African Genes Protect Syngenta's Seedless Watermelon Business

Dear friends and colleagues,

We are pleased to share wth you a new research paper on "African Genes Protect Syngenta's Seedless Watermelon Business" by Edward Hammond.

The paper reveals that Switzerland-based agriculture giant Syngenta is on an intellectual property expedition into watermelon seed collections.The company is looking for disease resistance genes to use in its patent-protected seedless watermelons.  The annual market for seedless watermelons in the United States alone is estimated to be about US$ 415 million a year.

Since 2007, the company’s “Super Pollenizer” varieties have incorporated disease resistance genes from watermelons originating in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria.  These African genes have been bred into a variety that is of Chinese origin. Syngenta obtained samples of the African varieties from the international genebank system.

Watermelons are not among the crops in the Multilateral System of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, and their exchange as genetic resources is thus governed by the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Nagoya Protocol on access and benefit sharing.

According to the paper, both plant breeder's rights and/or patents are claimed by Syngenta in several countries. An examination of the patent applications on the three varieties with African disease resistance shows that there is no disclosure of the country of origin of the resistance traits; in fact there is no identification they are from Africa at all. Hammond traced the origin through a search of geneback databases.

The paper further illustrates yet again the ease of access by agribusiness to genebank collections with no corresponding benefit sharing with the country of origin. It is therefore crucial to ensure that there are strong national laws on access and benefit sharing, and on disclosure requirements in patent applications.

With best wishes,

Third World Network