Open Sourced Seeds Create More Opportunities for Farmers


Editor’s note: The following information is derived from an interview Agritecture conducted with Rosario Iacono, PhD, CEO and founder of Kasveista.

The Story Behind Kasveista

Kasveista is a producer of high quality seeds and seedlings of open-source varieties of vegetables specifically for vertical farming. Founder Rosario Iacono explains, “The beginning of my story with Kasveista goes over a decade back. It begins with me thinking about the idea of open-source seeds. I installed Linux on my private PC and was amazed by the stark contrast of this open-source system to its copyright-covered siblings.” Iacono was amazed by the simplicity, efficiency, and up-to-date database maintained by the community behind it. 

While receiving his Bachelor in Agricultural Studies, Iacono learned about copyrights for seeds. “You cannot use these seeds for further breeding, you do not know their genealogy which limits you as a farmer in adapting these seeds and these plants to the specific growing conditions of your farm,” Iacono explains. 

Iacono began researching open-source seeds, and landed upon the open-source seeds initiative in the USA. “Their aim to maintain variability and free access to seeds and their genetic material, as well as creating a feedback system between farmers and seed companies, and constantly collaborating on the traits of the breeds, deeply resonated with me.” 

Rosario Iacono, PhD, CEO and founder of Kasveista

Rosario Iacono, PhD, CEO and founder of Kasveista

Later, during his PhD, Iacono worked on Miscanthus, a bioenergy crop. “That’s when ‘Kasveista’ really started to take shape. My idea was to breed open-source Miscanthus varieties.” It was with this idea that Iacono participated at Bio Accelerate, a business accelerator program by Aberystwyth Innovation and Enterprise Campus. At this time, his idea was not feasible due to the specifics of the crop itself. And, the open-source license was a mere pledge at the time, based simply on trust, making it difficult to build a company structure around it. 

“It wasn’t until one year ago, that I encountered vertical farming properly and got deeper and deeper into the subject. It is an amazing new sector with big potential, but at the moment, it seems like someone is trying to run an iPhone 6 with the operating system of an iPhone 3,” reveals Iacono. He further explains how the biological side of vertical farming has, astonishingly, been completely overlooked. As a result, there are few to no breeders specialising in seeds for vertical farming.

Following a path of sustainability, Iacono turned to vertical farming as a solution to food insecurity and lowering the business’ impact on climate change. With their seed varieties, Kasveista aims to bridge the gap between vertical farming only producing some food, and vertical farming potentially producing all the planet’s food.

Why Open-Source Seeds?

Kasveista is one of the few companies working on producing seeds specifically for vertical farming, and the only one using an open-source license. Currently, vertical farm operators buy seeds of several varieties and choose the one(s) that they see to be performing best. Iacono discloses that “at Kasveista, our selection and breeding process is based on genetics and thus is more thorough and in-depth.”

Open-source makes for an effective system because you are actively collaborating with a community of millions of contributors. “You give the prototype seeds to the growers, they plant and test them, and provide feedback on their experiences, which in turn helps to improve the variety. This results in new seeds which are tested by farmers again and again… and it can continue like this for several rounds.”

It is this direct approach to a feedback loop that makes it easier for the team to adapt their breeding program. “According to each new piece of data, each new experience report, we can make more informed and immediate choices, leading to a faster and higher quality result for the farmer. Plus, we don’t want to tie the hands of the farmers or restrict them with the seeds they are buying. They pay for the work behind the seed, and that’s it. We don’t believe in ownership over genetic material.”

A Commitment To Community & Sustainability

Kasveista’s central vision is to make vertical farming a real alternative to field agriculture and to feed the world in the face of a growing population and climate change. Their commitment to farmers is to give them a choice; giving them more than one variety and more than one species to choose from, all with an open-source licence, so that they can access the genetic information about a particular plant and make more informed decisions that can help them become more profitable.

Kasveista’s commitment to sustainability and food security is to bring more locally-grown food to the market and to reduce the energy required to produce crops in vertical farming. “We aim to do more with less. On top of that, we will also work on increasing the quality of the fruit and the nutritional value.” 

With increasing food security concerns and an exponentially growing population, seed preservation is important work. At Kasveista, the idea is to preserve as many diverse traits of the species and their genetic building blocks as possible, and then to reappropriate the varieties breeded and maintained as open-source biological heritage. “We don’t want to work on solving problems like the climate crisis and feeding a growing population now by robbing future generations of the chance to solve their problems and properly react to occurring issues, (a situation) as we are facing it now.”

Reach out to Kasveista on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Youtube, or through their crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. In beginning to collaborate with schools and local communities, the team is on the lookout for more collaborators, potential exchanges, and investors.


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