, 2014), whereas 50% of the cereals in the EU markets are compromised of saved seeds, meaning that farmers do not buy them, but re-invest parts of last year’s produce (Vilmorin & Cie, 2013). One explanation for this discrepancy is the different effect of breeding efforts on crops. While maize reacts highly positive to hybridization regarding yield, promising wheat hybrids have not yet been designed. The market power of the European seed industry is big enough, however, to expedite notable price increases on farmers: seeds have gotten 30% more expensive between 2000 and 2008 alone. (Mammana, 2014)

Another issue related to global market consolidation are so-called crop orphan sectors: As corporations tend to concentrate their R&D efforts on widely used crops with high promises for returns on investment (due to mass), they neglect less profitable, but regionally vital crops (e. g. African root crops) (Bonny, 2014). With current consolidation processes, smaller businesses, which have so far cushioned this problem by breeding on minor crops, might get absorbed in future.

It should be borne in mind, though, that from the perspective of the total food chain, consolidation of the seed industry is not the most troublesome factor: “Despite the rapid growth and significant weight of the top agrobiotech companies, the influence of downstream sectors on the food chain remains dominant.[…] [Those sectors] act powerfully upon the entire food chain, notably through their requirements and their influence on consumption patterns, as well as on agricultural and food prices.” (Bonny, 2014).


Specifics for genetically modified (GM), conventional and organic seed sectors

Reliable political and scientific sources estimate GM seeds accounting for between a third and almost half of total seed sales (Bonny, 2014; Ragonnaud, 2013). The success of GM seed over conventional seed varies considerably depending on crops. While GMOs are already globally prevalent for cotton and soybeans, other important staple and cash crops (like wheat and rice) appear to exhibit negligible shares (Ragonnaud, 2013). Also, GM seeds are not adopted evenly throughout all regions and countries. In contrast to Europe, where GM seeds are almost irrelevant due to regulations and public rejection, genetically modified varieties reached wide adoption rates (over 90%) for various cash crops in North and Latin America (Ragonnaud, 2013; TMR, 2017). The second sector, conventional seeds, can roughly be red as the negative image of GM seeds – whichever market shares are not comprised of GM seeds, are roughly conventional seeds. The third sector, organic seeds (the term refers to seed produced under organic conditions before sold (Art. 12 lit. i, European Organic Regulation)) is currently almost negligible (MI, 2018a). However, as it might mark a turn in global agricultural paradigms, it is worth a closer look.

The organic seed sector

Organic seeds constitute a minor share of about 2,4-2,7% (own calculations derived from IMARC, 2019; MI, 2018a; MI, 2018b) in the global seed market. However, it is expected to grow substantially in the next years, driven by an increasing consumer demand (TMR, 2017). The US and Canada are currently the biggest organic seed markets.

The organic seed market is less consolidated than the conventional and GM markets (MI, 2018a). Some of the leading companies are subsidiaries of corporations, for example HILD which belongs to Bayer-Monsanto. Most of the organic seed market is composed of a variety of smaller, regional seed companies, however (MI, 2018a; GVR, 2016). Vegetable seeds account for the largest share of organic seed sales. This is a disparity to the conventional and GM seed markets, where grains are the most important crops. For organic seeds, the breeding process, as well as parent material can be conventional and hybrids can be used unless further restrictions of organic growers associations apply, e. g. Bioland, Demeter, etc.. Some countries and regions, e. g. the EU, require organic producers to use organic seeds, if available, others leave the decision to the farmers, e. g. the US. Although minor breeding programs exist dedicated specifically to open pollinated, purely organic varieties (= organic breeding), more than 95% of global organic produce stem from conventionally bred varieties (Lammerts van Bueren et al., 2011).

More transparency needed

In general it can be remarked that the seed industry keeps its secrets and the information officially disclosed is patchy (Mammana, 2014). Market research institutes hold relevant data, but detailed information is not freely available. Therefore, with a lack of official data and due to its political nature, discussions on seed market shares and consolidation in the industry are controversial and normative. Two opposing factions argue, one for a further industrialization of seed supply and one for seed regimes with room for alternatives. Therefore, further unbiased information and transparency is needed in order to give a sound assessment of current and future developments of the seed market as a basis for an objective and productive discussion.

Authors: Nina Gmeiner, Svenja Puls


Allied Market Research (AMR). (2017). Seed Market Outlook – 2023. Retrieved from

Bonny, S. (2014). Taking stock of the genetically modified seed sector worldwide: market, stakeholders, and prices. Food Security, 6(4), 525–540.

ETC-Group. (2013). Putting the Cartel before the Horse…and Farm, Seeds, Soil and Peasants etc: Who Will Control the Agricultural Inputs?, 2013 (Communiqué No. 111). Retrieved from

FAO. (1997). The State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Retrieved from

Grand View Research (GVR). (2016). Organic Seed Market Size To Reach $4.59 Billion By 2022. Retrieved from

Lammerts van Bueren, E. T., Jones, S. S., Tamm, L., Murphy, K. M., Myers, J. R., Leifert, C., & Messmer, M. M. (2011). The need to breed crop varieties suitable for organic farming, using wheat, tomato and broccoli as examples: A review. NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, 58(3–4), 193–205.

Mammana, I. (2014). Concentration of market power in the EU seed market. The Greens, EFA in the European Parliament. Retrieved from

Mordor Intelligence (MI). (2018a). Global Organic Seeds Market – Growth, Trends and Forecast (2019 – 2024). Retrieved from

Mordor Intelligence (MI). (2018b). Global Seed Market – Growth, Trends, and Forecast (2019-2024). Retrieved from

IMARC Group. (2019). Seed Market: Global Industry Trends, Share, Size, Growth, Opportunity and Forecast 2019-2024. Retrieved from

Ragonnaud, G. (2013). The EU seed and plant reproductive material market in perspective. A Focus on companies and market shares. European Parliarment, Directorate-General for Internal Policies. Retrieved from

Transparency Market Research. (2017). Organic Seeds Market – Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends, and Forecast 2017 – 2025. Retrieved from

Vilmorin & Cie. (2013). Document de référence 2012-2013. Retrieved from

Zhang, J. (2017). Top 20 Global Seed Companies in 2017. AgroPages. Retrieved from

Agreements on variety protection and seed sovereignty of small farmers


Since the World Trade Organization adopted the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in 1995, member states have been obliged to protect new plant varieties through patent law, an effective sui-generis system or a combination of the two. The best-known sui-generis system is the Convention of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). Since its establishment by some European countries, more and more states have joined the UPOV community, including many countries from the Global South. Nevertheless, this agreement was repeatedly criticized for overemphasizing the rights of breeders while neglecting the rights of farmers.

India’s sui-generis system

Due to the insistence of civil society, the Indian government ultimately decided not to join to the UPOV Convention but to develop its own sui-generis system. Therefore, the Indian Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act (PPVFRA) was adopted in 2001. According to the title, the law combines plant breeders’ rights and farmers’ rights. This makes it possible to satisfy different interest groups and makes Indian plant variety protection unique in the world.

Different impacts of the systems

However – only shortly after the adoption of the PPVFRA – the Indian government started considering accession to the UPOV convention. Hence a master’s thesis, realised with supervision of the RightSeeds Project, examined the different effects of the UPOV convention and the PPVFRA on the seed sovereignty (as part of the food sovereignty) of Indian farmers.

The thesis concludes that the UPOV convention interferes with all four dimensions of seed sovereignty, while these are largely guarded under the PPVFRA. The four dimensions comprise:

  1. the right to retain and replant seeds;
  2. the right to share or exchange seed;
  3. the right to use seed for the breeding of new varieties;
  4. the right to participate in the development of a seed policy. (Kloppenburg 2014, p. 1234)

A restriction of farmers’ rights in India would have particularly serious consequences: Indian farmers change flexibly between the informal and the formal system and thus also between protected and unprotected varieties. Under UPOV, this interaction between the two systems would also result in restrictions in the informal seed supply system and thus further restrict farmers’ sovereignty over seeds. Since approximately 85% of all seeds in India are distributed through the informal system and often by poorer (small) farmers, these restrictions would also worsen the overall food situation.

Photo: Pixabay

Relevance for MASIPAG

These and similar processes in the legislation of other countries are of great interest for the farmers’ network MASIPAG in the Philippines. In their country, joining UPOV would mean a reduction in farmers’ already limited scope for action, too. As in India, the “informal seed system” plays an important role for small farmers in the Philippines. It is the basis of the work of our practice partner MASIPAG. Thanks to MASIPAG, the storage and exchange of seeds, rarely even breeding, is a common practice on the farms of its members once more. This practice ensures the independence and sovereignty of the farmers.  The Philippines already have a strict Plant Variety Protection Act, which is mainly based on the UPOV regulations. An important exception, however, is that (small) farmers may also exchange and even sell seeds of protected varieties for use on their own land. It is therefore feared that UPOV accession could undermine this exception, which strengthens farmers’ rights vis-à-vis large breeders. As the formal and informal seed systems increasingly interlock, a new sui generis system (such as UPOV) in the Philippines could also have a strong impact on MASIPAG members in their work for variety diversity and food sovereignty.


Kloppenburg, Jack (2008): Seed, Sovereignty, and the Via Campesina: Plants, Property, and the Promise of Open Source Biology 2008. Available online:, last checked 22.02.2019.

Kloppenburg, Jack (2014): Re-purposing the master’s tools: the open source seed initiative and the struggle for seed sovereignty. In: The Journal of Peasant Studies 41 (6), S. 1225–1246. DOI: 10.1080/03066150.2013.875897.

Authors: Franziska Velt, Svenja Puls

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