Tag Archives: seeds

Update to post: Report to the UN General Assembly on “The Right to Food”

Update to post: Report to the UN General Assembly on “The Right to Food”  https://casipblog.wordpress.com/2009/10/15/seed-policies-and-the-right-to-food-enhancing-agrobiodiversity-and-encouraging-innovation-report-to-the-un-general-assembly/

On the 15th October 2009, we published a post about the Report to the UN General Assembly on “Seed Policies and the Right to Food”.  This document has also been sent to us by numerous contacts in our extended network.   Victoria Henson-Apollonio, Manager of CAS-IP has some initial comments:

“Intellectual Property Rights and seed systems feature in the report of the special rapporteur on the Right to Food of the UN. These are key issues for the CGIAR. It is very important to note that this report now raises awareness among an audience that may not have previously realised the importance of these issues. The recommendations are a comprehensive catalog of ideas encompassing a wide range of suggestions. However, the summary itself seems to be an industrious recap of arguments and ideas that some may consider well known and in some cases even outdated.

For those of us that work in this uneven terrain on a daily basis, it seems a missed opportunity for serious discussion on the dynamic relationships between the domain of IPRs/farmers rights/farmer preferences/contracts/contract law/competition law/seed law and food security.

It is on one hand heartening to see these issues being presented at such a high level.  However, the lasting impression I have after reading the document is of disappointment and sadness of missed opportunities. Of course we have to wait for the full report and hope that it provides a clearer analysis of solid data.  It is curious to note that for several people in our IP in agriculture & development network, this report came as a surprise; they (including us at CAS-IP) have so far not been consulted even though the CGIAR is specifically referred to and this is our area of experience from a practical level. The recommendations of the report will involve many, many years of hard work.  It is essential that recommendations logically flow from an analysis of the data and that clear indicators are developed to measure success in obtaining the goals.

Let’s wait for the presentation of the background documents that have led to the report, monitor reactions in the mean time.  Let’s involve ourselves in the discussions that likely follow from the political attention that these important issues have received.”

“Seed policies and the right to food; enhancing agrobiodiversity and encouraging innovation.” Report to the UN General Assembly

“Seed policies and the right to food”; The Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food from the UN website*

(*I was having problems with this link today; so if you too have problems  connecting to the UN docs library link then please try this alternative link from the “Voices from Africa” website — Kay)

The report is written by Olivier De Schutter who is currently the Special Rapporteur on the right to food.  Click here for the annoucement that it will be presented at the UN General Assembly on October 21st.

The Summary concludes with:

“The…report explores how States could implement seed policies that contribute to the full realization of human rights. It identifies how research and development could best serve the poorest farmers in developing countries, and how commercial seed systems could be regulated to serve the right to food and ensure the right of all to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress. Finally, it examines how farmers’ seed systems could best be supported, in order to serve the interest of all in the preservation of agrobiodiversity.”

The report looks, in some detail, at IP issues and at the role of TRIPS, UPOV and CBD.  Section headings include:

  • The developing regime of IP rights and biodiversity protection
  • The expansion of IP rights
  • The protection of biodiversity and the risk of misappropriation of genetic resources
  • Crop genetic diversity as a global public good
  • Redirecting innovation towards the realization of the right to food
  • IP rights in the commercial seed systems and the right to food
  • Farmers’ seed systems and the right to food

In the conclusion, the report calls for continued innovation on all fronts and urges a non-linear approach:

“Our paradigm of agricultural development must…be redefined”.

Donors and both the CGIAR and FAO are called upon to assist and support such innovation.

This report underlines the complexity of the work we are engaged in pursuing, and focuses attention on IP issues.

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP

New ideas for the CAS-IP System Dynamics Modelling team


Further to the recent posting about the CAS-IP System Dynamics team participating at the 2009 System Dynamics conference the following is an update from the trip report written by Sebastian Derwisch and Sebastian Poehlmann:

 “For this project we are creating a generic model of the seed value chain in West Africa, depicting every step from variety creation in the research and development sector down to the adoption by smallholder farmers.

In the plenary session Sebastian Derwisch presented a paper he co-authored with Birgit Kopainsky on farmers’ adoption in which they are trying to identify a) how farmers’ adoption differs by country and region, b) which policies are suited to enhance the adoption of improved seed as well as c) the role IP strategies play in this process.

CAS-IP at the System Dynamics conference 2009

CAS-IP at the System Dynamics conference 2009

The discussion after the presentation dealt mainly with following:
– Matching reference mode – did we validate the structure with empirical data

– Including bottom up approaches; IP policies are perceived to be top down approaches and we need to include justifications to what extend working top down is in fact necessary if we speak of framing conditions like intellectual property right or to what extent executing IPR is also bottom up

– Including the price as a variable – including financing issues of enhanced agricultural inputs more explicitly would increase confidence in the structure as this is the main inhibiting factor for adoption

– How can we simulate the impact of catastrophic events like droughts?

– What about combining policies?

– What are factors that would make farmers that once used commercial seed start using traditional farm saved seed again

–  is availability an issue here? What else?

The other paper Sebastian Derwisch presented was his work on the issue of enhancing investment into the development of new seed varieties. In this parallel session he received comments on the problem of validating the structure with empirical data.  It was also suggested the project could benefit from looking at other agricultural inputs for traditional and commercial seed systems as influencing factors.

From discussions at the presentations it became clear that embedding seed value chain in the larger context of energy prices, other food chains and the productivity and capacity of soils would be another interesting aspect.

We observed the current trends towards web-based simulation and modelling collaboration with great interest and plan to invest some time in developing web simulations in order to better illustrate and communicate the System Dynamics approach e.g. via the CAS-IP blog.”

ASARECA call for proposals – deadline 22 June 2009

The following is taken from the call for proposals document linked above from the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa

“Title: Scaling up farmer-led seed enterprises for sustained productivity and livelihoods in ECA.
The Upscaling and Knowledge Management Programme of ASARECA seeks concept notes for a regional project that will generate rigorously tested and validated best-bet approaches and models for farmer-led seed enterprises that enhance smallholder access to affordable and quality seeds of improved varieties of AIV in selected countries of the ECA sub-region.“

Please refer to the linked pdf for full details of the call.

Rice varieties. Nericas® & case for using intellectual property management for stewardship


This recent article in the WIPO magazine  talks about Nerica®, – a subject CAS-IP has been following closely with the Africa Rice Centre (WARDA).  

“Helping agricultural research centers manage their intellectual assets as public goods is the raison d’être of the Central Advisory Service on IP (CAS-IP), a unit of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) to which WARDA belongs. WARDA and CAS-IP are holding ongoing workshops to determine how IP mechanisms could best support the impact of this agricultural success story. Nerica was registered as a trademark with the USPTO in 2004, and as the expanding range of Nerica products are adopted by ever more smallholder farmers, CAS-IP notes that it will be increasingly important to protect the quality associations that have been so carefully established by WARDA, and to ensure that any Nerica seeds acquired by a farmer are the real thing.”

I have quoted this paragraph in its entirety as it was so well put! 

There has been some criticism around the use of “formal” intellectual property mechanisms such as trademarks in the field development as it has been viewed as “restrictive”, and counters the spirit of a “public good”. 

From our perspective this couldn’t be further from the truth!  We see a crystal clear case for IP mechanisms of this kind facilitating effective stewardship of research outputs.  A research breakthrough is the first step — after that, as the output makes it way downstream into the farmers hands and fields, this product MUST perform to expectations or the well intended mission of international research falls short.  Intellectual property management is one tool to help encapsulate the knowledge and experience of the original research into the product as it enters the supply chain.  Stewardship of breeding, storing, complementary inputs and techniques can be built into a brand and a brand can be moulded using formal IP such as trademarks.  To repeat the WIPO article, the aim is:  “to ensure that any Nerica seeds acquired by a farmer are the real thing.”

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.”

“Beyond the seed”; American Seed Trade Association programme to communicate IP rights

The ASTA, the American Seed Trade Association has launched a programme that is hoped will;

“unite the seed industry to communicate a shared message on the benefits of intellectual property rights (IPR) to customers and policy makers”

The website for the programme is still under construction but the news item (the lead link above) said:

“the challenge of the seed industry today is how to inform growers, legislators, regulators, the public, media and others that today’s seed is not the seed of our fathers… you’re buying more than just seed.  You’re getting value today and innovation for tomorrow.”

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!

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.”

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.