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Disclosure of policies and positions relating to intellectual property is lacking among all regional companies. Farm-saved seed is viewed unfavorably, with companies expressing concerns about the impact of the practice on smallholder productivity and several adopting countermeasures.
This measurement area seeks to clarify and assess the way companies handle their IP, both plant variety rights and patents, in index countries and whether this allows for further use in breeding by others and on-farm seed saving by smallholder farmers.
Global companies such as East-West Seed, Syngenta and Monsanto publicly disclose more information about their position on IP than other index companies. None of the regional companies publicly disclose their position on IP, for instance on the breeders’ exemption. Similarly, several of these companies, including Darusalam Seed Company, Demeter Seed, Equator Seeds and Kenya Highland Seed, do not market proprietary varieties of their own and hence only use IP owned by others.
Klein Karoo Africa, Capstone Seeds, East African Seed, NASECO, Hygrotech and Starke Ayres, among others, have breeding activities in the region through which they are entitled to certain plant variety protection rights. As such, these companies in particular are encouraged to be more transparent about how they enforce these rights, also in relation to smallholder farmers and their farming practices.
Eleven companies (50%) have a position on farm-saved seed, of which eight (73%) either allow farm-saved seed or allow it but argue that it does not encourage smallholder farmer productivity. The remaining three companies (27%) do not favor the practice.
The practice of farm-saved seed is prevalent in the region. Farm-saved seed, which is commonly recycled over several generations, is often of low purity and quality. Many index companies acknowledge the practice of farm-saved seed in the countries in which they are active. Some express concern about this practice, arguing that it potentially hampers productivity in smallholder farmers’ fields. As such, companies report having activities to demonstrate to farmers the advantages of professionally produced seed. Equator Seeds states that it works toward increasing the uptake professionally produced seed of improved varieties, as opposed to farm-saved seed, due to its added value. To improve awareness and demonstrate the benefits of using certified seed, East African Seed reports conducting field demonstrations or distributing free samples to smallholder farmers. Dutch company Pop Vriend Seeds supports the practice to some extent while aiming to ensure that the quality of seed is maintained. Technisem, headquartered in France, has programs to enhance smallholder farmer access to and use of improved varieties.
East-West Seed, Corteva Agriscience and Syngenta recognize the practice of farm-saved seed by smallholder farmers but only allow it for private and non-commercial use. Regional companies also permit the private use of protected material. NASECO states that it does not restrict the reuse and replanting of seed by smallholder farmers. Demeter Seed reports that it complies with International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) regulations and the Malawi Seed Act, which entitles farmers to use farm-saved seed for private and non-commercial use. Monsanto states that when farmers buy its seed, they sign an agreement not to save and replant it. However, it is not clear to what extent this agreement is enforced in index countries.
Several companies express their concerns about the commercial use of farm-saved seed. East African Seed states that it collaborates with national regulators and industry stakeholders to discourage the use of farm-saved seed, while Kenya Highland Seed considers the sale of farm-saved seed as an illegal practice and warns farmers against it.
Corteva Agriscience has licensed proprietary transformation and CRISPR-Cas gene-editing technologies to a number of research organizations for the purpose of collaborating on improvements on food security crops. In its sustainability report, the company highlights the first use of the technology in a joint agreement with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) to combat maize lethal necrosis in sub-Saharan Africa.
Monsanto, through the WEMA project, facilitated licensing agreements with more than 20 local companies in Eastern Africa to make drought-tolerant maize hybrids available to smallholder farmers. The company states that as a part of WEMA’s continuous work to improve food security in sub-Saharan Africa, additional conventional hybrids are in the pipeline for commercial release in the coming years through these local companies. Monsanto also collaborares with the Danforth Plant Center in the Virus-Resistant Cassava for Africa (VIRCA) project, providing funding and technical advice on the use of genetic modification to improve resistance to regionally significant pests and diseases.