We are happy to announce that applications are now being accepted for a 9-month post-doctoral research position within a new AHRC-funded project on intellectual property, narrowly and broadly construed, as a factor conditioning innovation in plant breeding among small farmers in rural India. The project is a collaboration between the University of Leeds’ Centre for History and Philosophy of Science, the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition in Munich, and the India-based Art of Living Foundation.
The application deadline is November 21, 2016. Further information about the position and the application process can be found here.
An overview of the project is as follows:
One of the major challenges facing global development is the question of how to arrange the laws and customs surrounding intellectual property (IP) in order to encourage innovation. Bringing together Gregory Radick’s theoretical and conceptual work on IP over the long-run of the history of science and technology, Mrinalini Kochupillai’s legal-empirical studies of IP and innovation concerning plant varieties in India, and the resources of the Art of Living Foundation, this project will study a sample of innovative Indian farmers in order to explore the comparative advantages and disadvantages of two ways of organising innovation in a developing nation.
Indian farmers have traditionally participated in an informal culture of keeping seeds season after season (seed saving) and of swapping seeds (seed exchange), and under this system, new varieties have periodically emerged and been cultivated. More recently, the Indian government has promoted a different system, changing the law to give enhanced IP protection to scientifically derived varieties from state-run institutions or private firms, and encouraging farmers to replace their seed stocks regularly (seed replacement) by purchasing seeds from the marketplace. A key question is whether this increasing promotion of policies of seed replacement and IP regimes that have “exclusivity” as their basic underlying rationale could have a negative effect on cultures of sharing, and therefore on seed-related innovations, among farmers in rural India. The possibility of such an effect was dramatized by the case of the Indian farmer Dadji Ramji Khobragade. Collecting seeds and replanting them year on year, he eventually developed a new rice variety which became popular throughout the region. As is typical of the culture among small farmers of the regions, Khobragade was happy to share his seeds with farmers from other villages. But when university researchers took his seeds to conduct experiments, and four years later released an improved variety, they did not credit Khobragade. Furthermore, under a law governing IP and plant varieties, Khobragade was not entitled to any share of the profits from the sale of this new variety.
The project will have three phases:
In the first phase, a project researcher based partly at the University of Leeds and partly at the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition in Munich, will undertake systematic background study of the relevant scholarly literature while at the same time using the Plant Variety Application database (freely available from the Plant Authority of India) to identify Indian farmers for interview.
The second phase will be a two-month field study in India, travelling from region to region in order to conduct in-depth interviews with innovative farmers — that is, farmers who have registered new plant varieties — in order to learn their views and experiences regarding the different cultures of IP surrounding Indian plant-variety innovation, as well as the related impacts on agricultural biodiversity. The researcher will also speak on local/regional radio in India to publicise the project.
In the third phase the researcher will return to Leeds to process the interview data and produce a journal article, one or more articles for trade journals etc., and a report for the Foundation. Throughout the project the researcher will use social media, the Foundation’s website and related means to promote the project’s findings.
The project will end with a conference taking place in Bangalore and involving the project team, farmers, policy-makers and plant breeders. With the UN having recently released a report stressing the importance of small-scale sustainable farming to the future of agriculture and the environment around the world, this research is particularly pertinent, and has relevance for small farmers and agriculture internationally.