Harmonizing the International
Undertaking on Plant Genetic
Resources for Food and
Agriculture with the
FAO established the intergovernmental Commission on Plant Genetic Resources in 1983. In 1995 its mandate was broadened to cover all components of agrobiodiversity of relevance to food and agriculture, and it was renamed the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA). "Agriculture" is taken in the FAO sense to include crops, forestry, fishery and animal husbandry. However, the commission's wider mandate has not yet been implemented for forestry genetic resources. At present 160 countries and the European Union are members of CGRFA.
CGRFA coordinates, oversees and monitors the development of the Global System for the Conservation and Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which comprises, inter alia, the non-binding International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, the rolling Global Plan of Action on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, the International Fund for Plant Genetic Resources, Codes of Conduct and Guidelines for the Collection and Transfer of Germplasm and international networks of ex situ collections and in situ conservation areas. CGRFA facilitates and oversees cooperation between FAO and other relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental bodies, including, inter alia, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
The International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, the first comprehensive instrument on plant (including forest tree and shrub) genetic resources for food and agriculture, was established by FAO in November 1983. Its objective is to ensure that plant genetic resources are explored, collected, conserved, evaluated, utilized and made available for plant breeding and other scientific purposes. Some 113 countries have adhered to this non-binding agreement. The Undertaking was originally based on the principle that plant genetic resources for food and agriculture should be "preserved ... and freely available for use, for the benefit of present and future generations" as part of the common "heritage of mankind". Most countries have generally provided access to plant genetic resources of both agricultural and forest crops in line with the approach described in the International Undertaking, recognizing that no one country is self-sufficient in genetic resources for food and agriculture (including forestry) and that all countries would benefit from this easy access approach.
In 1992 the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) adopted the CBD, which declares "the sovereignty of States over their plant genetic resources". The CBD does not establish or assign any new ownership rights over either biological or genetic resources. It recognizes the value of genetic resources and recognizes that the authority to determine access to genetic resources rests with national governments. Recognizing that the CBD will have a central role in determining policy on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, CGRFA has agreed that the International Undertaking should be revised accordingly.
The International Undertaking is being revised to harmonize it with the CBD and for resolution of certain issues regarding plants for food and agriculture that were unresolved during the CBD negotiations. These issues include access regimes to ex situ collections not acquired in accordance with the convention, and farmers' rights. The extent to which the revised International Undertaking will explicitly cover or have direct implications for forest genetic resources or international cooperation is not yet clear.