Verantwoord bedrijfsmodel voor Afrikaanse gewassen
How should African countries implement intellectual property rights in such a way that they encourage organisations to focus their innovative capacities on breeding local plant varieties, while at the same time protecting smallholders? Project leader Bram de Jonge is trying to find an answer.
“Dutch food policy has two aims: food security in Africa and a thriving Dutch seed sector. If we can help ensure that intellectual property rights are implemented in Africa so that they also benefit smallholders, we will be serving both aims,” says De Jonge.
The question is, how are we to fill all the mouths in rapidly-expanding African metropolises such as Lagos, Khartoum and Accra with healthy, fresh fruit and vegetables? To boost production, Africa needs the very best seed: new varieties with a high germination capacity while also resistant to drought, heat, mould and fungus, and pests. In most African countries, it is not legally possible to apply intellectual property protection to new plant varieties. This means that, for many breeding companies, there is no sustainable revenue model for developing seeds for the African market.
New model required
NWO MVI researcher Bram de Jonge: “Without some form of intellectual property protection, we are turning our backs on African farmers, including the poorest and most hungry. However, we cannot simply apply the Western agriculture model to Africa. We therefore need to find a way to encourage innovation while also helping farmers who may have a very small plot of land, but are currently responsible for 80–90% of the food production in Africa. Such farmers cannot afford expensive seeds, and it would be absurd to prevent them from exchanging seeds, even if they contain genetic material from a variety protected by intellectual property rights.”
De Jonge worked together with the Kenyan PhD student Peter Munyi, based in Nairobi, to find a way out of this impasse and to achieve a socially-responsible business model. In Kenya, Munyi interviewed many smallholders, breeders, policymakers and activists to find out more about the implications of applying intellectual property rights to plant varieties – something that the country is currently experimenting with. According to Munyi, one important step would be for African governments to recognise the diversity of their agriculture sector: from commercial companies to smallholders. The first can be helped by providing good, expensive, legally protected seed. For the second, however, a different solution is required, such as local innovation, quality control, or exemption from payment for the use of intellectual property.
There have already been some successes. For example, it is now permitted for smallholders to exchange seeds that they have collected and stored on their own land with other local farmers – even if they come from a protected variety. Also, about 20 key stakeholders in the seed debate sat down together for a round table meeting organised by the researchers, including clear opponents of such an exchange system. The stakeholders included African governments, campaign groups, farmer organisations, businesses and Dutch horticulture, all represented at a high level.
Niels Louwaars from Plantum says that the business community is also pleased with the project: “However commercially-oriented businesses are, they recognise that penniless farmers in Africa cannot pay for their expensive seeds. We support making a distinction in the legislation between different types of farmers: those who can should contribute to investment in seed innovation, and those who cannot should not yet have to. Dutch researchers are helping to bring this ideal a step closer, and therefore making a huge contribution.”