San Francisco, April 11, 2008 - Lawyers from the life sciences and cleantech practices at Morrison & Foerster LLP advised non-profit CIMMYT (the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center) on a public-private partnership ("PPP") research agreement in connection with the Water Efficient Maize for Africa Program ("WEMA").
WEMA is a PPP formed in response to a growing call by African farmers, leaders, and scientists to address the devastating effects of drought on small-scale farmers and their families. It is led by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, which has engaged CIMMYT, Monsanto, and the national agricultural research systems in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and South Africa to help carry out WEMA activities.
The partners will use marker-assisted breeding and biotechnology to develop African maize varieties with the long-term goal of making drought-tolerant maize available royalty-free to African small-scale farmers. The first conventional varieties developed by WEMA could be available after six to seven years of research and development.
Maize is the staple food for more than a quarter of a billion Africans and, according to 2008 estimates produced by the USAID Famine Early Warning System Network, climate change could decrease rainfall in eastern and southern Africa by up to 25% over the coming decades.
Jonathan Dickstein, co-chair of Morrison & Foerster's Life Sciences Group, said, "CIMMYT chose us for this project upon the recommendation of its advisor, PIPRA (the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture), to advise on public sector interests and intellectual property issues during the negotiations and to assist in negotiation of the agreements. This is one of several matters on which the firm is working at present where philanthropic concerns and big business are collaborating to find pioneering methods of using 21st century science to alleviate problems in developing countries. AgBio is one big area of activity for this, and vaccine development is another."
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation have contributed a total of $47 million to the WEMA program.