PR 96/26


LEIPZIG, 23 June - The first Global Action Plan for the conservation and better use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture was approved today by 150 countries in Leipzig, Germany, at the end of the International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources. After week- long negotiations, countries reached a consensus on urgent actions needed to protect the world's dwindling plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, funding, and the issue of Farmers' Rights. The meeting was organized by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and hosted by the Federal German Government.

The Conference also adopted the "Leipzig Declaration", which stresses that the ¦primary objective must be to enhance world food security through conserving and sustainably using plant genetic resources. This will require integrated approaches combining the best of traditional knowledge and modern technologies. Means are needed to identify, increase, and share fairly and equitably the benefits derived from the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources."

The countries acknowledged the "roles played by generations of men and woman farmers and plant breeders, and by indigenous and local communities, in conserving and improving plant genetic resources". Countries stressed the serious threats to the security of plant genetic resources and that "efforts to conserve, develop, and sustainably use genetic diversity should be improved."

"Existing diversity in crop species is not used to the extent possible for increasing food production or for improving the sustainability of production systems. ... It is necessary to strengthen national capabilities, particularly in developing countries," said the "Leipzig Declaration", a major political statement. "Access to and the sharing of both genetic resources and technologies are essential for meeting world food security and needs of the growing world population, and must be facilitated."

The "Leipzig Declaration" calls for a "new and more productive partnership between scientists and farmers to build upon the ongoing efforts of farmers to manage and improve their plant genetic resources, especially in marginal areas." The Global Plan estimates that some 1,400 million of the world's poorest people (approximately 100 million in Latin America, 300 million in Africa and 1,000 million in Asia) are now living in areas where locally adapted crops are of the greatest importance.

"The Leipzig Declaration and the first Global Action Plan ever approved by governments give the clear signal that the international community can now enter a new era of more systematic, balanced and equitable co-operation," said Abdoulaye Sawadogo, FAO Assistant Director-General . "This will enable future generations to face unpredictable and environmental changes and human needs. The cost of conserving Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is high but far less than the cost of allowing their degradation."

The Global Plan of Action adopted in Leipzig aims to promote the conservation, sustainable use and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits flowing from plant genetic resources. It contains 20 crucial priority activities.

In Situ Conservation and Development

The most useful genes for food and agriculture come from traditional farming systems, often in marginal areas. Until now, most work focused on conservation in genebanks (ex situ conservation). The plan considers in situ conservation through on-farm management, as well as the in situ conservation of wild plants important for food, a valuable complement to ex situ conservation. The Global Plan of Action recommends the systematic survey and inventory of this crop diversity.

The Global Plan of Action recommends new on-farm conservation and improvement initiatives, including training of farmers, especially women farmers, and access to a wider range of appropriate genetic resources. It calls for a new partnership between scientists, genebanks and farmers.

The Plan calls for a new initiative by the international community to address disaster situations, in which farmers can lose their locally adapted plants. In reviving their agriculture after disaster, war or civil strife, farmers should be able to use adapted local varieties stored in the genebanks of neighboring countries or regional or international genebanks.

Ex-situ Conservation

FAO's first "State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources" prepared for the Leipzig Conference in consultation with over 150 countries shows that many genebank collections are now in danger of losing the germplasm they store. The Global Plan of Action recommends a major programme to transform the current diverse, poorly coordinated, often inefficient, and frequently redundant efforts into a rational, effective and sustainable system. The Plan proposes that each country be provided the opportunity to conserve its diversity under sustainable ex situ conditions. The Plan views ex situ collections as centres for the promotion of conservation and utilization activities and not as closed repositories. The Plan also urges giving priority to the regeneration of accessions which are currently endangered due to poor storage conditions.

Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources

Much of the world¦s rural population is wholly dependent on its own farm-saved seed and planting materials for its food security. The Global Plan of Action therefore aims to strengthen local capacity to produce, distribute and market farm-saved seed of crop varieties essential for local food security, to help diversify and agricultural production systems through the increased use and commercialization of local and under-utilized crops.

For many crops, breeders are at present deterred from using a wide range of plant genetic resources of potentially great value to agriculture, because of a lack of information. The Global Plan therefore recommends a major, international initiative in characterizing and evaluating accessions in existing collections for useful genetic characteristics.

Precautionary steps are needed to avoid genetic uniformity which can increase vulnerability of major crops requires, such as monitoring genetic uniformity, and reviewing policies to ensure the greatest possible amount of diverse genetic resources in crops.

The Plan states that hundreds of species used at local level are neglected. However, many such under-utilized species contribute substantially to household food security and are most often managed and harvested by women. These crops should therefore be given new attention, and marketing should be improved.

In both developed and developing countries, economic and social measures should encourage farmers who continue to grow local varieties and produce the ¦diversity-rich¦ crops, on genes from which the development of new high- yielding crop varieties throughout the world depends.

Institutions and capacity building

The Plan calls for strong national programmes which integrate more closely in situ and ex situ conservation. Conservation and utilization of genetic resources should be better planned, coordinated and managed. At present many of the countries which do not have strong national programmes are those which have the most urgent food security problems. The Plan also promotes the transfer, between countries, of appropriate technologies for the improved conservation and utilization of plant genetic resources.

Countries present in Leipzig committed themselves to take the necessary steps to implement the Global Plan of Action. The Report of the Conference, adopted together with the "Leipzig Declaration" and the Plan of Action, reaffirms "the commitments for the new and additional funds made under UNCED- Agenda 21 and by the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. ... funds should be made available to finance the implementation by developing countries and countries with economies in transition. Such funding should come from developed countries and/or other sources."

The Plan confirms "the needs and individual rights of farmers and, collectively, where recognized by national law, to have non-discriminatory access to germplasm, information, technologies, financial resources and research and marketing systems necessary for them to continue to manage and improve genetic resources". The Plan also acknowledged the need "to realize Farmers' Rights, as defined in FAO Resolution 5/89."