Making a Positive Impact Together
May 29, 2024 - MoFo Pro Bono

MoFo Provides Crucial Assistance to African Orphan Crops Consortium

Morrison Foerster is honored to engage its best-in-class patent practice in a pro bono partnership with the African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC) to advance the development of more resilient and more nutritious food crops to support the continent’s population while strengthening its farm economy.

The African Orphan Crops Consortium is a collaboration among nonprofits, governments, and private industry that is dedicated to the development of orphan crops. “Orphan” crops are those that attract little interest from the agribusiness sector because they typically are not traded internationally, but which can play an important role in regional food security. The AOCC supports research to develop the resilience and nutritional potential of these crops, thereby providing local farmers with a higher quality seed, increasing nutrition on the African continent, helping farmers gain greater financial returns at the market, and stimulating the broader economy by creating new markets.

The AOCC conducts a training program for crop improvement scientists, dubbed the African Plant Breeding Academy. The program aims to empower national program scientists from across the continent with the skills to utilize advanced breeding methods, including gene editing. These technologies help scientists to efficiently develop climate-resilient crop varieties while enriching their nutritional profile with essential vitamins and minerals that are crucial for human health and development.

Enter the MoFo pro bono team. The Plant Breeding Academy’s program cannot succeed unless these scientists have a solid understanding of the legal framework that guides the development of, and intellectual property protection for, gene-edited plants in each of their respective jurisdictions. MoFo’s lawyers, led by San Francisco and Boston partner Mike Ward, San Francisco associate Liz Freeman Rosenzweig, and San Diego associate Owen Hosseinzadeh, play a pivotal role by researching the relevant laws and regulations in each of the various African countries to guide recruitment and capacity-building efforts. Liz and Owen compiled an easy-to-read summary for the students in the African Plant Breeding Academy and presented to the Academy’s inaugural CRISPR course on IP and regulatory considerations for conducting CRISPR-based crop improvement projects in Africa aimed at commercialization. The first iteration of the CRISPR course was held at the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) in Nairobi, Kenya in 2023, and the second iteration is ongoing.

Furthermore, MoFo is playing an important role in a series of workshops led by UC Davis, The African Union’s Development Agency-New Partnership for African Development (AUDIA-NEPAD) and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to facilitate conversations among scientists and regulators in several countries within Africa.

MoFo’s work ensures that upon the scientists’ return to their respective countries, they can seamlessly initiate their individual gene-editing programs within larger, more comprehensive crop improvement programs in their nation and region. In fact, it is so important that Howard Shapiro, AOCC Founder who is the former Chief Agricultural Officer for the global food giant Mars, Inc., declared that without MoFo’s efforts, plant gene editing technologies would never be implemented in Africa.

San Francisco associate Liz Freeman Rosenzweig says, “working with AOCC has been an honor and a privilege, and this project is very near and dear to my heart. Discussing plant IP strategies with the CRISPR students halfway around the globe late at night on a Friday (Pacific Time; Saturday morning for them) was truly so much fun. We look forward to continuing to work with AOCC and seeing what their amazingly talented participants bring into the world.”

In addition to Mike, Liz, and Owen, the MoFo team has had the assistance of Washington D.C. partner Brigid DeCoursey Bondoc, San Diego associate Qiwen Zhong, Palo Alto associate Briana Mittleman, Boston patent agents Deborah Pohlmann and Abby Burrus, and New York scientific analyst Yujia Sun, as well as many summer associates across U.S. offices.

Learn more about MoFo’s pro bono efforts.