THE POTENTIAL OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS IN THE AGRICULTURAL SECTOR
As the media is re-visiting the issue of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), I was humbled to be interviewed on CCTV Global Business. The contention around GMOs in Kenya has been highly focused on the impact they may have a consumer’s health that we are not talking about the potential it has on our economy.
For the longest time a career in Agriculture has been presented to lack glamour and prestige which in turn has led to a majority of Kenyans shying away from this path. The nature of intellectual property assets that one can develop in this line of work is far more lucrative than one can imagine. Research is one key element to help grow the Agricultural sector; a key element that we seem to have forgotten.
With developmental research, we owe it to ourselves to see how we can better our lives and livelihoods. One such by- product of such research has been and should be the potential of GMOs for consumption by humans or other living organisms and species around us. This is likely to be one of our answers to the issue of food security that we struggle with to date. Some of this research is also not necessary conducted in laboratories; some use their fields and gardens to conduct agricultural research as well before moving to the labs for further testing.
Some of the intellectual property rights that accrue in Agriculture include Patent rights and Plant Breeder rights. The patent rights will allow exclusive protection for the inventor on the novel technological aspects he has created which includes formulas and processes. Once the process has been established the new plant variety or new seed must be grown and monitored confirm whether one will acquire a new plant variety protection. With plant varieties, the government body that plant breeders and seed sellers must interact with is the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS). They are in charge of conducting such investigations before they can ascertain and confer plant breeder’s rights.
For me, this is where the big picture lies. The by-products of agricultural produce can be many aside from the fruits and vegetables we can put on our table. We need to give GMOs a chance and inspire confidence for further agricultural research and innovations. This would be a major advantage aside from the standard licensing opportunities for plant breeders and seed sellers and creation of employment. In my view, as an agricultural nation we are lagging behind in innovations that we are capable of creating. However, we seem to hide in fear of so many unknowns.
For those who did not know, among the business models that are available for plant breeders to make money from their seeds and plant varieties is compulsory licensing and parallel imports & exports. I believe in Kenya we follow the UK model and negotiate the compulsory licenses. The body that would be at the forefront of this is the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) they should be the same body that propagates parallel exports and imports and help the rights holders realize some profit from their intellectual property. However, I am not sure that is the case. Snot very long ago I interacted with an official at NCPB and they were hearing about intellectual property rights in agriculture for the first time. As a government body, they are yet to put in place an intellectual property policy. I cannot blame them as much because we are yet to have a National Policy on Intellectual Property which would ideally provide a road map to a myriad of other government institutions. Most people are yet to realize that the most basic foundation of all businesses starts with intellectual property.
In my view we need more proponents of agricultural research and development. We need to have more training opportunities for our youth and farmers to enable them come up with innovative and creative solutions in the sector. We should not only restrict ourselves to farm produce but we also need to see the bigger picture including fertilizers and other farm inputs. We also need more sensitization on intellectual property rights in the agricultural sector. I think, the more people are enlightened, the more inspired and incentivized they will be to venture into the agricultural sector.
The benefits that can be accrued at both the individual and national levels are much greater than we perceive them to be. This is a serious money maker people. Open your eyes and see the bigger picture with objectivity.