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American Patent Policy, Biotechnology, and African Agriculture: The Case for Policy Change


Improvement in agriculture is one of the keys to reducing poverty and hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, where 70 percent of people are rural and heavily dependent on farm output. The tools of modern biotechnology can help by producing seeds and crops that resist insects and disease and do better in poor soil and drought conditions.

For most of history, such technological innovation has been a freely shared public benefit. Much of modern biotechnology has been developed, however, by American and European companies that have little economic incentive to apply it to the problems of small-scale and subsistence farmers who are the backbone of African food production. Moreover, to protect their investments, companies have patented their technologies.

In their new study, American Patent Policy, Biotechnology, and African Agriculture: The Case for Policy Change, RFF Senior Fellow Michael Taylor and Jerry Cayford document current patent policy in the United States and show how it may well impede use of biotech agricultural advances in developing countries. They suggest a set of policy changes that could help African farmers access these new technologies, while leaving intact the structure of the patent system and not undercutting the innovation incentives it provides.

For a complete list of RFF's work in this area, see Research Topics: Agriculture, Food Security, and Biotechnology.

Image of RFF Report

American Patent Policy, Biotechnology, and African Agriculture:
The Case for Policy Change
Michael R. Taylor and Jerry Cayford

Entire Report (3,931 KB)

(Given the length of the report, you may wish to download it in sections.)Executive Summary
Chapters 1-3 | Chapters 4-7
Notes and Appendix

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