Fri, 20/03/2009 – Michel Fanton
Rice farmers routinely save their own seeds. Massive collections have been made from their selections over the last few decades to be held in trust for public breeding programmes. Now these varieties are being sold off to create hybrid rice, a new phenomenon, that precludes seed saving.
On 9 November 2007, in the midst of the Asian Seed Congress, The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) announced the formation of its Hybrid Rice Research and Development Consortium. This is the foundation for a first and direct relationship between IRRI and private seed companies, whereby IRRI will supply the parent lines and the corporations, who gain exclusive rights to the varieties, will handle the marketing.
Yet, this is a big change in the way IRRI functions. Before, IRRI had a public mandate whereby seeds were to be kept in the public domain [Only fair as that is where they were collected]. But now, it’s given this up and doing a deal with the private sector. IRRI justifies this major move into business by saying that it is the only way to salvage their work on hybrid rice, which we note has yet to produce any tangible benefits for farmers.
What hybrid rice has achieved in the past ten years is not so much high yield gains, but the development of a multi-million dollar private rice seed industry. And industry is particularly interested in supporting hybrid rice, as farmers will be locked into buying seeds each year. So IRRI wants to join in to earn its share of the profits.
These varieties that IRRI is willing to make a profit from are based on seeds that it holds ‘in trust’ seeds that were collected from farmers’ fields. Although IRRI may talk about the public benefits of this new Consortium it cannot gloss over the betrayal that lies at the heart of this operation.

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