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  • Teff is a staple grain used in Ethiopian cuisine for millennia.

    Teff is a staple grain used in Ethiopian cuisine for millennia. | Photo: EFE

Published 7 July 2018

The Ethiopian government is taking diplomatic and legal measures to regain intellectual property of teff, a grain dating back time immemorial.

Teff is a grain dating back time immemorial in Ethiopia cuisine. Its flour is used to produce injera, a staple spongy flatbread used as a base to serve vegetables and meat. It would take European and U.S. scientists until the 1990s to study and conclude that teff is a super-grain. The revelation came a few years after Bill Crystal joked in the 1989 U.S. blockbuster film “When Harry Met Sally”: “I didn't know that they had food in Ethiopia? This will be a quick meal. I'll order two empty plates and we can leave.”

Ethiopia and Britain Battle Over Return of Stolen Treasures

Since 2000, teff flour and its food-related products (bread, pancakes, cakes, etc...), according to the European Institute of patents, was “created” by a Dutchman named Jans Roosjen, director of Health and Performance Food International. The company holds exclusive intellectual property rights over the sale of teff and its sub-products in Germany and other European countries, according to Nexo Jornal.

The Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office, a government cabinet tasked with handling questions related to intellectual property, is not taking the matter lightly.

In May, the cabinet announced a series of legal and diplomatic actions to regain control of the grain and its sub-products so germane to Ethiopian gastronomy. Now, Ethiopia's attorney-general will bring a case against the company at the International Court of Arbitration.

The Norwegian research firm, Instituto Fridtjof Nansens, reported in 2012 that “as a result of several circumstances, Ethiopia was left with less possibilities than ever to generate and share in the benefits resulting from the use of genetic resources of teff” due to the Dutch company, which has since gone bankrupt.

The Coalition Against Biopiracy criticized former directors of the Health and Performance Food International, saying they sought to “monopolize” teff strains, which were developed over a period of “millennia” by Ethiopian farmers and horticulturists.

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