Towards Flexibilization of Intellectual Property Rights for Integrated Seed Sector Development

Seed is the basis of all crop production. Different subsectors in agriculture depend on different seed systems. The bulk of seed used in most African countries is produced in informal seed systems. This presents a challenge in increasing seed quality and security.

Formal seed systems on the other hand, provide channels for the provision of improved seed. To a large extent, formal and informal seed systems do not interact. This results to among others, smallholder farmers lacking access to improved seed. Through integrated seed sector development (ISSD) the comparative advantages of both systems can be fully utilized, thereby enabling smallholder farmers access improved seed.

Seed improvement is innovative and intellectual property rights (IPRs) are important tools in this process. However, as they are not unlimited rights there are principles that enable third parties to take actions even without necessarily the consent of the right-owner. These principles are referred to as flexibilities. In plant breeder’s rights, breeder’s exemption is an example.

Because of the asymmetrical nature of formal and informal seed systems, IPRs serve different and often conflicting functions in each. In ISSD these functions exacerbate the conflicting policy dilemmas present. If utilized, flexibilities in IPRs possess potential to facilitate ISSD.

The objective of this research is to analyse the extent to which utilization of flexibilities in IPRs facilitates ISSD. Taking the cases of Kenya and South Africa, the research seeks to locate the role of flexibilities in IPRs in facilitating ISSD and by extension, access to improved seed and its use for smallholder farmers in these countries.