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Seeds as biosocial commons : an analysis of various practices in India

Patnaik, Archana

Abstract

This research investigates and describes the conservation and use of Plant Genetic Resources (PGRs), especially seeds through processes of commonisation. Seeds form an important element for sustaining human life (through food production) and social relations (by maintaining agricultural socialities). Therefore, conservation and management of PGRs in the form of seeds are essential for plant breeding, agricultural production and to meet the growing food demand of the increasing population. However, the changed use of PGRs through enclosures and appropriation of the Intellectual Property Rights creates underutilisation of these resources, risking their important societal role. Thus, this research aimed at analysing how the processes of commonisation of PGRs, especially seeds as biosocial commons emerge in the Indian context.

The research applied an in-depth qualitative research approach using case study method. It focused on four distinct issues of disconnection, collective resistance, strategies of repossession and ability of stakeholders to provide insights broadly into the processes of commonisation of PGRs. Describing the different cases it also establishes whether and how opportunities for commonisation of PGRs as biosocial commons emerge within these contexts. The research analysed four cases where one case reflected on the intellectual commons produced through institutionalisation of PGRs and the other three cases reflected on the bottom-up perspective of commons produced through Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

The research through its first case, the Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), a public ex situ genebank, describes the disconnection of PGRs, while through the second case reflects on the collective activity of resistance through management of community seed banks (CSBs) by the Deccan Development Society (DDS). The third and fourth cases involved small, local initiatives; Loka Samabaya Pratisthan (LSP) and Sambhav that fostered collective action for repossession through in situ seed banks. The research used various techniques, such as interviews with respondents, focus group discussions (FGDs) and participant observation for primary sources of data, with published and unpublished documents, reports and official websites as secondary sources.

The second chapter of the thesis looks at the issue of disconnection and argues that storing seeds at genebanks disconnects the resources from their biosocial environment. Further, the evaluation of genetic traits within the stored seeds through the scientific intervention at the genebank creates the divide between the resources (seeds) and their informational content. Thus, this chapter concludes that disconnection of seeds from their biosocial environment leads to the creation of exclusive but positive intellectual commons.

The third chapter of the thesis looks at the issue of collective resistance and argues that disconnection of the community from their local food system can generate resistance and collective activity among the community. This chapter finds that the resistance and collective activity further brought in the interaction between the resource and the stakeholders through informal social relations and seed networks.

The fourth chapter of the thesis looks at the issue of strategies of repossession and argues that socio-political and ecological context play an important role in determining the strategy for repossession and commonisation of PGRs which further inhibits or facilitates the production of seeds as biosocial commons.

The fifth chapter of the thesis analyses the ability of stakeholders and finds that apart from institutional rights other factors like the social relations, ideology, negotiations and social identity of a stakeholder determines their ability in accessing the conserved resources.

The overall finding of the research suggests that the informal seed networks in the cases analysed stimulated in establishing the biosocial relations between the stakeholders and the resources. The biosocial relation further led seeds to function as biosocial commons. The research thus proposes that strengthening of these biosocial relations through informal seed networks can lead to the commonisation of the PGRs, especially seeds as biosocial commons in the Indian context.