PR 96/25


Leipzig, June 17 - The benefits and burden of conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources should be equitably shared among all countries, said Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Speaking at the opening of the 4th International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources, Dr. Diouf said that a significant portion of important plant genetic resources stored in genebanks, or conserved by farmers, is currently not secure.

Dr. Diouf urged the more than 150 countries attending the Leipzig- Conference (June 17-23) to adopt the proposed Global Plan of Action. "You should not leave Leipzig without an agreement. The international community can now enter a new era of more systematic, rational, balanced and equitable co-operation within this Action Plan. You can imagine the discouraging decades ahead if the necessary steps for the adoption of the Plan are not taken now."

The Global Plan of Action proposes policies and strategies for better management of plant genetic resources at regional, national and global levels, combining traditional knowledge and modern technologies.

Dr. Diouf said that a significant portion of the plant genetic resources vital for agriculture and food security "is not safe because the conditions of conservation are often technically inadequate; because the maintenance of the long-term conservation facilities is at the mercy of the ups-and-downs of the annual budgets of the national and international institutions; because in many instances the material is not duplicated elsewhere and above all because the viability of the samples conserved is often not adequately ensured by an appropriate programme of periodic control and regeneration". Therefore a better international collaboration and a closer co-operation between breeding and seed industry and farmers is needed, he added.

Dr. Diouf said that global agriculture is facing broad challenges: "More than 800 million people are chronically undernourished today; 3 billion additional people will have to be fed in the year 2025; the resource base for food and agriculture, particularly the land and water and fishery resources, are shrinking; the yielding capacity of some major staple food crops is reaching a plateau; there is a growing incidence of pests and diseases."

To meet these challenges the conservation and use of plant genetic resources will play an important role, said the FAO Director-General. To produce more food for an ever increasing world population, plant genetic resources should be more fully utilised. "Future generations of breeders must have at their disposal the widest range of the agro-biodiversity available today. We must produce more with less external inputs, with less wastage of resources, less pollution and less vulnerability to adverse weather, pests and diseases, and market vagaries."

He added that a series of major scientific and technological advances similar to those of the Green Revolution are needed to produce food for all. However, farmers should fully participate and the social and environmental shortcomings of the first Green Revolution should be avoided.

Dr. Diouf stressed that to ensure stable and sustainable food security for all, the political will should be mobilised at the highest government levels.

For this purpose FAO, which has already launched a special programme in support of food security in low-income and food-deficit countries, is convening a World Food Summit at the level of Heads of State or Government in Rome, 13-17 November 1996. The Summit is expected to renew the world¦s commitment to universal food security and agree on the policies and strategies and a Plan of Action to achieve this objective.