Agreement reached on protecting plant genetic resources
p The accord
seeks to protect crops crucial to food
The accord seeks to protect crops crucial to food security.
The legally binding International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources aims to protect the world's most important food and forage crops in an effort to safeguard global food security. The Undertaking seeks to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from their use. The treaty will be submitted for adoption by FAO member states at the biennial FAO Conference meeting in November 2001. It will enter into force after ratification by 40 countries.
"With modernization, fewer and fewer crops form the basis of the world's food security," says José Esquinas-Alcázar, secretary of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. "A study carried out by FAO shows that, over the years, about 7 000 plant species have been cultivated or collected by humans for food. At present, however, only 30 crops provide 90 percent of the world's calorie intake. This agreement will help protect global agricultural biodiversity."
Facilitating access and sharing
It also ensures equitable sharing of the financial benefits resulting from the use of the plant genetic resources covered by the system. Mandatory payments will be required when commercial benefits are obtained from the use of these resources. Payments will be voluntary, however, when a commercial product derived from these resources is still available for research and plant breeding. These payments will be used for priority activities, particularly in developing countries and countries in transition.
The presence of diverse varieties in a field can help prevent devastation by pests or disease. But over the past century, the traditional heterogeneous varieties that contain most of the world's agricultural biodiversity have been displaced from farmers' fields by modern homogeneous varieties. Most of these traditional varieties have been lost and many of those that remain can now be found only in gene banks, including those of the International Agricultural Research Centres. Away from farmers' fields, these varieties are unable to evolve and adapt to changing environmental conditions.
Spotlight on farmers'
Discussion continues on some
"Work remains to be done, but there is much cause for optimism," says Mr Esquinas-Alcázar. "The International Undertaking is a milestone in international cooperation. It will promote the use of genetic resources for research and plant breeding, the equitable sharing of benefits derived from this use and the conservation of genetic resources for future generations."
16 July 2001