Tag Archives: expert comment

Seed Sector in Sub-Saharan Africa – policy brief

This is a link to a policy brief published last month by IFPRI: “Promoting a Strong Seed Sector in Sub-Saharan Africa” Author: Nicholas Minot. Peter Bloch, CAS-IP’s market development specialist wrote the following in connection with this topic:

“The access to public-sector germplasm and proposed harmonization of seed regulation both involve intellectual property issues and, in the case of the former, a new approach by the CG and by NARS to public goods policy. The West Africa Seed Alliance (WASA), which has been pursuing the goals advocated in this paper, has been making progress on both fronts in West Africa.”

IFPRI summarised the report as follows:

“The policy brief from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) suggests that sub-Saharan Africa needs a cost- effective system of seed production and distribution, and that a coordinated effort between the public and private sectors is necessary to make this happen. The public sector, it says, needs to invest more in plant breeding and the development of new varieties, particularly open-pollinated varieties of staple food crops.

According to the policy brief, seed production and marketing are often more efficiently carried out by private seed companies, but they must be supported with an enabling policy environment. Such an environment would include: 1) a clear legal framework for private seed companies; 2) access to public-sector germplasm; 3) the absence of subsidized state seed companies; 4) streamlined varietal release policies; 5) regional harmonization of seed regulations; 6) and limits on the distribution of free seed by non-governmental organizations in nonemergency situations. The brief also says that seed policy should help promote efficient informal seed systems, while controlling misleading sales practices.”

Food aid, food crises and stimulation of functioning market places

There is a blog out there I was reading today called the “Private Sector Development Blog” (strapline; “a market approach to development thinking”).    They have a great line up of writers for their blog and given the new market driven attitude to development (from donors such as Gates) I expect to consult this blog more regularly to hear their take on things.  Anyway, that wasn’t the main reason for my post today.  The specific article I have linked to was looking at a report published by Care International this month calling for reform of the food aid system.  One of the points raised in the report deals with investment in agriculture – and it mentions the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme of which one of the main aims is to “increase agricultural research and systems to disseminate appropriate new technologies, and increase the support given to help farmers to adopt them.”  See article http://www.africafiles.org/article.asp?ID=18554  and NEPAD site http://www.nepad.org for more details of this initiative.  Those who deal with technology transfer in this area might like to keep an eye on this for developments.  Before uploading this post, I showed it to my colleague Peter Bloch, who is a TT specialist, and he had the following comments:

“The report “makes the very reasonable argument that more aid money ought to be spent helping prevent food disasters rather than simply responding to emergencies once they arise” and PSD Blog goes on to observe that political structures in developing countries are a critical factor in the success of food aid projects. The CG’s Change Management initiative has generated a number of reports and opinions indicating that in order for the CG to meets its mission goals it will need to be more effective in engaging with the private sector.  This is equally true of any attempt to develop long-term solutions to food shortages.  One model for this is the West Africa Seed Alliance which seeks to stimulate the development of market driven distribution chains for agricultural products.  Long term approaches to food shortages will need to engage ag research agencies, public organizations such as FAO and the private sector (e.g., seed, fertilizer and  investment companies) and the challenge then becomes the design of PPPs which can serve disparate agendas and, at the same time, build sustainable food supply chains.”

Patents that can be (in effect) public goods

This article is an update on the Eco-Patent Commons initiative.  Less than a year since its launch this project seems to be gaining momentum.  Two of the most recent pledged patents mentioned in the article relevant to our field are:

“A cutting edge, Xerox technology that significantly reduces the time and cost of removing hazardous waste from water and soil;
A technology developed by DuPont that converts certain non-recyclable plastics into beneficial fertilizer;”

A while back when I first blogged something about the Eco-patent commons, I saw that the commons has the following ‘rule’. 

“Members of the Eco-Patent Commons (known as “pledgers”) sign a nonassert pledge promising not to enforce the donated patents against those who use the patented technology to achieve an environmentally beneficial result (known as “implementers”).”

So, it works in a HUL-kind-of-way in that “implementers” have special licence to use the patent as they are achieving an environmentally beneficial result.  Except that licence is automatic, and the onus is on the rights holder to enforce – the upside to this being small business on the ground can go ahead and use the technologies without having to negotiate licensing terms.  Sounds sensible?!

Prior to making this post I sent the draft to my colleague Guat Hong Teh, the CAS-IP, IP Specialist, to ask what she thought about it.  She wrote:

“I had a quick glance at the website of the WBCSD – fascinating indeed! I think I have a rather different perspective from you in terms of how I see this piece of news. The first thing that came to my mind when I read this was:
How can we (in the public sector/the CGIAR) further encourage PPPs in agriculture/development-related projects through mechanisms such as corporate social responsibility and other models that would work for businesses to engage in our activities in the public sector? In recent years we have seen technology owners to be more active in creating “open’s” or “commons”, licensing innovations broadly for development purposes/for use in developing countries (such as through HULs), and putting forward “non-assert clauses” such as in the particular instance. These are all different creative ways used by IP owners to carve out exceptions to their rights, over and above those granted under the law.  Also, what is interesting about this news is the fact that technologies can sometimes (or even often times?), be applied across different disciplines. Are we in the public sector harnessing these existing innovations for the benefit of the poor engaging in agriculture?”

Update to recent post on open access


After posting this blog item I emailed Peter Suber to ask what his thoughts were on this issue. For those who don’t know Peter Suber, he describes himself as “an independent policy strategist for open access to scientific and scholarly research literature”.  His blog “Open Access News”  is well known in the OA world. 

I asked him a) what he thought of the news item (particularly as it involved the Wellcome Trust who are strong OA supporters) and b) if he thought the privacy issue might have a knock-on impact to other data collections (that have nothing to do with patient information).  He responded as follows:

“I blogged the news on August 30, and just updated my post to include
 the Nature News article you pointed out, http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/2008/08/nih-takes-two-oa-dna-databases-offline.html  The NIH is as strong a supporter of OA as the Wellcome Trust.  But on medical data, both agree that privacy takes priority, or that only anonymized medical data can be made OA.  What’s interesting to me is that the method for identifying individuals from these data was discovered after the data were thought sufficiently private and put online.  Since scientific ingenuity is always at work that suggests there may be a steadily creeping expansion of privacy exception to OA.

I’m not very alarmed, in part because the same scientific ingenuity can find new ways to anonymize data, and in part because I share the view that patient privacy takes priority.

Because I don’t work in the field, I have no opinion on whether the NIH/Wellcome action was really necessary to protect privacy.  But I don’t think the action will have any effect on OA datasets where privacy is not an issue”

I would like to thank Peter for taking the time to respond to my email and for allowing me to blog his responses to share them here.