Teff; who said anything about justice?

Picture from munchies.vice.com

Picture from munchies.vice.com

What the f is wrong with this God forsaken world? Seriously, the West just seems to be getting more and more annoying, not to mention greedy......can we Africans live?

Get this:

Teff is used to make the popular injera, which is a scrumptious sourdough flat bread - a staple food in most East African countries. Teff is an iron rich, gluten free fine grain that grows predominantly in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Despite this, Dutch companies have claimed patent rights to the grain. 

“Teff is a key part of Ethiopia’s culture and economy. It provides two-thirds of the basic nutrition for the people. With multiple health benefits, it said to have contributed to the success of Ethiopian athletes. Rich in minerals such as calcium, protein, iron, fiber, and amino acids- all in one, it helps fight diabetes and obesity. As a gluten-free grain with all these benefits, it has a promising potential for marketability as the “ next super-food” in the Western world, especially in the United States, replacing quinoa.” (http://hornaffairs.com/en/2015/03/13/netherlands-breach-international-obligations-ethiopia-teff-grain/). 

Yes, so next time your bourgie, “health obsessed” friend tells you about the amazing benefits of quinoa, remind them about the many communities in South America that can no longer afford what was to them a staple food &  now simply a health craze for the West. Teff seems to be following a similar suit…..

So how did events play out? 

2004 - Ethiopian agricultural research organisation agrees to give access of Teff genetic varieties to a company under the Soil and Company Group (Dutch company). The company agrees to come up with new Teff-based products, however the right to intellectual property over the Teff varieties and any traditional farming knowledge is to remain with local Ethiopian communities. The company also agrees to pay a third of its gross net income generated between 2007 & 2009 as well as an annual royalty fee based on net profit post that. 

Yep, you guessed it. This is where Ethiopian authorities get screwed over. The company continued to take measures against the terms of the agreement and secured patent rights over Teff products in the Netherlands. It then transferred rights to another company within the Soil and Company Group (Vennootschap Onder Firma), which then filled for patent licenses in parts of Europe, the U.S and Japan. Despite their efforts, Ethiopian authorities have failed to revoke the licenses and get their rightful share of their pie. 

This is not just about profits, but about the injustices that many farmers and communities will face as a result of these events. The monopoly over stolen Teff will make it far more expensive and more profitable to the Western companies and unaffordable to local consumers (keep in mind that Teff makes up two thirds of the Ethiopian families’ nutrition).

When a friend of mine mentioned to me that Africa is under a new form of colonisation, I laughed and brushed it off as being ridiculous and extreme. I now realise that as long as there are power structures, inequality and entrenched imperialism, Africa is not and will never be truly free. 

This is one of many instances where the exploitation of Africa and Africans continues in broad daylight despite the world’s self proclaimed commitment to human rights and justice. What a sham. 

Resources:

1.Teffidentitytheft: http://addisfortune.net/columns/teff-identity-theft/

2.ThetruthbehindTeff: https://munchies.vice.com/en/articles/the-truth-behind-teff-the-wests-latest-superfood-crush

3.ObligationsoverTeffgrain: http://hornaffairs.com/en/2015/03/13/netherlands-breach-international-obligations-ethiopia-teff-grain/