In 2003, a Dutch company registered a European patent for teff-related products, claiming that they were “invented” by a certain Jans Roosjen, a senior company official. In recent years, Ethiopia complained that this was totally inaccurate — Ethiopians have been growing and eating teff for millennia, and the pending patent was preventing Ethiopian companies from properly exploiting a growing global market.

 

Finally however in 2019 and long overdue, Ethiopia is able to celebrate a major victory in a long-running dispute as to who owns the patent for products made from teff.

 

Teff is an ancient grain that forms the basis of Ethiopia’s staple food, injera and it is gluten-free and rich in nutrients touted as a major health food following in the footsteps of quinoa.

 

A Dutch court ruled that as the patent contained no ‘inventiveness’, it was therefore null and void. Fitsum Arega, Commissioner of the Ethiopian Investment Commission stated that he had looked into defending the Teff patent issue and confirmed this ruling. “ I just learned that The Court of The Hague ruled against the Teff patent holder. This is great news,” he said. “I hope we can learn from this that our national assets must be protected by Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia” he added.

 

Teff is primarily used as the basis of  ‘injera’ and it is widely regarded as part of Ethiopia’s culinary and cultural heritage.

For centuries, millions of Ethiopian farmers have depended on cultivating the indigenous grain of teff. Ethiopia has a factory that turns teff into flour for export. Teff is also processed into flour and used for bread, biscuits and pizza. Because Teff is gluten free and rich in nutrients these attributes have made it an attractive commodity for the west.

 

Photos by Arabella Stewart