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    Agricultural Innovation Needed In Africa, With Farmers’ Participation, WTO Panellists Say

    Published on 26 September 2012 @ 1:41 pm

    By , Intellectual Property Watch

    Farmers’ needs are not addressed by the current intellectual property framework or by innovation, according to panellists at the World Trade Organization Public Forum this week, and farmers should be invited to participate in international negotiations directly impacting their livelihood. Meanwhile, the African continent is seeking a way to address the food security problem, faced with a growing population and dire need to modernise their agriculture, other panellists said.

    A session on agriculture and farmers’ needs was organised by the Quaker United Nations Office and the International Institute for Environment and Development during the WTO Public Forum taking place from 24-26 September. The session sought to bring elements to the discussion on what kind of intellectual property framework would be most adapted to improve food production, and what kind of innovations are or should be promoted by this framework.

    There is a range of international instruments dealing with various aspects of IP protection and seeds, said Antony Taubman, director of the Intellectual Property Division at the WTO. Compliance with the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) requires protection for plant varieties either by patents or a sui generis system, such as the one provided by International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV).

    The work on this topic at the WTO is not “enormously active” at the moment, Taubman said, as the review process of TRIPS Article 27.3 b (on exclusion from patentability of plants and animals) has been going on for over a decade. Article 27.3 b mentions that its provision would be reviewed four years after the date of entry into force of TRIPS. This process has not led to any specific conclusions, he said, but has provided “a good deal of information” on the subject, which gives the WTO a much stronger position to analyse and discuss specific choices that members have taken, he added.

    IP Protection Coupled With Private Sector Involvement

    Agricultural research used to be mainly conducted by the public sector, but the increasing role of the private sector has gone hand-in-hand with the development of the IP rights system and protection of new crop varieties, said Derek Eaton, executive director of the Centre for International Environmental Studies at the Geneva-based Graduate Institute.

    The IP rights system, in particular patents, are seen as impinging on the freedom to operate for researchers, who might choose other research paths, he said, adding that there are clear signals of a decline of agricultural innovations in the pipeline. This is a new issue, he said, and there is a growing concern among researchers about the IP system and a call for its improvement.

    The current IP system favours scientific innovation but misses a whole section of innovators who have domesticated seeds that are used today and who keep innovating, according to Krystyna Swiderska, senior researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). It is an impossible task to store all plant varieties in gene banks in which those plants are not evolving and adapting to climate change, she said. Plants need to be conserved in situ, she said.

    Collaborating with farmers, IIED found interesting resilient genes in local varieties and underutilised crop species. These include species able to resist drought, pests, frost and flood damage. Those species are more accessible to poor farmers and such varieties are an important store for mainstream agriculture for future agricultural production, she said.

    Strengthening local seed systems and linking them to modern scientific systems is key, so that they are mutually supportive. This interrelation would help scientific breeding systems answer the needs of the poor farmers, which “they don’t very well at the moment,” she said. Modern breeding systems are geared towards increasing productivity, but stability and uniformity do not help farmers as they need diversity for resilience.

    At the moment, IP rights and scientific innovation are not supporting farmers’ needs, Swiderska said. Going forward, it would be important to link benefits derived by formal breeding to share them back with farmers, who for the moment have no incentive to keep conserving the wealth of genetic diversity, she added. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture has provisions to protect farmers and ensure benefit-sharing with farmers but the treaty has not been translated at national level and is rarely implemented, according to Swiderska.

    Farmers, an Empty Seat in International Negotiations

    Farmers are notably absent from international negotiations on agriculture, according to Guy Kastler, European coordinator of Via Campesina, an international peasants movement group. The way farmers innovate is by replanting a part of their harvest and exchange seeds with other farmers to promote adaptation, he said. Protection of plant varieties through UPOV would be fine if it did not prevent the exchange and the replanting of seeds. UPOV has several versions of its convention and, he said the 1961 convention answered farmers’ needs more adequately while the 1991 version was not acceptable for farmers.

    By preventing exchange and replanting, the UPOV system also prevents complimentarity between farmers’ systems and conventional agriculture systems, he said. However, of more concern than UPOV are patents on varieties, Kastler said, because genes that already exist in plants cultivated by farmers can be patented. Patents can also be dangerous for plant breeders, he said, as they restricts their access to genetic material.

    Patents also bring out the question of what type of innovation they are encouraging, he said. According to Kastler, patents are geared to generate benefits by creating a need, not to answer food security problems. The issue should be discussed at the World Intellectual Property Organization and at UPOV, he said, and farmers’ rights contained in the FAO seed treaty should be integrated into WIPO, UPOV and even TRIPS, he said.

    Via Campesina, along with a number of NGOs such as GRAIN, Friends of the Earth International, and the ETC group, published a press release on 15 September questioning an article co-signed by Jose Graziano da Silva, director general of FAO, published in the Wall Street Journal on 6 September, presenting the private sector as “the main engine” of agriculture growth needed to feed the world. The letter calls for governments to “create a predictable policy framework that fosters private-sector investment by all market participants,” which the press release considers an open door to land-grabbing.

    At the international level, the dialogue between farmers and plant breeders should be strengthened and more efforts should be developed to bring farmers into the debate, Swiderska said.

    Food Security in Africa Needs Innovation, Infrastructure

    Africa is both a continent harshly hit by malnutrition but also a place where there will be a significant rise in population, and food security is one of the main pressing issue of African countries, according to a panel on African’s trade and agriculture policy in 2025, organised by the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States.

    During the period of colonialism, African countries depended on a small number of commodities combined with other factors such as the 1970s oil crisis and the concentration of global markets where a few transnational corporations dominating the processing, trading and retailing of food and inputs “from farm to fork.” This led to “very little innovation in terms of agricultural trade in Africa,” said Aimable Uwizeye-Mapendano, economic affairs officer, Special Unit on Commodities at the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

    For Bernard Njonga, civil society activist for agricultural policy in Cameroon at the Association Citoyenne de Défense des Intérêts Collectifs, the accession of the country to the WTO has opened the market, which has been “flooded” with cheap imports competing with local production. Njonga said in Cameroon farmers still were underequipped, lacked access to agricultural inputs, and suffered from malnutrition. One of their main difficulties, he said was their enclosure with little means for movement.

    How should multilateralism be approached when exchanges between fields and cities, between cities and cities are so complicated, he asked. Some basic steps are missing, he said, as when farmers are enclosed, they can only produce food that they can eat. Farmers are left on the side of the road to globalisation, he said.

    African producers are partly to blame, according to Njonga, as they are “curiously amorphous” and lack strong demands. Governments also have a large responsibility, he said, for lack of policy and vision. Finally, part of the problem also lies with consumers, he added, for not encouraging local production by consuming it.

    Catherine Saez may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

     


    Leave a Reply

    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website. By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website.

    By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    1. You agree that you are fully responsible for the content that you post. You will not knowingly post content that violates the copyright, trademark, patent or other intellectual property right of any third party or which you know is under a confidentiality obligation preventing its publication and that you will request removal of the same should you discover that you have violated this provision. Likewise, you may not post content that is libelous, defamatory, obscene, abusive, that violates a third party's right to privacy, that otherwise violates any applicable local, state, national or international law, that amounts to spamming or that is otherwise inappropriate. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual preference, disability or other classification. Epithets and other language intended to intimidate or to incite violence are also prohibited. Furthermore, you may not impersonate others.

    2. You understand and agree that Intellectual Property Watch is not responsible for any content posted by you or third parties. You further understand that IP Watch does not monitor the content posted. Nevertheless, IP Watch may monitor the any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove, edit or otherwise alter content that it deems inappropriate for any reason whatever without consent nor notice. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on our site. IP Watch is not in any manner endorsing the content of the discussion forums and cannot and will not vouch for its reliability or otherwise accept liability for it.

    3. By submitting any contribution to IP Watch, you warrant that your contribution is your own original work and that you have the right to make it available to IP Watch for all purposes and you agree to indemnify IP Watch, its directors, employees and agents against all damages, legal fees and others expenses that may be incurred by IP Watch as a result of your breach of warranty or of these terms.

    4. You further agree not to publish any personal information about yourself or anyone else (for example telephone number or home address). If you add a comment to a blog, be aware that your email address will be apparent.

    5. IP Watch will not be liable for any loss including but not limited to the following (whether such losses are foreseen, known or otherwise): loss of data, loss of revenue or anticipated profit, loss of business, loss of opportunity, loss of goodwill or injury to reputation, losses suffered by third parties, any indirect, consequential or exemplary damages.

    6. You understand and agree that the discussion forums are to be used only for non-commercial purposes. You may not solicit funds, promote commercial entities or otherwise engage in commercial activity in our discussion forums.

    7. You acknowledge and agree that you use and/or rely on any information obtained through the discussion forums at your own risk.

    8. For any content that you post, you hereby grant to IP Watch the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, exclusive and fully sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part, world-wide and to incorporate it in other works, in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

    9. These terms and your posts and contributions shall be governed and interpreted in accordance with the laws of Switzerland (without giving effect to conflict of laws principles thereof) and any dispute exclusively settled by the Courts of the Canton of Geneva.

     

     
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