IP issues in the launch of MASA – The Malawi Seed Alliance

Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP, is on the road in Africa working on several ICRISAT projects.  He sent the following update:

On behalf of CAS I’ve been working with ICRISAT over the last year on the Irish Aid funded Malawi Seed Industry Development project, and we decided to launch a stakeholder alliance to support the work – making certified legume seed more widely available.

While small holder farmers in Malawi now purchase maize seed every year, most legumes are still grown from farm-saved seed (grain).  Experience suggests that trust in the source is a major factor in the adoption of new varieties and new crops.  In order to support small new seed companies and new seed retailers (mostly agrodealers), we proposed the development of an umbrella brand which could be used by all stakeholders in the supply and distribution chains.  ICRISAT agreed, and this plan will be supported by a marketing campaign to let farmers know about the benefit of buying certified seed and where they can buy it.

The issue I am very focused on right now is a practical application of my response to Ethiopia’s G.I. legislation (https://casipblog.wordpress.com/2010/01/22/ethiopia’s-gi-bill/) as follows:

It would be highly desirable to allow agrodealers who have passed through one of ICRISAT’s Seed Production and Marketing programs to display the MASA logo with a caption such as “MASA certified seed dealer”.  But as this branding exercise is all about trust and reliability, how can we ensure that a dealer does not pass grain off as certified seed by using one of the MASA branded seed bags we plan to distribute?  A few days ago I went out to Kasungu and discussed this with a group of five agrodealers who had participated in the first training.

Agrodealers in Malawi

Standing, from left : Elias Mpumila, Noel J. Sambo, Mathews Malata. Seated, from left : Mary Kazombo, Goodwin Kasale.

When I asked them about the “trust” issue, they made these observations:

  • the success of our businesses depends on our relationships with the farming community;
  • if we sell our customers a product which does not perform we risk losing business;
  • it is very much in our interests to make sure customers are satisfied with the products and services they buy from us.

This makes a lot of sense but does not rule out the odd scofflaw who decides to profit by selling grain in a seed bag marked with the MASA logo as certified seed.  One of the Alliance partners – NASFAM – proposed that we trade mark the MASA logo and name;  we had planned to do this, but – as in the case of Ethiopia – we will not have any enforcement mechanisms, so the risk factor needs further consideration.

Several days after writing the above, I met with another group in Dwangwa who had formed an agrodealer association.  They had invited two tribal chiefs to join the discussion and it soon became evident that the association viewed entry into the seed market as a significant development for the local economy.  When I raised our concern about possible misuse of the MASA branded seed bags, the two chiefs responded by telling me that this would not happen – they would raise the issue at community meetings.  After further discussion it became evident that informal “self-policing” would take place in this area and that we could encourage similar activity in other regional markets.

As the benefits so far outweigh the risks, we are moving ahead to trade mark the MASA brand, develop a license agreement and signage for the agrodealers, and ensure that appropriate MASA-branded seed bags are ordered prior to the harvest.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

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6 responses to “IP issues in the launch of MASA – The Malawi Seed Alliance

  1. Karine MALGRAND

    Good Job ! Thanks to the MASA seed alliance and all stakeholders !
    Thanks for this post !

  2. Bravo Peter!

  3. Richard Jones

    This is an innovative approach to improving the availability of quality seed of improved open-pollinated varieties that are not commercially attractive to traditional seed companies, but nevertheless are important components of smallholder cropping systems

  4. Elaine Wolf

    Sounds like a job well done. I am very impressed with you and the work you and your group are doing.

  5. Pingback: Farm Radio Weekly » Farm Radio Weekly Archive » Notes to broadcasters on seed ownership

  6. Pingback: Farm Radio Weekly » Farm Radio Weekly Archive » Notes to broadcasters on seed ownership

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