GENET archive


PATENTS & SEEDS: Uganda needs patents to protect its crops

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SOURCE: New Vision Online, Uganda

AUTHOR: John Ssempebwa


DATE:   11.12.2008

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The writer is the director for Trade Development at the Private Sector Foundation Uganda

Uganda?s economy is still largely agro-based and will remain so for another 20 years all factors constant. In 2030, agriculture will still contribute significantly to gross domestic product (GDP), exports and female employment. 

By 2030, the major issue in agriculture world-wide will be intellectual property rights (IPRs). IPRs are exclusive monopoly rights over a creation that society provides to the inventor for a period of time. 

These rights are said to inextricably increase agricultural innovation, output and food safety. 

By 2030, the pressure on African governments from highly organised and wealthy proponents of IPRs will be overwhelming. While portraying themselves as benevolent sources of technologies, these proponents, who have already developed genetically modified seeds (GMOs), will shove regionally-harmonised IPR legislations down African governments? throats. 

Today, Africa is yet to see that these proponents seek to profit from the poor farmers and not to ?help? them with better seed. 

Today, Africa is shy to communicate that this notion of IPR in agriculture is alien. 

Deep down Uganda?s rural areas where crops are grown, customary law is applied. There are no private proprietary rights, but rather community resource rights; with all resources belonging to everyone and these being regulated by the community?s cultural and local knowledge systems and practices. 

This is why the country?s farmers continue to exchange seeds among themselves, from neighbour to neighbour, mother to daughter and across villages. 

It is obvious, therefore, that IPRs in agriculture will restrict the right of farmers to share, use and save seed from their harvests. It is also clear that IPRs will not increase food security as expected. In Kenya, only one variety out of the 136 applications filed and tested since 1997 has been on a food crop, while more than half were for roses. 

In spite of the apparent irrelevance and strangeness of IPR issues in the country?s agriculture, the IPRs are inevitably coming just like globalisation! 

It is painful that Uganda?s agriculture lacks the resources to resist the agriculture IPR lobby and to develop unique seed and plant varieties. 

If we can?t beat this profit-seeking wave for profit from our own small farmers, then we must help farmers join the wave and benefit from it. 

The way forward is a form of IPR called Geographical Indications (GIs). GIs are indications which identify a good as originating from a region or country, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its country or region of origin. 

Geographical indications serve the same functions as trademarks because like trademarks, GIs are source-identifiers, guarantees of quality and valuable business assets. 

That is, GIs are signs used on goods that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that place of origin. 

A good example of a global GI is champagne. champagne is not simply sparkling wine; it must be produced in the Champagne region of France. 

Initially rejected and branded the ?devil?s wine? because it exploded when opened, it was later associated with kings such as Leopold II of Belgium and George I of Greece. It later acquired a GI. 

Today, bottles of sparking wine mislabeled Champagne are seized and destroyed in countries with GI legislation. 

Uganda?s agriculture has to quickly think of ways of helping global consumers identify agro-commodities from Uganda. 

One unique feature of GIs is that they are not exclusive to a monopolist and thus can be used by all Ugandan exporters exporting say, coffee, tea, vanilla and sugar. 

But using GIs will require appropriate GI laws in Uganda. 

I am crest fallen that each regulation which is of great significance to business in Uganda such as the transport policy, the construction policy, the Counterfeits Goods Bill, requires a minimum of nine years before they come into effect. 

Your Excellency, Honourable Members of Parliament, Honourable Minister of Agriculture, Honourable Minister of Trade, one cherished Christmas gift you could have given Ugandan agriculture this year is an Act on Geographical Indications. Merry Xmas. 



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