Africa – the Hidden Issue of ‘Gene Grabbing’

“Patents on the sorghum genome are the contemporary biotech equivalent of an 18th Century European explorer planting his flag on an ill-understood foreign land and claiming it for himself or his sovereign, as if by divine right subordinating all other interests in the territory.” – African Centre for Biodiversity

With the rising interest in African agriculture from international business interests as well as development agencies and foundations, debates about the strategies for food security and agricultural development, as well as the threat of “land grabbing,” are prominent in both the media and academic literature. Almost unnoticed, however, is what some critics call the hidden agenda of “bio piracy” or “gene grabbing,” namely the privatization of intellectual property in African seeds drawn from the common store of resources developed by African farmers of centuries. Hidden in complex legal language which is far less familiar than the appropriation of land, common genetic resources are used as inputs for products then claimed as the intellectual property of commercial enterprises.

While development of new seed technology, whether through genetic modification or other more traditional hybrid development, is presented as a key component for raising productivity of African agriculture, it also is serving to incorporate African farmers into international value chains in which the profits from what are legally common resources are concentrated in the hands of private multinational companies.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin, not sent out by e-mail but available on the web at, focuses on this issue. Included in this Bulletin are excerpts from a new overview article by Andrew Mushita and Carol Thompson and from a 2010 study from the African Centre for Biodiversity on “The Sorghum Gene Grab.”

It is one of a series of three related Bulletins focused on the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Another Bulletin available on the web at, contains a clear description of the main features of AGRA, excerpted from a new report from the African Centre for Biodiversity.

A third Bulletin, sent out by e-mail as well as available on the web at, contains excerpts from the same report focusing on critical alternative approaches to the AGRA commercialization model of agricultural development.

On the issue of “bio piracy” and “gene grabbing,” see particularly, which contains excerpts from the book Bio piracy of Biodiversity by Andrew Mushita and Carol Thompson (

Last week, the trend of merger in the international seed industry advanced another step when South Africa’s Supreme Court approved the acquisition by the U.S.-based DuPont Pioneer of a majority share in South Africa’s Pannar Seed (see

The official web site for AGRA is


For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on food and agriculture issues, visit – Editor’s Note


Posted by on Oct 2 2012. Filed under African News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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