Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture




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Plant genetic resources for food and agriculture are crucial in feeding the world's population. They are the raw material that farmers and plant breeders use to improve the quality and productivity of our crops. The future of agriculture depends on international cooperation and on the open exchange of the crops and their genes that farmers all over the world have developed and exchanged over 10,000 years. No country is sufficient in itself. All depend on crops and the genetic diversity within these crops from other countries and regions.

After seven years of negotiations, the FAO Conference (through Resolution 3/2001) adopted the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, in November 2001. This legally-binding Treaty covers all plant genetic resources relevant for food and agriculture. It is in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The Treaty is vital in ensuring the continued availability of the plant genetic resources that countries will need to feed their people. We must conserve for future generations the genetic diversity that is essential for food and agriculture.

What are "plant genetic resources for food and agriculture"?
The Treaty defines them as "any genetic material of plant origin of actual or potential value for food and agriculture".

What are the Treaty's objectives?
Its objectives are the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from their use, in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity, for sustainable agriculture and food security.

What is the Multilateral System for Access and Benefit-Sharing?
Through the Treaty, countries agree to establish an efficient, effective and transparent Multilateral System to facilitate access to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, and to share the benefits in a fair and equitable way. The Multilateral System applies to over 64 major crops and forages. The Governing Body of the Treaty, which will be composed of the countries that have ratified it, will set out the conditions for access and benefit-sharing in a "Material Transfer Agreement".

What are the conditions for access in the Multilateral System?

Resources may be obtained from the Multilateral System for utilization and conservation in research, breeding and training. When a commercial product is developed using these resources, the Treaty provides for payment of an equitable share of the resulting monetary benefits, if this product may not be used without restriction by others for further research and breeding. If others may use it, payment is voluntary.

How will benefits be shared?
The Treaty provides for sharing the benefits of using plant genetic resources for food and agriculture through information-exchange, access to and the transfer of technology, and capacity-building. It also foresees a funding strategy to mobilize funds for activities, plans and programmes the help, above all, small farmers in developing countries. This funding strategy also includes the share of the monetary benefits paid under the Multilateral System.

How does the Treaty protect Farmers' Rights?
The Treaty recognizes the enormous contribution that farmers and their communities have made and continue to make to the conservation and development of plant genetic resources. This is the basis for Farmers' Rights, which include the protection of traditional knowledge, and the right to participate equitably in benefit-sharing and in national decision-making about plant genetic resources. It gives governments the responsibility for implementing these rights.

Who benefits from the Treaty and how?
All benefit, in many ways:

   Farmers and their communities, through Farmers' Rights;
   Consumers, because of a greater variety of foods, and of agriculture products, as well as increased food security;
   The scientific community, through access to the plant genetic resources crucial for research and plant breeding;
   International Agricultural Research Centres, whose collections the Treaty puts on a safe and long-term legal footing;
   Both the public and private sectors, which are assured access to a wide range of genetic diversity for agricultural development; and
   The environment, and future generations, because the Treaty will help conserve the genetic diversity necessary to face unpredictable environmental changes, and future human needs.

When did the Treaty come into force?
The Treaty came into force on 29 June 2004, ninety days after forty governments had ratified it. Governments that have ratified it will make up its Governing Body. At its first meeting, this Governing Body will address important questions, such as the level, form and manner of monetary payments on commercialization, a standard Material Transfer Agreement for plant genetic resources, mechanisms to promote compliance with the Treaty, and the funding strategy.

What's next?
Each country that ratifies will then develop the legislation and regulations it needs to implement the Treaty.

Official versions of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
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Video on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
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Text of the Standard Material Transfer Agreement
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