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Meridian Institute

Intellectual Property and Smallholder Farmers in Africa

External Project Site: meridian.wikidot.com/role-of-iprs
Related: Agriculture and Food Systems

Meridian Institute partnered with the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture (PIPRA) to manage a process aimed at identifying the key areas in which intellectual property rights (IPRs) impact African seed systems. The process also proposed strategies to support the goal of delivering improved crops to smallholder farmers in East Africa. The process, which involved a multi-stakeholder plenary meeting in Tanzania, was funded by the International Development Research Centre of Canada. Participants included African agribusiness companies, African government regulatory agencies, African crop scientists, international research centers, international IP experts, and African farmers’ groups.


All types of formal IPRs (e.g., patents, plant variety protection certificates, trademarks, etc.) are designed to reward intellectual, intangible investment. IPRs provide incentives, for example, for research scientists to invest in breeding improved varieties, and for seed companies to invest in ensuring that they market homogeneous, high-quality seed. IPRs, in the broadest meaning of the term, also exist in less-formal settings in the form of brands and reputation. Through this project, Meridian and PIPRA examined the ways in which IPRs can be used as tools to create incentives to enhance access by smallholder farmers to improved seed varieties, whether through the formal or informal seed systems. The work also sought to identify opportunities to reduce risks, in those cases in which IPRs may impede innovation and/or access to improved varieties for smallholders.


The output of the project was a wiki-based website that can be updated and expanded on an ongoing basis by the key stakeholders. The website includes information on the following topics.

  • The role of IPRs in formal seed systems (e.g., public-sector plant breeding programs; local and international seed companies) and informal seed systems (e.g., community-based seed selection, saving, and exchange)
  • Differences in the role of IPRs across different crops that are important to smallholders in East Africa
  • References to publications and institutions with relevant expertise in East Africa IP-related policies, laws, and regulations affecting seed systems in East Africa

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