To make one's name famous

Varietal innovation and intellectual property in The Gambia

by SUSANNAH CHAPMAN

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Recent efforts to draft plant variety protection (PVP) legislation in The Gambia and sub‐Saharan Africa have sparked criticism from civil society organizations. Citing incongruences between intellectual property law and practices of farmer seed management, these organizations have emphasized the importance of “unfettered” seed exchange among farmers even as they have called for farmers to be granted certain exclusive rights to the varieties they develop. Where the appeals invoked a language of limits familiar to PVP, they also departed from Gambian farmers’ accounts of varietal innovation and its rewards. For farmers, attaining varietal namesakes that could travel across vast networks of farmers generated the rewards of innovation. In this way, farmers articulated a version of claims that pushes against the analytical limits set by calls for exclusive rights.

During the 2010 planting season, a farmer in Jenoi, The Gambia, explains how he selects for larger kernel size among his stock of groundnut seed. The seed pictured is of a widely planted variety called choppo.
During the 2010 planting season, a farmer in Jenoi, The Gambia, explains how he selects for larger kernel size among his stock of groundnut seed. The seed pictured is of a widely planted variety called choppo. (Photo: Susannah Chapman)