Objections and comments to the Biodiversity Management Plan for Pelargonium Sidoides, August 2011

This document contains the African Centre for Biosafety‘s (ACB)’s objections and comments to the Biodiversity Management Plan for Pelargonium sidoides, published by government on 29th July 2011.

The ACB raises a number of fundamental problems with the proposed plan, including that the process followed in developing the plan is legally and fundamentally flawed. We also take issue with its treatment of socio economic issues, benefit sharing, traditional knowledge, the export-oriented natural resource extraction model implicitly been adopted and foisted upon local communities and over reliance placed on traditional authorities concerning control over land and resource rights.

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How US sorghum seed distributions undermine the FAO Plant Treaty’s Multilateral System

New data from ICRISAT and the US Department of Agriculture and a comparison of genebank records indicates that half of more of ICRISAT’s sorghum genebank collection is also being distributed outside of the Multilateral System. This yawning gap creates an economic incentive for the Multilateral System and its benefit sharing requirements to be avoided.

USDA’s sorghum germplasm customers, who are primarily corporate and commercially oriented academic breeders, are taking advantage of this perverse incentive. In the past six years, they have ordered four times more ICRISAT genebank seeds from USDA than from ICRISAT itself. Globally, it is likely that more distributions of Multilateral System sorghum take place without an SMTA than occur with one.

Recipients of large USDA distributions of sorghum are not obligated to share benefits and do not comply with the restrictions of the SMTA on patenting parts of the material. Under present circumstances, the promise of the Multilateral System cannot be fulfilled for sorghum, a crop of global food security importance, particularly in Africa. Further, even if the US ratifies the ITPGRFA, a vexing problem has been created by USDA’s recent massive distributions of Multilateral System sorghum germplasm to institutions potentially not bound by the Treaty’s

Agrochemical giant DuPont to sell Bolivian sorghum gene

In 2012 multinational giant DuPont plans to begin selling sorghum varieties containing a valuable gene taken from a sudangrass that was collected in 2006 in Bolivia. The gene, branded as ‘Inzen A II’, makes sorghum plants tolerant to herbicides made by DuPont and other companies, and was acquired under exclusive license from Kansas State University (KSU)in the United States KSU hasfiled for patents in the US under the patent cooperation treaty.KSU, DuPont, and the two professors who claim to have ‘invented’ the Bolivian gene have all refused to explain how they acquired the Bolivian Seed.

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African Millet Under Threat

The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) has focused several recent reports on new international commercial interest and patent claims on the African native crop sorghum. This includes the issues raised by the proposed widespread use of sorghum for the production of agrofuels.
This report extends ACB‘s examination of new international commercial interest in African native crops, by including a focus on pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) and related African native grass species in the Pennisetum genus.i

Globally, pearl millet is less widely sown than sorghum, yet it is a key food and feed crop in arid and semi-arid parts of Africa and Asia (particularly India). Pearl millet occupies smaller but significant markets in the US, Europe, and elsewhere, where it is mainly grown for animal feed and forage. In the US, for example, pearl millet is grown on about 600,000 hectares each year. To a lesser extent, it is also grown outside Africa for human food.

Other African pennisetums, such as Napiergrass, are also economically important outside Africa. They are sold in the lucrative landscape plant markets, as lawn grasses, and as feed and forage for the bird and exotic game hunting industries.1 In the

Sorghum and the Antioxidant Craze: What Benefit for Africa’s Farmers?

A highly successful health food company in the United States, Silver Plate Inc, is seeking to cash in on the health benefits of sorghum. More particularly, it has begun to commercialize foods rich in sorghum anthocyanins, natural “antioxidant” chemicals found in some strongly coloured plant foods that are believed to have heart and other health benefits.

Unlike many major cereal crops, high antioxidant genetic traits are readily available to sorghum breeders. This is because of the work of generations of African farmers, who selected and bred coloured sorghums for various purposes, including dyes for fabric, making food crops resistant to depredation by birds and disease resistance.

The owners of Silver Palate have a successful track record in the health foods sector. In 2007, they sold one of their companies, which makes fat-free imitation butter, for US $490 million.1 Now, these same entrepreneurs are interested in sorghum. They have entered into agreements with major US supermarket chains to sell sorghum products, including breakfast cereals, baking mixes and crackers.
Silver Palate is negotiating to gain rights to sorghum varieties held by Texas Agricultural & Mechanical University (Texas A&M), from its enormous collection belonging to African farmers. Although it is a public

ACB Submission to the Department of Trade and Industry on the Intellectual Property Amendment Bill, 20 October 2010

The Intellectual Property Amendment Bill aims to strengthen intellectual property rights relating to traditional performances, traditional work, traditional terms of expressions and traditional designs.

The Bill has been widely condemned as sounding the death knell for traditional knowledge as it attempts to provide protection for Traditional Knowledge (TK) within a western intellectual property regime, originally developed for inventions such as machines. The ACB is asking that the Bill be scrapped and that instead, a sui generis system for protection of TK is provided for.

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The privatisation of Publically Funded Research in South Africa; Lessons from the US Bayh-Dole experience

In this paper, we present an overview of South Africa‘s Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly funded research and development Act, which imitates the US Bayh-Dole Act. The paper draws on the experience of the Bahy-Dole legislation in the US to show the shortcomings of the common approach aimed at facilitating the transfer of innovative research from the public to the private sector by way of IRP protection including patents. In the US, the Bayh-Dole has dramatically changed the nature of publicly financed institutions from those conducting pure research to quasi commercial entities withholding information in the quest for patent protection.

By Michelle Misaki Koyama

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Pelargonium Patent Challenge against Dr. Willmar Schwabe

Documents pertaining to the Case

1 Notice of opposition EP 1 429 795 B1 ACB Download
2 Notice of Opposition by Dr Dolder obo ACB and Berne Declaration dated 10 March 2008 Dr Older Download
3 Reply filed by Dr Willmar Schwabe dated 18 December 2008 Dr Schwabe Download
4 Summons to hearing by EPO dated 22 September 2009 EPO Download
5 Preliminary opinion by Opposition Division of EPO EPO Download
6 Reply by Dr Dolder obo ACB and Berne Declaration dated 20 November 2009 Dr Dolder Download

Background documents

1 ACB Briefing Paper: Knowledge Not For Sale: Umckaloabo and the Pelargonium Patent Challenges Download
2 ACB’s Frequently Asked Questions on the Pelargonium Patent Challenges Download


1 Fact Sheet on Pelargonium Patent Challenges, ACB, Berne Declaration EED, January 2010 Download
2 Biopiracy Under Fire: The pelargonium Patent Hearing Download

Africa’s Granary Plundered Privatisation of Tanzanian Sorghum Protected by the Seed Treaty

By Edward Hammond December 2009.

A gene recently isolated from a Tanzanian farmers’ variety of sorghum may yield tremendous pro?ts for multinational companies and government researchers in the United States and Brazil. Called SbMATE, it is not only useful in sorghum; but also may be used in other crops, including genetically engineered (GE) maize, wheat, and rice as well as GE tree plantations.
Government researchers from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) and the Texas A&M University (US) have patented the gene in the US. They have also ?led an international patent application in which they state that they will seek patents on the Tanzanian gene across the world, including in Africa.
The commercial potential of the gene is strong. Although it was only recently identi?ed, the giant multinational Dow Chemical is already negotiating with the US government to license it. Japan’s second largest paper products company has also expressed interest in buying access to it.

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