IP as a Critical Incentive for SDGs in Africa



By Temiloluwa Olowoyo and Abdulazeez Karimat Opeyemi

With the global population set to surpass 10 billion before the end of the century, humanity faces a serious problem, hunger! Already, the strain is beginning to show, since 2019, world hunger has increased. Food insecurity is also on the rise, with nearly one in three today, lacking access to adequate food. Unless these issues are urgently addressed, it is predicted that, there simply won’t be enough food to feed everyone by 2050.[1]

It is in view of these statistics and other scary predictions that the United Nations General assembly in September2015 laid down a much broader set of activities related to sustainable development than the previous Millennium Development Goals that were in effect from 2000-2015. These SDGs which is built on the principle of “leaving no one behind”, indicate the inter-link between IP and development by providing for a goal to ‘’build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.’’[2]

The Director General of WIPO (World intellectual property organization) Francis Gurry, while stating the relationship between IP and SDGs, said that “IP exists to create an enabling environment for and to stimulate investment and innovation.” Also, in a joint publication of WIPO and UNCHR, ‘IP and Human Rights’, they concluded that appropriate IP can contribute to the economic, social and cultural progress of the world.

 The issues the UN seeks to address are classified into seventeen SDGs; no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well being, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growths, industry, innovations and infrastructure, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, climate action, life below water, life on land, peace, justice and strong institutions, partnerships for the goals.[3]

It is important to acknowledge that, attaining all these, boils down to human endeavours, innovations, creativities and ideas which must be deliberate enough and tailored towards achieving the set goals and the exact roles IP plays in it. No nation of the world is so developed today without the intellectual property inherent in its citizens, these IPs have been nurtured and exploited to bring about economic growth and development which is key to the attainment of the SDGs.

IP through its passive presence has widened its reach across all domain of knowledge like education, entertainment-media, art, technology, literature, music, etc. The role assumed by the intellectual property laws has widened over the years due to its interaction with other laws and international agreements.[4] To further emphasize the interconnectivity between IP and SDGs, the regimes of IP which covers GI[5], TCEs[6], TK[7]cannot be left out, when the components of IP in these areas are tapped into, actualising the SDGs becomes easier.

Asides from the holistic application of IP to reflect the SDGs, there are specific parts of the SDGs which are fundamentally related to IP;

  1. SDG 2: End Hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture[8]. A classical example of a deliberate approach to help solve this problem is in the case of SIBO B.V, a Costa Rican company which has invested in insect based food in order to supplement the shortage of food in the world, the intellectual property behind this project is in its trade secret of the first water-soluble insect-based protein.[9]
  2. SDG 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages.[10]IP comes into the picture with how it supports innovation in the health care sector by encouraging investment in new drugs and technology. A good example is the WIPO Re: Search, a public-private partnership that catalyzes advancement of medical products to prevent and treat infected persons of neglected tropical diseases, malaria and tuberculosis which the WHO estimates to be more than one billion people, through innovative research, knowledge sharing and a database of IP assets available for license and collaboration.
  • SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. WIPO works with its member-states to support equal access to education through the WIPO-led Accessible Books Consortium (ABC), a partnership that works to harness the latest technologies to meet the needs of virtually impaired persons and print disabled readers around the globe.
  1. SDG 8: Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. In regards to economic growth, the world has gone digital as the mode of economic activities are now being transferred into the digital space, and as such, innovations across different quarters are trooping in to create a sustainable economic growth, off of the traditional mode of economic activities, and right at the crust of this process is IP.
  2. SDG 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.[11] As earlier mentioned, climate change is real and the developed countries are at the forefront of ensuring a NetZero emission era. This informed the decision to device other means of generating eco-friendly innovations that will have little or no impact on the climate, then we have inventions such as electric vehicles, to cut down carbon emission, a paradigm shift from the use of fossil fuel and generating power/energy from other sources such as wind, hydrogen, Solar etc.


        A country’s growth and development is directly proportional to the level of its technological advancements, simply put that, a country’s step towards achieving the SDGs can be measured by its technological level because at the heart of achieving this goal is ‘technological innovation’ and as such, one cannot talk about the SDGs without talking about technology transfer. Guerrero described it as an outstanding role of technological transfer among less industrialized countries for spurring development, where a mechanism must be settled to create a material equalisation between the two parts of the contracts, and ultimately to spread out all benefits to the entire society.[12] Also according to Almario[13], technology is understood as the ability to produce results that materialize in goods and services through the application of scientific knowledge and adaptation to the social environment of procedures, instruments and equipment from the national and international scientific community.’[14]

Technology transfer refers to the assignment of rights to manufacture or use specific technology and the ancillary knowledge surrounding it, which is needed to avail the benefit of such technology for the mutual advantage of both parties of a given transaction.[15]

It is also a statement of fact that the level of benefits accruing from IP is proportional to a country’s level of development achieved and the availability of skill crafted labour. The under-developed or developing countries, due to their low absorptive capacity, for instance in education, are not able to readily utilize these benefits. However, with the aid of Technological Facilitation Mechanism (TFM) launched by the UN under the SDG, it helps with the transfer of technology to improve the capacity of such LDCs in order to benefit from science and technology innovation, an initiative which will also help these countries meet up with the SDGs in their region and contribute their quota to the international community.

Article 17 of the Trade Related Aspect of Intellectual property states that IPR shall promote technological innovation, and the transfer and dissemination of technology to the mutual advantage of producers and users of technological knowledge and in a manner conducive to social and economic welfare and to a balance of rights and obligations.

The provision above further tasks countries that are party to it, especially the developed countries, with the responsibility of ensuring that IPR in technological innovation are disseminated across, in other to facilitate economic development, as this will be made reflective in achieving some of the SDGs such as affordable and clean energy, climate action, medical innovation as it affects good health, industry, innovation and industrialisation.


‘The average score across all African member states was 53.82 in 2020, which is slightly higher than the 2019 average, but still implies that after four years of SDG implementation, the African continent in only halfway towards achieving the SDG goals and targets by 2030.’[16] Tunisia topped the ranking of African countries with the highest SDGs index with 67.1 points.[17]

Ultimately, stronger science, technology and innovation systems will enable African Societies to attain greater inclusivity and resilience[18] through enhanced capacity to achieve the SDGs and the African Union 2063 Development Agenda, ‘The Africa we want.’ The aim is to identify effective approaches, strategies and policies by applying science, technology and innovation to development in Africa.[19]


It is important to note that beyond just recognising and managing IP is the need to protect the rights inherent in them so as to further encourage creativity and innovation. After all, we need innovation to help rethink how to conquer poverty, hunger and to ensure a speedy and effective approach to actualising the SDGs.

Temiloluwa Olowoyo ([email protected]) and Abdulazeez Karimat Opeyemi ([email protected] ) are law students of Ekiti State University


  1. Africa SDGS 9: Toward a framework for development through IP- Kujo E. McDave, Alexander Hachman-Aidoo.
  2. Intellectual property and innovation process under goal 17 of sustainable development- Civilizar (Ciencias socials y humans)


[1] WIPO: http//:www.wipo.int/ipadvantage/en/details.jsp?id=12309


[3] Sdgs.un.org

[4] www.kashishworld,com/blog/intellectual-property-and-sustainable-development-goals/

[5] Geographical Indication

[6] Traditional cultural expression

[7] Traditional Knowledge

[8] Example of this in Africa is the biodegradable seed tray for rice farming developed by Juslain Nomenjanahary Raharinaivo, in Madagascar. Also, Wassim Chahbani from Tunisia is also credited with the buried diffuser, a patented innovative irrigation system which waters crops through underground irrigation network which delivers both water and nutrients to plants at root level.

[9] Sibo Unlocks the potential of insect based food with entowise, : http//:www.wipo.int/ipadvantage/en/details.jsp?id=12309

[10] In Ghana, the Incas Vaginal Discharge Kit is credited to Dr. Laud Anthony Basing is equally worth mentioning.

[11] Christian Mwijage from Tanzania has also developed the Waxy II Technology which recycles and transforms post-consumer waste plastic into durable and environmentally friendly plastic lumber using a chemical free and energy conserving technology called ‘Waxy Technology’

[12] Guerrero, M. (2014). Los contraltos de transferencia internacional de tecnologia. America latina, estados unidos y la union europa. Editorial Universidad externado de Colombia.

[13] Intellectual property and innovation process under goal 17 of sustainable development.

[14] Almario, F. (2018). Transferencia y Negociacion De Tecnologia. Programa de innovacion facultad de cien cias pontificia Universidad javeriana. Universidad javeriana. http://www.cecolda.org.co/images/red/negociacon.pdf

[15] www.kashishworld,com/blog/intellectual-property-and-sustainable-development-goals/

[16] Addis ababa, 28 february 2022 (ECA), www.uneca.org/stories/africa%E2%80%99s-progress-towards-achieving –the-sdgs-and-targets-need-strategic-acceleration-%E2%80%93-2020

[17] www.statistica.com- sustainable development goals (SDG) index score in Africa as of 2020, by country.

[18] Attention should be shifted to personal infrastructure, that is the qualities and characteristics of the working population(Buhr, 2003), material infrastructure, that is, those immobile capital goods that essentially contribute to the production of infrastructure goods and services needed to satisfy basic physical and social requirements of economic agents. (Buhr, 2009, p. 18)

[19] www.unesco.org/en/articles/strengthening-science-technology-and-innovation-systems-sustainable-development-africa


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