Financing plant breeding

Intellectual property rights

The reason usually given for IPR protection of seeds or plants is to finance the breeding effort. IPR approaches are a financing model based on monopolies. The monopoly is temporary, as the idea is to have the variety breeding refinanced after some time. The provided time span tends to increase in length, there is no IPR legislation revision where it was shortened.  Seed companies often do not continue to offer varieties in the market after their IPRs have expired, even if farmers and consumers would like to continue using these varieties. Such varieties are replaced with a protected variety. A well-known example is the potato Linda.

IPRs target at the direct users of seeds, the farmers, by prohibiting seed multiplication or by imposing royalty payment for seed multiplication. The efficiency of this financing approach for plant breeding is usually taken for granted has hardly ever been questioned. For example, the evaluation of the variety protection legislation in the European Union never questioned whether plant breeding is adequately, insufficiently or excessively financed ex post on the grounds of the UPOV-based EU legislation.

For critical information on patents on plants: No patents on seeds

Public (taxpayer) funding

Publicly funded institutions provided new varieties for decades in many countries, including some developing countries. This way, public interest can be ensured and breeding objectives set in the public interest. The breeding work is funded before it starts, funding can be targetted. The results of breeding are publicly available.


A foundation, Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft was set up in Germany in 2000 in order to support innovative not for profit projects in sustainable agriculture and to create own projects such as Save our Seeds. One of its main thrusts is to finance organic breeding; the Seed Fund (Saatgutfonds) , in existence since 1996, was integrated in the foundation.

In Switzerland, a fund for crop development  was recently established to finance in the long term the breeding work of GZPK; GZPK has been breeding organic varieties for the past 25 years.


For many years organic farming has not paid particular attention to seed production and plant breeding. Yet before the legal framework provided regulations on the use of organic seeds, Kultursaat e.V., a network of practitioners started with organic seed production for vegetables. They coordinated organic on-farm vegetable breeding. In order to finance it, contracts were made with organic shops. More (in German)

Open source

Breeding may be encouraged by developing open source approaches, comparable to open source software. Among organic breeders, open source models are being developed. Open source license principles may help farmers and plant breeders cooperate in creating decentralized spaces for participatory plant breeding and using private contracts and licenses to leverage greater and more open public access to plant varieties and the genetic resources they contain.