Tag Archives: private sector

“Agricultural Research Needs Better Intellectual Property Rules”

See news item recently published on the University of Guelph blog.  “Agricultural Research Needs Better Intellectual Property Rules.  Consumers and low-income farmers benefit from agricultural innovations

The article talks about the Review that took place of CAS-IP this year, chaired by Prof Helen Hambly from Guelph’s School of Environmental Design and Rural Development (SEDRD).

“We need a clear set of rules to guide public-private partnerships, to ensure the integrity of public research, and to enable innovation and communication of research results to benefit low-income countries,” says Hambly, chair of the review team for the CGIAR Central Advisory Service for Intellectual Property.

Updating intellectual property (IP) rules in global agricultural research will help various groups, she says. Poor farmers and consumers, for instance, look to the benefits of science and innovation to deal with the effects of climate change, growing poverty and rising food prices. “There’s a big risk that the world’s poor will be left behind…

..Better co-ordination of private research and publicly funded science is critical…”

You can view the report on the CAS-IP website “CAS-IP Review” – and it’s not too late to comment either.  We have an open consultation until the end of the year on issues the review raises for IP in ag dev.  Either follow the links to the comment board, or email k.chapman@cgiar.org directly.

USAID latest commitment to global food security; remarks to the World Food Prize Conference

Earlier this month at the World Food Prize Conference held in Des Moines, the USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah made a speech.  “USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah speaks at the 2010 World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue

Here are some extracts that I thought might be of interest:

“…we are focused on global food security in a way that, we have not been since the earliest days of the Green Revolution.

“…we are also working with the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research, or CGIAR, to support their new “megaprograms.” These programs focus on high‐potential research into new seed varieties, effective agricultural policy reforms, and better water and soil management practices. We doubled our investment in these megaprograms, making us the single largest supporter of CGIAR.”

He then went on to announce:

“…today I’m unveiling the Feed the Future Private Investment Center; a new public‐private partnership hub…

This hub will expand on existing relationships with multinationals and local businesses, and facilitate engagement with new private sector partners. Companies interested in joining this effort can e-mail us at ftfbusinesshub@usaid.gov.”

According to an article on America.gov, “Green Revolution Within Reach in Africa

“USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said free markets and private investment are key elements of the Obama administration’s Feed the Future program, aimed at reducing hunger. He told the participants at the Borlaug Dialogue that a new Feed the Future Private Investment Center will begin operation in the program’s original 20 countries, 16 of which are in Africa.
Shah said that in Tanzania, for example, the Private Investment Center will offer loan guarantees to local firms that sell farmers seeds and process and transport their harvested crops. Shah said the guarantees equip the companies “with the spark they need to mature their businesses and grow their country.”

For more information:
Feed the Future

(sample implementation plans: NIGERIA. FY 2010 Implementation Plan
KENYA. FY 2010 Implementation Plan)

The World Food Prize

(Thanks to Victoria for sending me the link to the speech)

IFPRI policy brief on small farmers’ access to seed

Last week I saw that IFPRI had published a new policy brief entitled:
“LOCAL MARKETS, LOCAL VARIETIES. Rising Food Prices and Small Farmers’ Access to Seed.”  The full text can be viewed by clicking on the lead link above.  The following post consists of comments from Peter Bloch; Peter is a CAS-IP consultant who specialises in technology transfer and IP management.  He has been working with the West African Seed Alliance (WASA) on branding. WASA, which is led by ICRISAT, is a highly focused initiative designed to stimulate the development of market driven distribution chains for seed and agricultural products.  Peter said:

“The summary references “carefully targeted subsidies” and later talks about “investments”. Donors often use the word “investment” when discussing grant aid mechanisms, but we should be aware of the difference between subsidies, grants and investments. Grants to seed companies are not sustainable; and they distort the market. One grant facility requires seed companies to establish a “charitable” objective, and to sell seed for less than any competitor in the area. WASA chooses to provide business training and technical support, and to facilitate connections between seed companies, merchants, farmers and breeders. Using funding from USAID, companies can qualify for bank loans which are supported by guarantees of up to 50% of the loan amount.

A direction to watch is donor supported investment vehicles such as African Agricultural Capital and the (soon to be launched) African Seed Investment Fund that provide finance (as opposed to grants) to seed and agribusiness companies. These entities will invest (as in equity or debt finance) in agribusinesses that are too small, too risky or not profitable enough for private sector investors. This is social investing (where investors seek a social return in addition to a modest economic return) or, as Bill Gates calls it, “creative capitalism”.

Right now there are initiatives which target market driven increases in agricultural output, and there are initiatives that are giving money (or seed) away. Whichever pathway we believe is the “right” one, a decline in funding from international donors requires that available support be applied to achieve maximum sustainable impact. Surely, then, the various donors should try and align their basic thinking on how best to increase agricultural output in Africa.”

Harvard medical school, drug company payrolls and ethical considerations


This item from the New York Times online raises some tricky questions about conflicts of interests regarding funding.  It describes a situation whereby a student at Harvard Medical School felt some of the information presented in the “protected space” of the learning environment “wasn’t as pure as…it should be” for reasons connected to professors being paid as consultants to drug companies.  Reading some letters to the editor connected to this article further complications were raised– for example it was highlighted that often professors receive no income from the University directly, so these contributions maintain their employment. 

What is the relevance of this to our CGIAR context?  Well, as Public-Private-Partnerships are becoming more common it highlights that one cannot afford be naïve about what this might mean.  Working with the private sector may bring up new and unfamiliar issues for centres.  It takes time to negotiate and there needs to be a willingness to really go into the details of an agreement.  This may well be at odds with a general pressure to reduce transaction time, but one should be realistic about what may be required in order to ensure the right results when entering into an agreement.

Pity the lawyers?? Crop scientists say biotechnology seed companies are thwarting research


This article published last week by the New York Times (see lead link) and reprinted in the International Herald Tribune  describes the frustration of a group of entomologists doing research at land grant universities in the U.S. regarding the contract conditions attached to the use of materials obtained from several major seed companies.  These scientists have sent a letter the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicating that the have had difficulty in running the experiments needed to test hypotheses, regarding the optimal size(s) of refugia, because of the conditions proscribed by the owners of the materials when they were passed to the scientists for research studies.  Everyone agrees that this research needs to be done.  The scientists wonder, how this can be accomplished –given the contract language.  Now, how will the EPA be able to ask whether their current regulations are sensible?

What does this have to do with intellectual property?  Rights are awarded to patent holders; these rights can then be licensed to others.  Owners of intellectual property rights have great liberty in the conditions associated with licensing the use of materials under patent protection.  In corporations, the text of these licenses is usually under the control of legal departments.  This can bring problems when lawyers see their job as one of reducing risk to as close to zero as possible.  The situation described in this article perhaps provides an example of the difficulty lawyers have when trying to draft an agreement that provides sufficient room for a licensee to use the material in a productive way and yet also provides sufficient risk management for the licensor. 

Here is a very interesting discussion by a patent attorney regarding this situation: http://www.patentdocs.org/2009/02/new-york-times-gets-one-right.html

Additional comments regarding U.S. regulatory agencies involved in approvals of GMOs from:

The above blog post was written by Victoria Henson-Apollonio

A draft of this post was circulated internally last week and Guat Hong Teh, a lawyer on the CAS-IP team had the following comment to make.

“In my view, putting the right language into licences that would enable both the licensor and licensee to achieve their goals (common or not) is a joint effort. Whilst it is reasonable to have some standardisation of legal language in these documents, both lawyer and scientist need to understand that a case-by-case approach is necessary when new situations emerge. A good piece of legal document requires extensive communication between all parties involved. However, there is sometimes a communication breakdown between the scientist and the lawyer because of the seemingly different roles they play or the goals they would like to see achieved. Although the duty of the lawyer is to ensure that his/her client is afforded the widest protection allowed under the law, this has to take into consideration other needs of the client. I see this to be an increasing challenge for what we do because of the rise in collaborative research, especially public-private partnerships.”

Agricultural IP practitioners of the world unite!

There is a slightly different format for the blog posts this week as I am attending a workshop in Mombasa meeting with a group of agricultural IP practitioners from all around the world; mainly from developing countries.  This is truly a unique group of individuals and if anyone knows of any similar group it would be great to hear from you!

We at CAS-IP have hoped this group of people would be able to support one another by sharing their experiences and ideas – and today we received confirmation that this growing community of practice/professional society has indeed been of great use to participants.  There is too much to blog now, but over dinner I asked my fellow diners what the most interesting thing they had learnt today was.  These were a couple of the replies:

Victoria Henson-Apollonio from CAS-IP said:

“I noted that there was a lot of expectation that the new DG of WIPO, Francis Gurry, would bring about real change on the development agenda.”

Beverly Trayner (the workshop facilitator for some of the sessions, and a community of practice expert) said:

“what really struck me was how important the international group is, and how people identify with that wider group, gain strength and empowerment from it”

What I had learnt today came from a great discussion about how to ensure research outputs are transferred to the end user (i.e the farmer).  The simple and plain comment that stuck most in my mind was a comment from a participant from Tanzania.  A comparison between the African and the US/European models of seed markets was made.  Within the context of a lack of a viable (private sector) seed market in Africa to bring research outputs to end users, it was pointed out that this isn’t possible in developed economies where agriculture enjoys huge subsidies – so why should it be expected in Africa?

Anyway, that is just a sample.  We were a small group at dinner tonight – it had been a long day –  but I plan to record some more insights over the next couple of days for a future blog post.  For now I am exhausted and going to bed before another full day of meetings tomorrow!

Tanzania agriculture minister comments on farmer-saved seed and its affects on production

This article appeared last week on africanagriculture blog (referencing the full article on the DailyNewsonline – second link.) Comments came from the Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives of Tanzania regarding the problems of availability of improved planting materials.  The article says:

“Citing an example, the minister said that while about 9,080 tons of maize seed are planted each year, only 5,100 tones of improved maize are sold annually. Low use of improved seed in the country … is responsible for the low levels of investment in the seed industry, a weak distribution and marketing system, and higher seed prices. Others problems are a weak extension system, lack of credit facilities, inadequate seed quality control and ineffective application of official regulations.”

The comments were delivered at a workshop on the seed industry development in Tanzania where participants were told about government initiatives to improve the situation; including liberalisation of the seed industry, improved engagment of the private sector, and the seed certification system.