Democracy in Plant Breeding

The theme of this book is that crop science in general, and plant breeding in particular, have been over-controlled during the twentieth century. It is now proposed that we should allow self-

organisation to operate in our agro-ecosystems, making them into self-organising systems comparable to the existing food production and distribution systems. And comparable also to Adam Smith's recommendation of allowing markets to self-organise. There will have to be some government control to prevent abuse, and to provide incentives, such as plant breeder's royalties. But, apart from this, a widespread individual freedom, and individual initiative, leading to self-organisation, are the only requirements.

Twentieth century plant breeding has been over-controlled. A very small minority of scientists would decide what plant characteristics the farmers and consumers must accept. The farmers have been at the bottom of the pecking order. They were given little choice in which cultivars they could cultivate, mainly because so few cultivars were available. And they were given no choice at all concerning the resistance of those cultivars. Obviously, the breeders preferred cultivars that became famous, and were widely cultivated. For this reason, they preferred the 'big space, high profile, short life, few cultivars' characteristics of vertical resistance. They insisted that institutional breeding was necessary, but they overlooked the fact that this kind of breeding was extremely limited in its scope, because it was largely limited to single-gene characters, because of its cost, and because it produced ephemeral resistance. These scientists had the knowledge and authority to investigate horizontal resistance, but they chose to ignore it. This neglect of horizontal resistance is difficult to explain, and even more difficult to excuse.

Monopolies established by multinational corporations are even more authoritarian. These corporations have great wealth and considerable political clout, and their tendency to take over plant breeding institutes, and to replace host resistance with crop protection chemicals, or patented single-gene resistances, is clearly self-serving. It seems that the only way to counteract these monopolies is by an overwhelming democracy in plant breeding. The basic concept of democracy in plant breeding is to encourage as many individuals as possible to organise their own breeding clubs. When there are thousands of breeding clubs world-wide, no amount of wealth, advertising, or political clout can stop crop improvement from being self-organising. It will become as free and as effective as the self-organising food supply. It will also be as free and as effective as authorship, possibly with its own equivalent of the Nobel Prize for literature.

It is in this sense that twentieth century plant breeding has been over-controlled, and resembles autocracy. And it is in this sense also that a wealth of plant breeding clubs resembles self-organisation and democracy.

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