Innovation Plant Variety Protection Traditional Knowledge

The Sustainable Seed Innovations Project: A Trip Down Memory Lane

Image Credit: Ruchi Jain

We’re pleased to bring to you the fourth post in the blog post series on The Sustainable Seed Innovations Project that we had launched two weeks ago. The Sustainable Seed Innovations 2.0 Project has a longer history than what was detailed in the Background post. In this post, Mrinalini Kochupillai, Project co-Investigator and lead author of the position paper, explains how the research idea evolved from an individual multi-disciplinary Ph.D. project to an international collaboration.

The Sustainable Seed Innovations Project: A Trip Down Memory Lane

Mrinalini Kochupillai

It has been around 8 months now since Greg Radick (Professor of History of Science at the University of Leeds, and Principal Investigator of the SSI 2.0 Project) invited me to act as co-investigator and to lead the research and writing of the ‘position paper’ for the Government of India on means of ‘Promoting Sustainable Seed Innovations’ and bringing socio-economic and environmental benefits to small farmers who constitute almost 80% of India’s farming population. Our interaction and collaboration on the topic dates back a few years now. As I, together with the fantastic SSI 2.0 research team, start releasing bits and pieces of the position paper to experts, policy makers, IP and Innovation enthusiasts, students as well as the regular, highly informed audience of the Spicy IP Blog, I thought it might be interesting to share the wave of nostalgia that hits me.

My pre-occupation with small farmers’ innovations and how best to help them monetize these innovations to bring greater prosperity to small farmers and their community, started in 2008 when Prof. Josef Straus (at that time, the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Intellectual Property and Competition Law) awarded me a scholarship to research UPOV 1978 to study whether it meets the mandates of the TRIPs agreement. The preliminary research found that UPOV 1978 may not fulfill the TRIPs mandates. More importantly, however, the research led me to a first realization that UPOV 1978 (and indeed UPOV 1991 as well as the patent system) may be entirely inappropriate means of promoting and protecting sustainable innovations in plant varieties and seeds. Eventually, with a generous scholarship from the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition (MPI), I completed my Ph.D. titled ‘Promoting Sustainable Innovations in Plant Varieties’ (published in 2016 with Springer-Nature).

I was, unfortunately, completely unaware of Greg Radick’s fanstastic research and had very limited opportunity to familiarize myself with the extensive and highly significant work of the Art of Living Foundation and the Sri Sri Institute for Agricultural Sciences Trust (SSIAST) at the time I concluded my Ph.D. I became aware of Greg’s work through a colleague who was visiting MPI for a short research stay – she was an academic advisor to a project titled ‘Cultivating Innovation’, which was an impact acceleration project to take Greg’s work on “IP-Broad” (more on Greg’s work coming soon to this space) forward for practical impact. Greg’s paper as well as the conference were highly inspiring for me, and it was delightful to hear back from him a few months later, suggesting a joint application to the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council to take our joint research interests forward (together with the wonderful Dr. Natalie Kopytko, our post-doctoral researcher selected from among stiff competition) for the benefit of small farmers in India in the form of the Sustainable Seed Innovation 1.0 Project.  It was during the course of the SSI 1.0 project, and later, while compiling a large multi-disciplinary research application to the EU, that I became more fully aware of the brilliant work that the Art of Living and Dr. Prabhakar Rao are doing to revive and bring back into practice, traditional ecological knowledge based farming systems.

Now, working together with seasoned experts as well as fresh and brilliant young minds that are a part of the SSI 2.0 research team and/or contributors to the SSI 1.0 recommendations over the last several months, it has been a pleasure and a great honor for me to lead the writing and compilation of the position paper for the Government of India, titled “Promoting Sustainable Seed Innovations in India.” We now release the position paper in small pockets (blog posts) for easy readership and to facilitate the most extensive topic specific comments from experts as well as from stakeholders and civil society. I extend a special thanks and congratulations to Dr. Natalie Kopytko for the fantastic farmer stories she has compiled from across India and for Julia Köninger for her excellent and thorough research assistance throughout the project, as well as writing contributions for Prong 1 and several background blogs.

On behalf of the entire SSI 2.0 research team, I also extend a heart-filled thanks and an invitation to continue the discussions with this series of blogposts, to the following experts and farmers who contributed most significantly to the SSI 1.0 conference and working groups (order of names is random):

Sunita Sreedharan (Advocate)

Dr. Suman Sahai (Gene Campaign)

Dr. Kishore Kumar Sharma (Assam Agricultural University)

Sanjay Maruti Patil (BAIF)

Pitambar Shrestha (Li-BIRD)

Shamika Mone (Organic Farming Association of India)

C.S. Triphany (Art of Living Foundation)

Umendra Dutt (Kheti Virasat Mission)

Ruchi Jain (Taru Naturals)

Yash Mishra, Farmer

Udayakumar Kollimath, Farmer

Nagaraj Ganguli, Farmer

Kishore Mukherjee, Farmer

Amarjit Sharma, Farmer

Gulab Singh, Farmer

Pankaj Pathak, Farmer

Raspinder Singh, Farmer

Santosh Kumari, Farmer

Arun T. , Farmer

Ajit Paul, Farmer

Chanchal Biswas, Farmer

Mahadev Ramkrishna Gomare, Farmer

Dinesh Gurjar, Farmer

Jay Prakash Singh, Farmer

Ranjit Kumar Singh, Farmer

C.P. Krishna, Farmer

K.C. Krishna, Farmer

S.B. Somshekar, Farmer

Dandiram Dinker Madane, Farmer

Satish Punja Kanawade, Farmer

R. Sriram, Farmer

Perumal R., Farmer

Sanjay Khattal (National State Seed Corporation and representative of the Government of India – GoI)

Ankush Bhalekar (Advisor to the Government on Natural Farming)


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