This cumulative dissertation (status: submitted) analyzes the transformative potential of Commons approaches in plant breeding, seed production or conservation (so-called Seed Commons) as alternative Governance approaches to tendencies of privatization and enclosure in the seed sector and the wider agri-food system.
For this purpose, on the basis of a literature review, first a conceptualization of a social-ecological transformation (SET) is developed that allows to assess the contribution of small initiatives to a wider transformation. The proposed conceptual SET framework also contributes to connecting the strengths of diverse transformation literatures.
In a comprehensive transdisciplinary process, a concept for 'Seed Commons' is developed that highlights shared characteristics of diverse Seed Commons initiatives. Seed Commons can be characterized by four criteria: by recognizing a collective responsibility for the conservation and further development of cultivated plants and genetic diversity, by protecting seeds and varieties from legal or (bio-)technological enclosure, through collective, polycentric management and by sharing formal and practical knowledge within and/or beyond the initiative. These criteria are suitable for a stringent analysis of the shared challenges and opportunities of Seed Commons initiatives.
In the next step, I apply these Seed Commons criteria in a systematic document analysis to examine how the complexity of the multi-level governance regime around seeds, biodiversity and intellectual property rights impacts Seed Commons initiatives in Germany and the Philippines. The results show that especially the patent and variety protection regime as well as strict requirements for marketing of seeds can threaten central practices such as the sharing of seeds or their on-field adaptation and further development. Yet the impact of norms such as the conservation of biodiversity and farmers' rights of the biodiversity convention and the international Seed Treaty also contribute to exceptions that widen the scope of action of Seed Commons.
Finally, this thesis highlights the very creative, differentiated and conscious ways in which Seed Commons initiatives deal with these incumbent institutional frame conditions, i.e. by resisting them or using gray areas. Through their alternative, everyday practices, they contribute to institutional and political change. Hence Seed Commons initiatives challenge dominant structures by disputing incumbent practices, rules and norms and creating a real and viable alternative on the ground.
Overall this thesis shows, taking the example of Seed Commons initiatives, that even small initiatives can contribute to a social-ecological transformation, when they confront incumbent structures, institutions and paradigms, and create just and resilient alternatives.
If you are interested in reading the introductory chapter to my cumulative dissertation, feel free to get in touch! (problem statement, main results and contributions, discussion of transdisciplinary methodology, future research avenues etc.)
Three of the four papers of the cumulative thesis have (so far) been published, all open access. See below (also on my RG profile):
- Tschersich, J. (2021). Norm conflicts as governance challenges for Seed Commons: Comparing cases from Germany and the Philippines. Earth System Governance, 7, 100097. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esg.2021.100097
- Sievers-Glotzbach, S., Tschersich, J., Gmeiner, N., Kliem, L., & Ficiciyan, A. (2020). Diverse Seeds – Shared Practices: Conceptualizing Seed Commons. International Journal of the Commons, 14(1), 418–438. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/ijc.1043
- Sievers-Glotzbach, S. and J. Tschersich (2019): Overcoming the process-structure divide in conceptions of social-ecological transformation: Assessing the transformative character and impact of change processes. Ecological Economics 164. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2019.106361