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Intellectual Property and Global Food Security

Published on : 20 May 2018

Intellectual property and Food Security


Lawyers in DubaiThe definition of Food security is "the state of having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food." Globally the insufficiency of food security of developing and least developed States is a concern not only of governments but also all individuals within the states. In many, if not all countries in the world, access to food, water and shelter constitutes a fundamental human right. There is a connection between the state of a countries food security and its agriculture policies, its trade policies, and its economic development. These aspects are at the forefront of how food security and intellectual property rights (IPR) coincide. The extension of IPR to the agriculture sector is due to a global drive towards sustainable agriculture and striving for the most efficient, profitable and manageable agricultural industry. The food security of a country is a direct reflection on its agrarian capabilities first and foremostly, followed by its trade abilities and economic development. Introducing ITP in agriculture ensures that states with the most advanced agricultural innovations and growth strategies will remain ahead not only insufficient food security but also in trade successes.

It is understandable that the strengthening of IPR is the food sector has the possibility of being detrimental to developing and least-developed states. Ultimately, the introduction of IPR in agriculture has the aim of achieving economic benefits for agricultural cultivators helping to aid in ensuring sufficient food security globally. The World Trade Organization has, in the WTO Agreements, introduced IPRs into the agricultural sector of developing and least-developed member states to provide an added economic beneficial factor to agriculture. Globally poverty is a significant concern, which is evident from multinational institutions generating ways to eradicate it. What follows is a consideration of the problem of insufficient food security and how intellectual property has a bearing on such.

Intellectual property and food security in developing countries

Globally insufficient food security remains a significant concern, with specific emphasis on that of developing and least-developed countries. There are, however, some developing countries who have eradicated poverty, but this does not hold true for many other nations of the world. An astronomical reduction of starvation, according to statistics is apparent around the world; this does not mean to say that no one is starving. There are still a numerous of people in the world without any or adequate food. These people remain the most undernourished of the population. Statistical information states that 24% of the population of South Asia is malnourished and 33% in sub-Saharan Africa.[i]The Calculation of a countries food security entails identifying a countries capability of accessing and distributing food and well as availability. The agricultural sector in many developing and least-developed States is the main, if not only source of food, where trade practices and economic development are at a minimal.

Food Security

With nearly one billion people suffering from chronic hunger, and the expected 70% rise in demand for food by 2050, increased and continued agrarian productivity and output will be a captious component of attaining global food security, which is an intrinsic part to political stability, particularly in developing countries. The question of food security comes into play where one considers the sufficiency of food security at a household level. Different parts of the world experience different food security capabilities, as well as various individuals. In many parts of the world access to water, shelter, and food which forms a fundamental human right is a significant concern. With the population growing at a fast rate in developing and least-developed countries, and the availability of land decreasing, it has become increasingly difficult for nations to maintain adequate food security. The availability of land suitable for agriculture is another concern for countries food security.

The scope and definition of food security globally is a contentious issue. At the 1996 World Food Summer (WFS) it was assessed that achievement of sufficient food security is from the individual and household level up to the global level. The objectives of the WTO include the eradication of poverty and it incorporates special and differential trade policies for developing and least-developed countries. These objectives aim at increasing Member States food security.

Not only is food security concern for the multinational organization, but it is also primary concern on a governmental level, is included as a fundamental human right in many constitutions. The fundamental human right to food does not only provide individuals with access to food, but it also places an obligation on a government to supply adequate food within its reasonable means. This right includes improvement of production processes, conservation methods as well as appropriate distribution. Within the fundamental human right to food, government obligations can branch as far too include land reform, ensuring access to credit, protecting and utilizing natural resources, investigation, and development of new technologies, aiding rural infrastructure and bringing into force of explicit farmers rights through legislation.

Agricultural Research and global food security

Agricultural research is a crucial driver for advancing agrarian productivity, and as such, it is an eloquent component of international efforts to improve global food security. Agricultural research, with specific reference to the participation of the international public sector, had far-reaching impacts on agrarian research, culminating in the Green Revolution which was responsible for the findings of the genetically improved crop. Studies have shown that the genetically enhanced yield has had a significant positive impact on poverty reduction, agricultural growth, and environmental protection.

The Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) is the primary purveyor of public sector agricultural research targeted to advance agriculture productivity and production among poor, subsistence farmers in the developing world. CGIAR manages intellectual property issues on an issue-by-issue basis and has adopted the CGIAR Principles on Management of Intellectual Assets – this is a policy which details the procedure to the management of intellectual assets produced or acquired by CGIAR centers. Further, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and the Nagoya Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity govern the international standard of intellectual property in the agricultural sector.

Intellectual property and food security

Law Firms in Abu DhabiIntellectual property takes on the form of the UPOV (International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants) Treaty on the protection of plant varieties.

There are many links between IPRs and food security. In general, IPRs such as patents or plant breeders' rights seek to give incentives, mainly to private sector actors, to develop seeds that either produce higher yields or have specific characteristics which will improve food security and agro-biodiversity management.

IPRs are a new concept to the agricultural sector, and at first glance, they seem inconsistent with the idea of what IPRs. Previously agrarian management entailed the free exchange of germplasm and knowledge, aiding all in the agricultural sector to yield similar crops with the same growth potential, it is in this era that IPRs were not suitable to the agriculture sector. Previously agriculture was seen as a means to an end, namely, food production. Now, however, farming is seen as a commercial field attaining a sizeable gross profit index yearly. Technological advances have also steamrolled agriculture into a profit generating and competitive industry.

IPRs in agriculture take on two forms, namely plant breeders’ rights and patents for technological advances in genetic engineering. This introduction to the agricultural sector has seen a surge in the growth of agro-biotechnology. Concerning the above-mentioned developed countries are at the forefront of obtaining IPRs. The World Trade Organisation Agreement, the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) provides the following provisions for the enforcement of protectability of agricultural IPR; it guarantees the patentability of microorganisms and that of plant varieties. Although there is not much uniformity on the patentability of lifeforms, just the existence of such possibility has seen a significant rise in the innovation of agro-biotechnology.

The introduction of IPRs in the agricultural sector is not only for the benefit of developed countries. The ideas behind such introduction were also to aid sufficient food security in developing and least-developed nations by incentivizing private sector involvement in agro-biotechnology. In this instance, IPRs are at the essence of ensuring the participation of the private sector in the development of plant varieties. The development of plant varieties brings with it an opportunity for the creation of plant varieties able to withstand adverse and uninhabitable environments. Developmental improvements through agro-technology include plant varieties. Such plant varieties produce higher yields by enhancing the capacity of the plant to absorb more photosynthetic energy into grain rather than stem or leaf, types that can combat pests and varieties modified to grow faster through enhanced efficiency in the use of inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, and water.[ii] The inclusion of IPRs now brings with it legal security for those private investors who, without such protection, would not have invested in the field. 

The Importance of Intellectual Property Rights in the Agricultural Sector

Intellectual property consequences are increasingly applicable to the public-sector international agricultural research landscape. The actual implications of the introduction of IPRs in the food sector in developing countries are unknown, given that legal frameworks are in many cases still in the process of being adopted and implemented. Potential benefits of agro-biotechnology include the development of plant varieties that help meet some of the challenges linked to existing food insecurity. Potential concerns include many socio-economic impacts as well as some environmental impacts, in particular concerning the loss of agro-biodiversity and biosafety. Overall, there are many reasons for the need to develop a legal framework that goes beyond traditionally recognized IPRs regimes. At an entry level, the introduction of IPRs in the agricultural sector can only be reasonable if IPRs cultivate food security, or in other words the realization of the fundamental human right to food. There are many ways to foster food security. One of them includes the appropriation of experience in regards to plant varieties through property rights. In this scheme which is endorsed today at a global level, the offering of control over knowledge is to state of the art inventions. In fact, the introduction of property rights in agriculture should benefit all actors involved in agricultural management. This area is the hole that developing and least developed countries must fill given that their agrarian systems are often exceptionally dependent on the beneficence of a significant number of small individual farmers, local farming communities and public-sector institutions rather than private actors.

Food industry and Intellectual property in the Gulf Region

Another aspect in need of consideration regarding intellectual property and the food and beverage industry is the patenting of food products.

The understanding in the United Arab Emirates is that every consumer has the right to safety and freedom to food for consumption. The President of the UAE approved the law on protection of food in 2016. The emphasis of this law is on the necessary standards and regulations to be implemented to ensure the safety and quality of food. The control of the food industry instills confidence in the food and beverage products exported from the country, ultimately contributing to economic stability through growth.

The UAE regulates the food industry through intellectual property, not in the agricultural sphere but commercial food production. For instance, the branded food we buy at the grocery store. Intellectual property here includes, but is not limited to ingredients used, manufacturing procedures, branding of products, etc. The regulation by the UAE of patents is Federal Law Number 31 of 2006, and this law states that any invention that may lead to devaluation of public morals or order violates the UAE patent law.  Ultimately, should your product infringe on the essence of identification of another product, it will break the patent of the latter.

In Saudi Arabia, there was a Royal Decree issued, namely Royal Decree Number M/27 of 29/5/142H. This law by definition includes food products into its remit and ultimately has the effect of creating a penalty for those who violate patents in the food industry.

Kuwait has also included a law regulating patents; this is Law Number 4 of the year 1962. This law, similar to the law of the UAE states that any invention which violates public morals will not be in line with such legislation and therefore subject to penalty. Food products which break this law are a copy of that which has already had a patent will be deemed to violate public morals.


Intellectual property rights in the agricultural sector have and will continue to become increasingly important. These rights will be critical in achieving security for investors in the agrarian sphere to ensure people will continue to invest. Investment in the field will help to combat global food security issues and the increasing role of public-private sector engagement. With the technological advances globally in the agricultural industry, the use of plant varieties and genetically modified food products has taken off, and it is an essential aspect of the regulatory framework that the products still maintain their nutritional value.

Concerning Intellectual property rights in the commercial food market, the legislation has been promulgated to protect name brands of food and beverages from persons trying to enter into the food industry using their recipes, processes, branding, and manufacturing. 

[i]The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2002

[ii]Sachin Chaturvedi, ‘Agricultural Biotechnology and New Trends in IPRs Regime–Challenges before Developing Countries’


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