Building an international system to safeguard agricultural biodiversity
FAO playing a leading role
On June 29, a major milestone in FAO's efforts to safeguard global agricultural biodiversity was passed with the entry into force of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
Thanks to this ground-breaking international accord, plant breeders, farmers and public and private research institutions around the globe will be able to access a much wider area of plant genetic resources, under standard conditions, than ever before.
The treaty will greatly reduce transaction costs for the exchange of plant genetic material between countries. In order to use breeding material from different countries to produce new varieties, plant breeders and researchers will no longer need costly separate bilateral agreements with each source country.
Additionally, the world's most important gene bank collections, around 600 000 samples, held by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), will be put under the treaty's umbrella.
The treaty will also enable developing countries to build their capacity to conserve and use genetic resources. Benefit sharing will include exchange of information, access and transfer of technology and capacity building.
In certain cases, those who commercialize plants bred with material accessed via the treaty will be required to pay an equitable share of the monetary benefits into a trust fund, which will be used to help developing countries improve the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources.
Ensuring farmers' rights
The treaty also formally recognizes the leading role that farmers play in both building up and preserving global agricultural biodiversity, calling on governments to protect and promote farmers' rights by safeguarding relevant traditional knowledge, giving farmers the opportunity to participate in national decision-making about plant genetic resources and ensuring that they share equitably in the benefits.
Under the treaty, a Global Crop Diversity Trust is being established by FAO and the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute on behalf of the CGIAR Centres. It will provide financial support for gene bank conservation and capacity building for developing countries.
The fund has a target of US$260 million, of which around US$45 million has already been pledged.
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