Dec 1, 2017
From Lab to Patent: Closing the gender gap in Intellectual Property

On November 15-17, 2017, more than 200 participants in agricultural research and development including, research and small-scale entrepreneurs, gathered in Morocco for a conference that focused on innovations and intellectual property. The conference, on ‘Innovation and Intellectual Property as Engines for Competitive Agribusiness: Empowering Women Researchers and Entrepreneurs in Africa’ was led by the World Intellectual property Organisation (WIPO) together with partners including the Moroccan Office of Industrial and Commercial Property (OMPIC) and African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) among others.

In her opening remarks, Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, AWARD Director, highlighted six crucial interconnected facts on the role of agricultural research and development; and how gender gaps and intellectual property influence Africa’s prosperity.

In this piece, we share with you these six interconnected facts as captured in her speech:

  1. Agriculture is critical for Africa’s survival and an important key to our prosperity: Africa’s agricultural sector presents an exciting opportunity for sustaining the continent’s economic growth and ensuring an inclusive economic growth that benefits ALL Africans. The African Development Bank has identified agriculture as the continent’s second-largest industrial sector by value and the World Bank estimates that the value of Africa’s agriculture will reach $ 800 billion by 2030.  Africa’s agriculture holds the key to food security, job creation in agriculture and allied industries, and inclusive economic prosperity.
  1. Agribusiness is an important way through which agriculture can directly contribute to African prosperity: Agribusinesses are not only an important creator of jobs on the continent, they are a sustainable way of ensuring food security.  However, beyond a more stable policy landscape and steady investments, Africa’s agribusiness sector needs a steady pipeline of new innovations to maintain a competitive edge.  This continent needs a steady stream of innovation across entire agricultural value chains.
  1. Agricultural value chains begin with research: Agricultural value chains actually start at the research stage, with scientists making decisions that have critical bearings on what happens across the entire value chain. Whether it’s breeding for preferable traits in commodities like tomatoes so they don’t bruise on the way to market or maize varieties that can be harvested later in the season to avoid market gluts, agricultural research scientists make many important upstream innovations that enable agripreneurs to thrive and be profitable.
  1. Science and scientific research is critical to Africa’s future. For sustainable and long-term transformation, Africa cannot afford to outsource its agricultural innovation needs. We need to ensure that African agripreneurs, especially the farmers, have access to appropriate innovation that helps them respond to Africa’s unique challenges, especially in the context of climate change, rapid urbanization, rampant malnutrition.

The role of Science, Technology, and Innovation in development has not only been well-documented but is also widely recognized: The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals emphasizes the importance of investments in Science, Technology, and Innovation.  Closer to home, Africa’s Agenda 2063 of the African Union identifies investment in science, technology, research, and innovation as one of its key strategy to achieve increased development and best performance.

  1. There can be no scientific innovation without Intellectual Property: The African Ministerial Conference 2015: Intellectual Property for an Emerging Africa which took place in Dakar, Senegal, re-affirmed the relevance of IP as an engine for promoting innovation, scientific, technological and cultural transformation of African economies. It also highlighted how IP could contribute to the realization of the priorities identified in the Common African Position (CAP) on the Post 2015 Development Agenda.

The African Union Heads of State and Government (AU Summit January 2016 held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia), endorsed the outcome document – The Dakar Declaration on Intellectual Property for Africa which called upon the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to enhance its technical cooperation in Africa through targeted development cooperation programs that enhance the use of the IP system for development in the continent.

As you can see, there is a consensus among Africa policymakers at the highest level on the importance of innovation in the Agricultural sector for the transformation of African economies.  However, consensus and commitment do not guarantee success.

  1. We must eliminate the gender gap which is causing inefficiencies in Africa’s science and innovation ecosystem: Despite commitments to leverage science and research for Africa’s agriculture-driven prosperity, the continent remains plagued by a number of systemic inefficiencies. Specifically, we are plagued by a gender gap that continues to cripple our ability to make the best use of the talent of African peoples. Unfortunately, because we are failing to utilize a tremendous amount of the intellectual resources of 50% of our population, Africa is failing to derive maximum benefit from the innovation firepower of its women.

During a visit to Kenya, the former United States President Barak Obama, a son of Africa’s soil, highlighted the importance of leveraging the talents of Africa’s women. Using the analogy of a football match he pointed out that any team that decides to only put half of its available players on the field is destined to lose the match.  You can’t put 5 or 6 players on the field, when the other team has its full 11, and hope to win the match.

Let us be clear, across Africa we are playing a life or death match when it comes to the need to feed ourselves and create opportunities for our youth.  Africa needs to increase the pace of agricultural innovation if we are to feed ourselves and bring an end to thousands of our young people perishing in the oceans on their way to seek brighter futures in Europe. We need to deliver on the promises of scientific research to address the pressing problems facing this continent. This is not the time to enter the match with half a team!

Research by WIPO indicates that while the proportion of women inventors is improving over time, research by women is not being turned into patent applications in equal numbers. Research by WIPO’s Gender unit indicates that there is a yawning gender imbalance in Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) System applications. In 2015, less than one-third of all international patent applications include women inventors and only one out seven inventors is a woman. While things are slowly changing, at current rates of change, it will take no less than 64 years to reach a balanced gender distribution of inventors.

Dr. Kamau-Rutenberg noted that while there is a consensus among Africa policy-makers at the highest level on the importance of innovation in the Agricultural sector for the transformation of African economies, consensus and commitment do not guarantee success. She emphasized that these must translate into tangible actions. Dr. Kamau-Rutenberg emphasized that Africa does not have 64 years to wait. Its problems are far too pressing and urgent. Its survival and prosperity depend on making use of all the talent innovation talent available.


Watch the opening session of the conference.


African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD). Hosted by World Agroforestry Centre, United Nations Avenue, Gigiri. P.O Box 30677-00100 Nairobi, Kenya.

Email: awardqueries@cifor-icraf.org | Tel: +254 (0) 20 722 4242