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The Sustainable Seed Innovations Project: Invitation to Engage, Contribute and Collaborate

We’re excited to launch a blog post series on The Sustainable Seed Innovations Project, a UK-India project on sustainable agriculture, led by University of Leeds, Art of Living Foundation and Dr. Mrinalini Kochupillai (lecturer and senior research associate at the Technical University of Munich and also a former SpicyIP blogger). The series is aimed at informing and sensitizing the readers about the underlying issues as well as receiving their inputs and recommendations, which which will be endeavoured to be incorporated in a position paper that the project team is preparing for the Government of India. We look forward to your active engagement and participation!

Here goes the kick off post by the team:

The Sustainable Seed Innovations Project: Invitation to Engage, Contribute and Collaborate

SSI 2.0 Research Team

Dear friends, colleagues, readers of SpicyIP,

With this series of blog posts, we are launching a one of its kind open, public consultation and feedback in relation to a position paper that is being prepared for the Government of India. The position paper will give concrete recommendations, including legal, policy and technical recommendations, on means of promoting ‘Sustainable Seed Innovations’ in India, for the benefit, particularly, of small and marginal farmers.

The idea of the position paper came up following extensive consultations with and recommendations received from experts and diverse stakeholders, especially small farmers, researchers, lawyers and NGOs, that took place under the Sustainable Seed Innovation 1.0 Project & Conference (September 2017). The recommendations and inputs from the stakeholders form the backbone and rationale underlying the recommendations that will be compiled and dissemination in the position paper by the research team. The research leading up to the position paper was funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (2017) and more recently, by an impact acceleration fund provided by the UK Global Challenges Research Fund (2019).

Given SpicyIP’s stellar track record in public engagement and engagement with issues that affect the public (and marginalized segments of society), the research team is proud and excited to partner with the SpicyIP team to power this open, public consultation and invitation for feedback. (Needless to say, we also welcome feedback and additional blogs from the members of the SpicyIP team).

The Research Team

The Sustainable Seed Innovations 2.0 (SSI 2.0) Team comprises of the following core members:

1. Gregory Radick, Principal Investigator, University of Leeds

2. Mrinalini Kochupillai, Co-Principal Investigator SSI 2.0 (currently also serving as lecturer and senior research associate at the Technical University of Munich)

3. Natalie Kopytko, Post-Doctoral Research Associate, University of Leeds

4. Prabhakar Rao, plant breeder, seed keeper, python coder, Natural Farming expert and Trustee, Sri Sri Institute for Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SSIAST)

5. Julia Köninger, Masters Student, Sustainable Resource Management, Technical University of Munich

6. Jasper Matthiessen, Research Coordinator, Natural Farming, Art of Living Foundation, Europe

7. Rugmani Prabhakar, Head, Sustainability Advocacy, Art of Living Foundation

SpicyIP is our official public dissemination and engagement partner for the purposes of enriching and expanding the debate, as also informing and sensitizing the public, academia and government about issues that underlie this exciting and highly relevant research field.

Sustainable Seed Innovations: A Definition

To understand the blog posts that will follow this one, the question that might first arise, is, what do we mean by ‘Sustainable Seed Innovations’? We define “sustainable seed innovations” as innovations that ensure the following:

1. Environmental Sustainability: The innovations must protect, nurture and enrich the environment, inter alia, by enhancing in and on soil biodiversity (a goal pursued by international instruments such as the Convention on Biological Diversity), conserving water, replenishing water tables and maximizing ecosystem services (goals pursued, inter alia, under the UN Sustainable Development Goals);

2. Socio-Cultural Sustainability: The innovations must respect, revive and support the continuation of local cultures, traditions and knowledge systems, including festivals, cultures of seed and knowledge saving and sharing etc., while also supporting social development and reducing non-sustainable demographic shifts;

3. Economic Sustainability: The innovations and the way they are managed, must support the economic growth and well-being of farmer-innovators as well as the local/rural communities in which these farmer-innovators are working, effectively incentivizing the continuation of the practice of sustainable seed innovations (i.e. Economic Sustainability);

4. Sustainability of the Innovation Process: The innovations must nurture the spirit of innovation by supporting, through effective frameworks, continuing downstream innovations (both formal and informal) by diverse stakeholders, making sure, nonetheless, that transfer of raw materials (seeds, plant genetic resources etc.) necessary for downstream innovations are transparently, and accurately tracked. This tracking is necessary to ensure that economic benefits accruing to downstream innovators are shared with the original innovators/communities of innovators.

Accomplishing the Goal of Sustainable Seed Innovations: 3+1 Pronged Approach

Based on the recommendations received by the multi-stakeholder expert group (including several farmers) during the Sustainable Seed Innovation 1.0 Conference and Project, the research team recommends a 3 (+1)-pronged approach to accomplishing the goal of promoting sustainable seed innovations for the benefit of small farmers in India.

The prongs are:

1. Reviving Traditional Ecological Knowledge Systems of India, that contain rich knowledge on means of protecting and enriching in and on soil biodiversity (including, especially, seed diversity) and ecosystem services;

2. Re-designing curriculums of Agricultural Universities of India and of Rural Agricultural Extension Services to incorporate extensive education and training in farming systems that incorporate this traditional ecological knowledge;

3. Re-balancing Incentive Structures, inter alia, by adopting Blockchain/DLT solutions to complement existing system and ensure that actual monetary compensation reaches those who cultivate and transfer knowledge/information in the form of heterogenous, indigenous seeds and planting materials (or in the form of means of enhancing soil health and microbial diversity to enhance yields of such seeds, means of storing such seeds in a sustainable way, etc.)

4. Accelerating Research Efforts in line with the goal of Sustainable Seed Innovations: Cutting across each of the above prongs, the +1 (or 4th prong) is research. Continuing research on and with each of the above three prongs is necessary to ensure that the system does not stagnate. It is necessary that every new round of seed innovations or associated innovations emerging under any of the above three prongs, are researched to systematically study, understand and document the value inherent in them. Indeed, the fact of research and research findings themselves add value to the seeds/other inputs being researched.

The first three of these prongs were also mentioned in this Editorial co-authored by the two principal investigators of this project (published in The Hindu).

An Invitation to Engage and Collaborate in the Endeavor

In the series of blog posts that will follow this one, the research team will bring to readers of Spicy IP, further details regarding the background leading up to this project, overview of research and several farmer stories that led to the development of the above 3+1 pronged approach, posts on related issues (that may not be included in the actual position paper, but will be cited in it), global developments in related areas, and finally, the full text of the position paper. We invite and request all readers of SpicyIP to read, comment on and contribute additional blog posts in response to each of the posts that our team posts in this space.

We also invite you to share links to the posts you like and to your own response posts on social media platforms using the hashtag #SustainableSeedInnovations and #SSI-2.0. The SpicyIP Team will mark all posts in this series, using the labels “SSI 2.0” and “Sustainable Seed Innovations” in order to facilitate ease of access to all related blogs in one place.


We aim to post the full first draft of the text of the position paper by 7th July 2019, following which we welcome comments till 28th July 2019 on any and all segments of the position paper. Translations of the position paper will also be provided to farmer groups (off line and via SpicyIP and other platforms such as NGO websites) for their comments.

It will be our endeavor to incorporate as many (and if possible all) major feedback and recommendations into the position paper – either in the main text or as an Annex – by or before 29th July 2019.

The final position paper incorporating the comments and feedback, will be presented to the Government of India during the Sustainable Seed Innovation 2.0 conference that will take place in Bangalore, on 30th July 2019. The final text will also be made available to SpicyIP readers and will be submitted, in appropriately modified form, for publication in an open source journal or other public platform.

We look forward to active participation and constructive contributions from all stakeholders, the general public, researchers, journalists, policy makers, private sector, NGOs, farmers and of course, all readers of SpicyIP who are concerned about food, nutrition, the environment and/or the health and well being of small farmers in India and beyond.

The research team thanks you in advance for your inputs, recommendation and engagement.

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