b'SINCE YOU ASKEDBY: NIELS LOUWAARSGO OR NO-GO NGO?M any colleagues in the sector find it so hard to deal withopposed seed legislation and plant breeders rights (PBR). The activist Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) thatcommercial seed sector in those countries was clearly not the they prefer to keep maximum distance. It may be afriend of the local Oxfam counterparts. When talking about their shared attitude of those NGOs as well to either stay clear of anymain problems with PBR though, the conclusion was that the commercial sector, or instead to aggressively approach them.principle of rights was not necessarily opposed, but they strongly However, in other cases it is not necessary to distrust NGOsworried about the impact on smallholders struggling to pro-and it is definitely not always in our own interest to avoid directduce enough food for their families. Realising that intellectual contact either. property rights (IPRs) indeed fit in with commercial settings, It is often not hard to understand why we find NGOs dif- we jointly came to the conclusion that a proper demarcation of ficult to deal with. We are considered part of the establish- commercial and non-commercial farming and seed exchange ment and the purpose of most NGOs is that they are againstcould bridge our initially opposing views. The outcomes of a joint the established order. That is commonly illustrated by the factproject that lasted three years were presented in Euroseeds and their actions are against something, be it banks, GMOs, fossilISF, and recently in Rome in the presence of a wide variety of fuels, chemicals, nuclear energy, corporations, you name it. Andstakeholders in the genetic resource negotiations. Much more in their communication, they are often very good in framing,radical NGOs than Oxfam were remarkably positive towards our and playing on emotion with well-designed one-linersa skilljoint proposal. Since issues around smallholder farmers feed that we find difficult to match. That may be a poor basis for apolitical opposition against UPOV in several developing coun-constructive discussion. But with some effort, more openingstries, we hope that this effort will support the credibility of the could be found than we might think, in some cases leading tointernational PBR system and UPOV as an organisation.unexpected opportunities. Two examples by Plantum may illus- Some say that we have an easy starting point, linking with trate that. NGOs in The Netherlands where discussing until a solution or Conventional and organic agriculture are often set againsta compromise is reached is part of the national culture. This each other. Disputes arise about aspects of sustainability andseems to stem from the time that most of the country was a moral superiority. The organic sector is a pretty good marketswamp and that flooding of our fields and homesteads was a per-for several seed companies, but in various political debatespetual risk. The answer by our forefathers was dam(n) it!i.e. friction prevails and we may look upon organic organisationsto construct dykes all around our towns and fields and construct as NGOs. Some 10 years ago, however, Plantum and the mainwindmills to pump the water out. This requires every landowner organic value chain organisation in The Netherlands, Bionext,to agree with the plan and take his share in the construction. If jointly created a research programme. Green Breeding aimsanyone would fail, the whole area would flood through that gap at breeding research that would not exclusively but also bein the dyke. Our cultural heritage still includes a strong sense useful for the organic sector. Projects emerged on both techni- to come to an agreement, even with our worst adversary. This cal and organisational issues. An example is Bioimpuls wheremay be quite different in other European countries.farmers, seed companies and researchers joined forces to createOf course, I have chosen two positive stories with NGOs, Phytophthora-resistant potatoes in parallel with a publicand it is not true that Plantum creates win-win situations on all research project to introduce resistance genes using cis-gene- fronts with NGOs. We are still learning, but we have identified sis. The organic parties rejected the cisgenesis technology butsuch contacts as a strategic communication objective. We do realised that the detailed molecular knowledge gained there wasdiscuss gene editing with nature organisations; we have linked extremely useful to speed up their crossbreeding programme.with Greenpeace on crop protection, and with trade unions on The recognition gained in this collaboration recently led to achild labour. It is complex, sometimes pretty frustrating, and joint effort to reach out to politicians and government to con- it often requires a long-term effort, but if it works, like in the tinue such research. Politicians appreciated to see us togethertwo examples above, it pays off for both parties! So, I would say: with the organic promoters, which helps to position Plantum andGo (most)NGO.the seed sector at large on other policy dossiers as well.On another note Plantum got in touch with developmentNiels Louwaars is the Managing Director at Plantum. This organisation Oxfam, that was involved with local NGOs in sev- article does not necessarily reflect the views of alleral countries to support farmers seed systems. Their actionsPlantum members.EUROPEAN-SEED.COMIEUROPEAN SEED I 41'