Regulating seeds—a challenging task

Niels Louwaars*, Bram de Jonge

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Seed is an essential start of any crop production. Seed, as both botanical seed and vegetive planting materials, is thus a very important component of agricultural livelihoods in food, ornamental, and industrial value chains, of local and global food security, and a determinant of sustainability. All farmers need good seed, irrespective of the farming system and markets that they supply. Seed qualities, in terms of germination/vigour, health, and genetic content, are a concern of all farmers. Farmers have various ways to access seeds. With time, the diversity of farmers’ and formal seed systems have become increasingly refined and complex. Given the importance of seed, not just for farmers but for society at large, seeds have become subject to an increasing number of regulations that pursue different policy objectives. Some have been intentionally developed to regulate seed systems themselves, while others impact them as a side effect. Various components of different policies, regulations and outcomes, their interactions and apparent dilemmas and inconsistencies are discussed to highlight the significance of seeds and to illustrate the importance for policymakers and regulators to carefully phrase rules and be sensitive toward the possible unintended effects of their actions. This particularly relates to seed marketing regulations, intellectual property and farmers’ rights, and biodiversity and biosafety rules. A general conclusion is that rules and regulations need to respond to evolving technical and socio-economic developments. Since seed systems differ widely and operate side by side, regulating a particular system may negatively impact others. The challenge for policymakers is to create policies and regulations that support both formal and farmers’ seed systems where they are most effective while minimalising negative consequences for breeding, selection, and seed production in either system. Several suggestions and recommendations for how to do so are provided in this special issue.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2324
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 17 Nov 2021


  • Genetic resources
  • Intellectual property rights
  • Plant biotechnology
  • Seed certification
  • Seed policy
  • Variety registration


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