Monthly Archives: May 2010

Crop insurance for small-holders farms

Kay Chapman sent me this link to a recent article in The Economist; “Security for shillings” which observes that:

One of the things holding back agriculture in developing countries is the unwillingness of farmers with small plots of land to invest in better seed and fertiliser. Only half of Kenyan farmers buy improved seed or spend money on other inputs. Many use poor-quality seed kept from previous harvests. That is understandable when drought or deluge can destroy their crop, but it has the effect of reducing yields. A new microinsurance scheme promises to help.

Sebastian Derwisch    , a consultant to CAS-IP who works on our System Dynamics Modelling research project, commented that:

It is smart of seed companies like Syngenta that are operating in many African countries to step out of their core business and help farmers to manage their cash flow. Seed adoption rates of 5%- 30% in most Africans countries provide for some business opportunities but innovation needs to target the other 70%-95%. To start and expand business in developing countries, multinationals must realize that their customers work under very different conditions than their customers in Iowa or Switzerland. Ensuring that farmers won’t be hit as hard by crop failure is one way to enhance seed adoption and we hope to see other ways to improve crop yields for African farmers by ensuring that they use better inputs. This should happen in cooperation with the national and international public sector as well as national private sector companies.

Farmers in the West have access to a number of instruments designed to manage risk; futures trading (which guarantees a price at harvest) and crop insurance are two of the most important.  And the use of trade marks – and enforcement of these – is a factor that can help to protect farmers from buying counterfeit seed which does not perform.

The pilot crop insurance program was launched by the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture in Kenya, and enables farmers to use their cell phones (see recent post on cell phones) to register and insure seed and input purchases.  Although there are several other comparable programs, insuring any link in the agricultural value chain is problematic because high and varied risks and the size of most farms (<1 ha) make it difficult to built actuarial models.

Post written by Peter Bloch    , consultant to CAS-IP

Open Access in the CGIAR

Victoria Henson-Apollonio circulated a link to Richard Poynder’s blog post, “A letter to CGIAR in support of Open Access” http://poynder.blogspot.com/2010/05/letter-to-cgiar-in-support-of-open.html#links

Poynder, a prolific journalist with a special interest in Open Access, reports that:

Indian Open Access (OA) advocate Professor Subbiah Arunachalam (Arun) organized a letter to the top management of CGIAR . The letter spoke of the need for, and advantages of, making all of CGIAR’s research output Open Access.

Poynder interviews Arun, who makes a number of astute and relevant observations about the origins and the mandate of the CGIAR and similar organizations.  Arun observes that:

Unfortunately, research findings of CGIAR laboratories often end up as articles in refereed professional journals, most of which are behind toll access. I thought it needed to be corrected.

In the belief that research conducted by public organizations should be easily accessible, Arun has written similar letters to other organizations which have a development mandate.

CAS-IP lawyer Francesca Re Manning posted a comment on Poynder’s blog in response to this interview:

I completely agree with Professor Arunachalam. Research outputs should be made as widely accessible as possible; this is one of the ways the CGIAR can fulfill its mission. CAS-IP, the legal unit to the CGIAR, is assisting other centers in going “open”, advising on open access strategies and copyright. That is why Bioversity, CIMMYT, and ICARDA are following ICRISAT’s example, adopting an open access policy and consistently use of Creative Commons as well as OpenData Commons for their data exchanges. We are really pleased to be involved in this process which will ultimately benefit research in the agricultural sector in developing countries.

Enrica Porcari, Chief Information Officer of the CGIAR and Leader of the CGIAR’s ICT-KM Program, posted a reponse to the letter sent by Subbiah Arunachalam to the CGIAR leadership.  In her response she outlines some of the OA policies underway at various centres within the CGIAR.  She says:

“Open access” policies can often be easily applied to products that stay in our hands, but the situation becomes more complex when it comes to articles published by third parties.

And this is of course true also of works co-written with third parties.  Enrica concludes by saying:

Rather than a policy on “open access” limited to journal articles, I would instead prefer to see us develop a strong and clear CGIAR view and set of practices that balance the need for high quality science with highly accessible outputs, and reinforces the substantial progress we have already made across all the Centers…I would advocate for a concerted effort to “opening access to our research”

The debate is continuing in the comments section of the original blog post.  Read more about the ICT-KM ‘Triple A Framework ‘ that Enrica references in her post.

Last year, Poynder featured CAS-IP in a post entitled “Intellectual Property, Open Access, and the Developing World“.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP and Kay Chapman

Text messaging will fight drug counterfeiting in Africa

Another innovative new application for African cell phone users is described in this story: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_21/b4179037128534.htm

If drug companies sign on, purchasers of prescription drugs will be able to text message a unique bar code number on the package to a service provider and receive an immediate confirmation that it is (or is not!) what it claims to be.  Two providers (mPedigree and Sproxil) will be testing competing services later this year, and both Merck and Glaxo-SmithKline are interested.

This new service, if implemented, will address at least part of the problem we commented on in February http://casipblog.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/africa-as-a-dumping-ground-for-counterfeit-goods.

According to the Financial Times, the number of mobile telephones in Africa rose from 15.6 million in 2000 to 135 million in 2005. That represents a compound annual growth rate of almost 54%, compared with 24% globally.  Between 2005 and 2009, when the installed base had increased to 300 million units, the growth rate slowed to 22%.  And a study by the London Business School concluded that an extra ten mobile phones per 100 people in a typical developing country leads to an additional 0.44 percentage points of growth in GDP per person[1].

The market has continued to expand, exciting new services such as M-Pesa (money transfers) continue to be introduced, and competition between providers is intense.   Scientific American warns, however, that the increasing reliance on mobile telephony for sensitive transactions presents risks:

As cell phones become more technologically advanced, they will become the top tech platform for the large majority of the world…. Mobile devices and networks, however, will be vulnerable to malware, hacker attacks and theft, just like computers are today.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP


[1] http://www.theglobalist.com/globalicons/syndication/sample.htm

The landscape for access and benefit sharing of genetic resources

Last month the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity posted a notification regarding the communication of a proposed Protocol pursuant to Article 28 paragraph 3 of the Convention on Biological Diversity.  The notification is available on the Secretariat’s web site at: http://cdn.www.cbd.int/doc/notifications/2010/ntf-2010-071-abs-en.pdf

Now, what does this all mean? I asked Peter Munyi, a lawyer and consultant to CAS-IP.  He told me:

“…the expectation is that the protocol will, if adopted,  provide an internationally recognized landscape for access and benefit sharing of genetic resources. While  this  protocol is also seen as  having potential to spur technology transfer from the north to the south, and to stem biopriracy,  the devil is in the detail. The proposed text on scope  (article 3) is wide and non-exclusive. It’s therefore proposed to have all genetic resources  falling within the ambit of the protocol. This includes plant genetic resources that are the subject of the ITPGRFA, as well as others  such as animal GRs, forest GRs and microbials, that have been the subject of discussions with the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.”

So, until now discussions are continuing about how the sectorial approach will fit in with the proposed protocol (in particular for our interest area, PGRFA).  I was pointed in the direction of a pertinent paper entitled “International Agreements and Processes Affecting an International Regime on Access and Benefit Sharing under the Convention on Biological Diversity“, (Thanks Isabel).  The document is intended as:

“… a contribution to the ongoing negotiations of an international regime on access and benefit sharing (ABS) under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). It aims at clarifying the main interfaces with other international agreements and processes relevant for ABS, in view of the challenges of ensuring consistency with these established frameworks. Furthermore, it provides information of importance for identifying the scope of an international ABS regime. And finally, it seeks to contribute to the discussion of the usefulness and possible design of a sectoral approach to ABS.”

See specifically the first section of the report “Interface with the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture” for implications a new international regime for access and benefit sharing could have on materials in the multi-lateral system.

Should be some further clarity after the next session in the Autumn.

Support for bottom-up innovation

I was sent this link earlier in the week (thanks Victoria), and I have to say it was somewhat of a relief to read.  The link was to a New York Times review entitled “Doomsayers Beware, a Bright Future Beckons.”   The book being reviewed; The Rational Optimist.

The NYTimes article says:

“…from Stone Age seashells to the steam engine to the personal computer, innovation has mostly been a bottom-up process…with ideas spreading faster than ever on the Internet, Dr. Ridley expects bottom-up innovators to prevail. His prediction for the rest of the century: “Prosperity spreads, technology progresses, poverty declines, disease retreats, fecundity falls, happiness increases, violence atrophies, freedom grows, knowledge flourishes, the environment improves and wilderness expands.”

Well, that’s a nice way to end the week — hope for the future of the human race!

Enhancing Capacity for Innovation

A recent article at scidev.net argues that “agriculture needs better innovation, not technology”.  The authors suggest that part of the problem is what might be described as technological determinism:

…farmers’ capacity to access and use information for innovation has been overshadowed by the conventional view that change is driven primarily by new technology and farmer-led technical improvements.

A good example of innovation is the Purdue method: sturdy plastic bags and a short training enable cowpea farmers to dramatically reduce post harvest loss, which in some parts of West Africa accounts for 40% of output.  India’s Honey Bee Database – a collection of 10,000+ innovations – is the most comprehensive approach to sharing grassroots wisdom, one farmer to another.

The message here is simple: improved seed and market linkages are critical elements in building food security, but CG centers, NARS and donor-driven projects can enhance their impact by disseminating information on inexpensive and innovative techniques that have a positive effect on farm output and living standards.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

Plumpy’nut legal battle and the idea of “global responsibility licencing”

A very interesting article on the BBC website last month describes a legal battle over a “hunger wonder product”. “Legal fight over Plumpy’nut, the hunger wonder-product

The product is “Plumpy’nut” (more details on the Wikipedia page) and there are lots of emotive issues!

1)Children are starving, 2)There is a product that helps reduce illness and death from malnutrition, 3)This product is protected by a patent held by a private company based in France; Nutriset[i]. 4) Nutriset now face a lawsuit  because the “patents on its therapeutic food formulas are overly broad, prohibiting other groups from producing similar food intended for malnourished people[ii]

As I said, lots of emotive issues…

An allbusiness.com link reported that Doctors without Borders released an open letter:

“…scolding Nutriset for hindering efforts by other groups to distribute products similar to its formulas.  “There needs to be more than one [worldwide] supplier to ensure a secure supply chain,” wrote Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer in a November 2009 letter. “The intellectual property pertaining to nutritional products of a humanitarian nature must therefore be handled differently from that pertaining to commercial products.”

And therein lies the argument that underpins this, and many other similar stories.  IP relating to a product with a humanitarian nature should somehow be “handled differently”.  The BBC article highlighted a quote from Stephane Doyon of Medecins Sans Frontieres:

“in a domain as sensitive as humanitarian aid [patents] need to be handled with extreme flexibility”.

But how? Are we looking at a failing in the current system, an error, or a change in expectations of what a patent should do?  Arguably, without IP protection many innovations would fail to materialise.  One argument brought forward in the article was that IP protected by Nutriset[iii] can be used for development purposes. The Nutriset’s communications manager was quoted as saying

“If the US companies were able to beat the patent, the global volume of RUTFs would of course go up. But it would also mean the end for our local partners in Africa, who wouldn’t be able to compete. That is not what we want.”

How can we ensure these ends are protected too?

There is one group that has a suggestion, and they are working towards realising the idea!  View this short clip for more details.  An inspiring presentation given at Davos 2010 for “Global Responsibility Licencing“.


[i] Click here for the patent information and here for information about Nurtiset[ii] See also “Fullbright goes pro bono in IP case over food for the hungry” for information about the case.  They have apparently been issuing cease-and-desist letters to competitors.  [iii] Nutriset position themselves as a “company 100% dedicated to humanitarian programs nutrition” for information purposes note they are a private enterprise

EPO action on Green Patents

Guat Hong Teh sent me this link to an article in Nature http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100505/full/465021a.html describing an EPO initiative to make clean energy patents easily accessible in a central database:

The EPO trawled through 60 million patent documents and re-classified clean-energy patents according to 160 technical categories, such as carbon capture and solar photovoltaics. This should make it much easier to find patent information. The database launches in June through esp@cenet (http://www.espacenet.com), a gateway to European patent databases. Last year, the EPO received 1,259 renewable-energy patent applications, up 27% from 2008, and the new database will be updated daily to include the growing number of energy patents filed at patent offices worldwide (see Going green).

This is a real groundbreaker and is part of a trend that includes a fast-track program for green energy patent applications in both the USA and the UK.

A reminder that CAS, particularly through working with ICRISAT, has been instrumental in ensuring that literature relating to CG innovations is included in EPO’s non-patent literature database. Victoria Henson-Apollonio observes that:

This ensures that patent examiners are more fully informed about prior art and helps make sure that patents don’t cover what is already known and has been put forward by others; and this results in better quality patents.

Back to green patents: check out the Global Innovations Commons.

As part of their public service program, financial and IP innovator M•CAM has assembled an impressive database of public domain IP – mostly expired patents –  in categories such as agriculture, soil erosion and solar energy.  This information is freely available, but…

…here’s the catch. We’re sharing this under a license. The license is really simple. If you use this information, you must share what you’re doing with everyone else. If you improve upon it, you must share your improvements with everyone else. And finally, if you use any of this information, you must reference the “Global Innovation Commons.” That’s it. When you take the next step, turn the possibilities into realities.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

Reminder about the Mid-Term Review and Future Scenarios of the CGIAR Central Advisory Service on Intellectual Property

Please don’t forget to participate in the CAS-IP Mid Term Review.  For more information visit our earlier blog post. Or to proceed directly to the online survey you can visit http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/casip2010review.

Thank you to all those who have already completed the online survey.  Your inputs and opinions are important!

Havasupai Tribe v. Arizona Board of Regents; settlement reached over allegations of unauthorized genetic studies

An interesting story in the NY Times last month “Indian Tribe Wins Fight to Limit Research of Its DNA” details a dispute over the use of DNA samples collected by researchers from Arizona State University from members of the Havasupai Indians tribe. The case has now reached a settlement.  The NY Times item reports: (emphasis is my own)

“…the university’s Board of Regents on Tuesday agreed to pay $700,000 to 41 of the tribe’s members, return the blood samples and provide other forms of assistance to the impoverished Havasupai — a settlement that legal experts said was significant because it implied that the rights of research subjects can be violated when they are not fully informed about how their DNA might be used.”

It goes on to say:

“But genetics experts and civil rights advocates say it may also fuel a growing debate over researchers’ responsibility to communicate the range of personal information that can be gleaned from DNA at a time when it is being collected on an ever-greater scale for research and routine medical care.”

The Scope Medical Blog where I first read about the case (thanks for sending me the link Jeremy!), quotes a law professor and director of the Center for Law and Biosciences as saying the Havasupai case is a “big deal” and that he thinks “science has been taking a too cavalier view of how broadly it can use samples and data it gets from people for one purpose” “. The Scope Blog item was making references to the much older case of Henrietta Lacks and questioning whether the Havasupai case will provide a means for her descendents to seek redress.

Whilst on the subject of PIC it might be of interest to note that in 2008 CAS-IP presented draft guidelines for the acquisition and use of traditional knowledge by CGIAR scientists. These guidelines were presented to the CGIAR’s Genetic Resources Policy Committee (GRPC) and can be viewed: http://www.cas-ip.org/resources/publications/traditional-knowledge-guidelines/