Monthly Archives: November 2009

“Is There Such a Thing as Agro-Imperialism?”

I received a link to this New York Times “Is There Such a Thing as Agro-Imperialism?” article from eastafricaforum www.eastafricaforum.net

“Dr. Robert Zeigler, an eminent American botanist (ed: and DG of IRRI), flew to Saudi Arabia in March for a series of high-level discussions about the future of the kingdom’s food supply. Saudi leaders were frightened: heavily dependent on imports, they had seen the price of rice and wheat, their dietary staples, fluctuate violently on the world market over the previous three years, at one point doubling in just a few months. The Saudis, rich in oil money but poor in arable land, were groping for a strategy to ensure that they could continue to meet the appetites of a growing population, and they wanted Zeigler’s expertise.”

The article describes how:

“In a series of meetings, Saudi government officials, bankers and agribusiness executives told an institute delegation led by Zeigler that they intended to spend billions of dollars to establish plantations to produce rice and other staple crops in African nations like Mali, Senegal, Sudan and Ethiopia. “They laid out this incredible plan,” Zeigler recalled. He was flabbergasted, not only by the scale of the projects but also by the audacity of their setting. Africa, the world’s most famished continent, can’t currently feed itself, let alone foreign markets.”

We have made reference in several posts to this trend.  Foreign investors have been buying land in Africa, building infrastructure and creating jobs.  But what are the long-term implications for Africa and its own food security?  The article raises questions which are central to the ongoing discussion around global food security, and in a September 28th IRRI Press Release, Zeigler references the trend:

“IRRI supports the proposed code of practice for international land acquisition for food production, including rice, recommended by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), which calls for
transparency in negotiations;
respect for existing land rights, including customary and common property rights;
sharing of benefits;
environmental sustainability; and
adherence to national trade policies.”
http://beta.irri.org/news/index.php/press-releases/land-grabs-for-rice-production-due-to-supply-threats.html#top

An IFPRI paper Land Grabbing by Foreign Investors in Developing Countries: Risks and Opportunities at:
http://www.ifpri.org/sites/default/files/publications/bp013all.pdf contains a wealth of information and is a “must read” for anyone interested in this subject. IFPRI’s position is that:

“It is crucial to ensure that these land deals, and the environment within which they
take place, are designed in ways that will reduce the threats and facilitate the opportunities for all parties involved.”

There are many opinions on the subject but the Guardian is the most interesting one I’ve seen:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/03/land-grabbing-food-environment
Investment standards aside, the bitter truth is – to paraphrase John Burgess – that money speaks louder.  Many countries in Africa are desperate for foreign investment and job creation, and may not be in a position to take the long term view as these opportunities present themselves.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

The devil is in the differing-detail for the European Patent Office

Despite that many say that patent law within the European Union is reasonably uniform, there are still strong differences which go to the root of the matter.  In a recent hearing, Ranger Services Ltd’s application (BL O/362/09) of 17 November 2009, the applicant challenged the guiding principle that the European Patent Office (EPO) had applied in evaluating the existing prior art.  The EPO took its decision on the basis that proof had to be “beyond reasonable doubt”.   The applicant claimed that in the UK a patent is a matter of civil law and thus decisions ought to be taken on “the balance of probabilities”, not on “proof beyond reasonable doubt” which applies only in criminal matters.

Regardless of the fact that the evidence was not strong enough even if the “balance of probabilities” had been applied, this is a great case which illustrates how much EU Member States need to do to ensure a uniformed and consistent patent-granting regime.

Post written by Francesca Re Manning, consultant to CAS-IP

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD); comment on meetings that concluded this month

A few days ago the meeting on the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Montreal was concluded.  First, the sixth meeting of the Ad-hoc Open-ended Working Group on Article 8(j) and Related Provisions (Article 8(j) WG 6) of the CBD was held (from 2 to 6 November), and then the eighth meeting on Access Sharing (9-15 November).  You can see a summary of the highlights along with related documents here http://www.iisd.ca/biodiv/wg8j-6/ and here http://www.iisd.ca/biodiv/abs8/

Dr Claudio Chiarolla, expert, UNEP ABS Knowledge Hub of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), made the following comments:

“the discussions on traditional knowledge (Article 8j) developed reasonably well. It seemed however that too much caution was taken in relation to the mechanisms to incorporate the text of new submissions into the draft of the international ABS regime; the result was that ‘real’ negotiations on this document did not even start.”

I agree that this is a shame as a Protocol, once incorporated into national laws, could change radically the way that research and innovation are carried out, as well as turning a very convoluted document like the CBD into something more concrete and manageable. On a positive conclusive note though Dr Chiarolla adds:

“it was encouraging however to see how many countries were discussing openly and frankly the issue of Prior Informed Consent (PIC) of indigenous and local communities”.

Is WIPO’s alleged push towards traditional knowledge really working?

Post written by Francesca Re Manning, consultant to CAS-IP

The World Food Summit, November, Rome 2009

When compared with donor focus on “the food crisis” that was so evident last year,  there has been a notable lack of news, comment and analysis surrounding the World Food Summit that took place at FAO last week in Rome.  Few heads of State were present, possibly in part due to the world’s economic woes and in part due to international focus on Copenhagen.

Earlier in the week there was criticism that farmers groups were underrepresented http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=49278.  A more general discussion surrounds the key role Civil Society Organisations http://blogs.oxfam.org/en/blog/09-11-15-world-food-summit-parallel-view have in the process. 

The Oxfam blog says:

“In their Declaration to the WFS, farmer’s organisations and civil society organisations (CSOs) from Burkina Faso, including the Farmer’s Confederation of Burkina Faso and the Permanent Secretariat of NGOs in Burkina Faso, write: “This summit must take into account the concerns of farmers’ organisations and CSOs. If civil society’s concerns had been taken into account during the [last] global food summit, the world would not have undergone the 2008 food crisis and there would have been no need to hold the second summit.”

But “energy” around the summit itself seems to be lacking.  The FAO has published on its website a “World Food Summit Newsletter” which includes the summits plan of action and list of commitments.   The closing statements can be read, or watched on the FAO site linked here, they contain only polite formalities.  What changes might we expect to see in the short and medium term?

It is worth noting that in October 2008 that Kofi Annan accused rich countries of reneging on promises that were made in 2005 to help feed the world’s hungry. He said that wealthy nations should not use the global financial crisis as a pretext for not meeting their commitments.

The BBC reports that:

The head of the UN food agency, Jacques Diouf, says he is not satisfied with the final declaration of the UN world food summit in Rome…”I am not satisfied that some of the concrete proposals I made were not accepted. There was no consensus on this and I regret it.”

Innovation, big business & “glocalization”

Jeffrey R. Immelt, Vijay Govindarajan, and Chris Trimble have written a paper on what they call “glocalization“:  http://hbr.harvardbusiness.org/2009/10/how-ge-is-disrupting-itself/ar/1

GE has developed low cost products for emerging markets and then found they could sell them at home.  (If you do not subscribe to HBR you can purchase the full article, otherwise just the abstract is available.)

This same “reverse innovation” was covered by Business Week at:

http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/jul2008/tc2008076_973163.htm?campaign_id=techn_Oct13&link_position=link53

“The qualities that make a product good for the developing world—sturdy, cheap, adaptable, modular, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, computer platform-neutral, and bandwidth-savvy—make it a good product, period. Suddenly “less is more” goes from abstract design ideal to the only viable option. This is why some of the most innovative ideas today are coming from efforts to address the needs of those most in need.” (BusinessWeek)

The article describes a number of innovations, from hardware to software, from a wind-up flashlight to storm-tracing software, that were developed to address the needs of developing countries but have found markets in the West.

This is an encouraging trend; it suggests that more R&D funding may be available to support the development of products and processes that will find their initial markets in developing and emerging economies.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

Agriculture expert picked to lead USAID

Keith Jones sent me this link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/10/AR2009111017483.html  (you have to sign up to access the archives, but it is free and quick). Rajiv Shah, who worked for the Gates Foundation and then served as under-secretary for agriculture, has been nominated to head USAID. This article observes that: 

“Shah’s nomination, which must be approved by the Senate, comes as the White House and the State Department are studying how to redesign a U.S. aid system widely viewed as uncoordinated and wasteful. In addition, Congress is considering overhauling the 1960s-era legislation governing assistance.”

…and provides a link to a speech that Secretary of State Clinton delivered at the Clinton Global Initiative. 

Shah helped to write this speech and you can read it by visiting this link:

Here is an excerpt from Clinton’s speech that may provide some insight into the future evolution of USAID: 

“After years of effort and billions of dollars, we have not achieved the lasting results we desire.  But we have learned some very valuable lessons.  We know that the most effective strategies emanate from those closest to the problems, not governments or institutions hundreds or thousands of miles away….And we know that development works best when it is based not in aid, but in investment.”

The White House press release announcing the nomination is at:  http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/president-obama-announces-usaid-administrator And politico covered the story.  In this excerpt from the politico blog story, reference is made to greater collaboration:

 “Shah seemed to anticipate working closely with Clinton and USAID when he gave an interview to his hometown Seattle paper in May upon taking the USDA job. “There are times in history when presidents have succeeded in bringing together very powerful people,” Shah told the Seattle Post Intelligencer, noting that he was reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals.  “He anticipates the Ag Department, the State Department, and Agency for International Development ‘will work together as a team’ on food issues inside and outside America’s borders,” the paper added.”
 Aid as investment is a pathway that USAID has in fact been pursuing through its Global Development Alliance (GDA) initiative.  GDAs take a market-based approach to partnerships between the public and private sectors to address jointly defined objectives. The ICRISAT led West Africa Seed Alliance is receiving funding from USAID through a GDA.  In 2001-2009 USAID launched 900 alliances with 1,700+ partners, and reports that they have leveraged their overall investments by 2.7:1 as a result of Alliance member contributions. 

The nomination of a scientist who is also an agriculture expert and an innovator is good news for the CGIAR.  And the Change Management process has underscored the need for the “new” CG to leverage Center resources by forming partnerships to pursue shared goals. 

A new focus by USAID on investment and by the CG on partnerships suggests that if CG centers can be creative, there will be plentiful opportunities to build PPPs with USAID support and funding as Global  Development Alliances. 

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP                

 

“Can Biotech Food Cure World Hunger?”

Victoria Henson-Apollonio, the CAS-IP manager, sent me this link:

http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/26/can-biotech-food-cure-world-hunger/

For those of us who are involved in food security, this is extremely stimulating because a number of experts present their viewpoints on the question.  Here is a sampling:

Paul Collier: The debate over genetically modified crops and food has been contaminated by political and aesthetic prejudices: hostility to U.S. corporations, fear of big science and romanticism about local, organic production.

Vandana Shiva: Food security over the next two decades will have to be built on ecological security and climate resilience. We need the real green revolution, not a second “Green Revolution” based on genetic engineering.

Raj Patel: The U.S. leads the world in genetically modified agricultural technology, yet one in eight Americans is hungry. Last year, with bumper harvests, more than a billion people ate less than 1,900 calories per day. The cause of hunger today isn’t a shortage of food — it’s poverty.

Whatever we think about biotechnology, this NYTimes blog makes an even-handed effort to present a number of expert opinions in some depth.  One thing is for sure – everyone has strong views on the subject!

The CGIAR provides a perspective within the context of the Alliance mission at: http://www.cgiar.org/impact/agribiotech.html

This overview observes that:

As transgenics could offer important options for meeting food demand and environmental challenges, many scientists dedicated to reducing hunger and creating wealth among poor farmers consider such new technologies to be one part of the tool box of possible solutions.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

Further to this post I was sent a link (thanks Keith!) “Food: is Monsanto the answer or the problem?” where Reuters have mapped out where GM crops are cultivated and made comparisons between GM and non-GM.  It provides useful snapshot of information for the context of this post.

Father of Grass Root Innovation: Prof. Anil K. Gupta and His Ideologies

Special thanks to Sahida Kamri who is a blogger on the Gen-X blog – a blog created by the budding IP and technology management professionals of India. Bloggers are students of PGD-IPTMA Course, National Academy of Agricultural Research Management (NAARM), India.  The following post was written and submitted by Sahida Kamri for the CAS-IP blog:

Father of Grass Root Innovation: Prof. Anil K. Gupta and His Ideologies

Prof. Anil K. GuptaProfessor Anil Kumar Gupta, a senior faculty at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad is successfully blending knowledge of grassroot innovators with corporate houses.  He is the executive vice-chairman of NIF (National Innovation Foundation).  In an interview with The Wall Street Journal | India he talks about cross-pollination work of grassroots innovations, ideas on globalization, technology commons and his experience with big industries as well as Government.  The persistent and dedicated work of NIF under his leadership has more than 120,000 grass root innovations and traditional knowledge practices.  These are documented from fields such as agriculture, animal and human medicines, herbal drugs, mechanical devices, rural technologies from the informal and unorganized sector of rural and urban India.  Prof. Anil K Gupta’s contribution for grass root innovators and rural people has been also recently discussed in the blog Gen – X ideas on IP.

How did it start?

In 1986, after a tour of Bangladesh Prof. Anil K Gupta seriously thought about helping poor rural people.  He worked hard to create recognition and awareness around the importance of grass root innovators in the formal system.  He also took the initiative to document traditional knowledge, some of which is now on the edge of extinction.  This vision developed into the National Innovation Foundation. Established under the Department of Science and technology, Government of India on 28th February, 2000, the main aim being to scout, document and scale sustainable innovations, and to help innovators from the informal sector get their products to market through incubation and business development.  NIF helps in protecting Intellectual Property rights of grass-root innovators and documents their various innovations and traditional practices.  It also helps in the technology transfer of suitable technologies.  57 technologies have been already licensed.  The former President of India Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam has been a great supporter and guide to NIF since its inception and highly appreciates Prof. A.K. Gupta’s efforts.  A database of innovations and medicinal plants in various languages is maintained by NIF.  Two appendages of NIF are SRISTI and GIAN which provide complete support to it in all its activities.

Shodh Yatra – A journey to reach knowledge

More than ten years ago Prof. Anil K Gupta learned about a creative idea called “Shodh Yatra”, one he has continued.  Shodh Yatra is a journey on foot through the remote areas of India for the exploration of knowledge, creativity and innovations at grassroots.  The main aim of the journey is to understand and document traditional knowledge and grassroots innovations that have not only simplified the lives of men, women and farm workers but have also significantly contributed towards the conservation of bio-diversity. Prof. Gupta used to conduct Shodh Yatra twice in a year especially in summer and winter to share knowledge across rural India. Our Organization NAARM (National Academy of Agricultural Research Management) with NIF had organized Shodh Yatra (we called it Gyan Shodh) for students of PGD IPTMA (Post Graduate Diploma in Intellectual Property and Technology Management). It was a great experience and learning for us, the report of the Gyan Shodh is available on the internet. His work and noble thought inspired us to join the Shodh Yatra.

India is really blessed having a son like Prof. Anil K. Gupta.  He is a true role model to be followed by the youth of nation.  His many ideologies such as respect to traditional practices as well as grass root innovations, belief in sustainable technologies etc match with that of the Father of Nation – Mahatma Gandhi.  He works for India but his essence of work has spread globally.

Ethiopia – “Will The Real Poor Farmer Rise”

The Ethiopian coffee story continues.

You can read a letter from Dr. Eleni Gabre-Madhin (CEO of ECX) by visiting this link:

And a response to this from blogger Nazret here:

And Aldo Coffee weighs in here.  (Although a well placed source observed that this item “recirculates misinformation”.)

Because this story is ongoing, we now intend to only post developments we consider to be signficant from an IP/branding/supply chain perspective, especially if there are lessons that might be learned to benefit commodity producers in other countries.

But if you check the poorfarmer and nazret blogs you’ll get a blow by blow account. Eastafricaforum is probably the most reliable source of information on the Horn of Africa, and significant coffee related events are usually posted there.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

 

Innovation and the GDP Mirage

The American press has, understandably, been almost myopic in recent  months.  The focus – the US Economy.

Michael Mandel (Business Week Nov 9th) explains how GDP growth, which many see as a barometer of economic well-being, does not tell all.   This measure of economic activity does not record changes in R&D spending or product design.  While Bloomberg is forecasting an increase of almost 4% in US GDP for the third quarter, Mandel points to R&D cuts:  Lexmark, 16%, Adobe 19%, Caterpillar 25% and Alcoa a whopping 36%.  And it is investments in R&D today that will power the economy in years to come.  You can read his analysis at:
http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_45/b4154034724383.htm?chan=magazine+channel_top+stories

But the innovation model has changed. In WWII and the post-war years, government funded basic research, and the private sector did the applied research required to create products and processes.  The Bayh-Dole Act (1953) expanded the playing field:  universities were allowed to license technologies developed with government research dollars to the private sector, and this set off an innovation boom.

This period marked the ascendance of Xerox PARC and Bell Labs.  Bell  Labs inventions include fax, TV broadcast, the transistor, UNIX, cellphones. But now that private sector investment and government funding for basic research have both been declining, what research is being done today that is going to drive the economy in 5,10 or 15 years?

In “A Radical Rethink of R&D” (Business Week 9/7/09) Adrian Slywotzky, a management consultant, analyzes new innovation models which have been developed by IBM, Microsoft and others. New kinds of research partnerships have been forged, many of them in emerging economies like Brazil.  They are about exerting maximum leverage on available resources; about risk management; and about  incentives. You can read the story in full at: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_36/b4145035674883.htm

At CAS-IP we are interested in innovation models because there may be lessons to be learned in the North which can benefit the South.  Our work with cacao producers in Ecuador and with WASA on food security is informed by what we have learned about marketing and about supply and distribution chains in North America and Europe.  And innovation is a critical element in implementing these kinds of projects.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP