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Access and benefit-sharing

Ensuring that appropriate genetic resources with relevant traits are available and accessible is crucial for food security. In most countries, a significant part of the genetic diversity used in food and agriculture originates from other countries. Countries are thus interdependent when it comes to accessing the genetic resources needed to safeguard their food security. At the same time, it is widely acknowledged that countries have the sovereign right to exploit their own resources, including the right to control and limit access to them. Increasingly, countries regulate access to their genetic resources and impose benefit-sharing obligations on the users of these resources.

Globally, the issue of access and benefit-sharing (ABS) is addressed, in varying degrees of detail, by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the FAO International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and the Nagoya Protocol, a supplementary agreement to the CBD.

Access and benefit-sharing at the core of the work of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

FAO and the Commission have a longstanding history of dealing with access to genetic resources for food and agriculture and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from their utilization. In 1983, the FAO Conference adopted the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which provided a policy and planning framework for the Commission with respect to plant genetic resources. During the following years, the Commission negotiated further resolutions that interpreted the International Undertaking and, in 1994, started revising the International Undertaking. As a result of this process, the FAO Conference, in 2001, adopted the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, the first legally binding and operational international instrument for access and benefit-sharing for genetic resources.

In 2007, the Commission agreed on the importance of considering ABS in relation to all components of biodiversity for food and agriculture, and decided that work in this field should be conducted within its Multi-Year Programme of Work. Since then, the Commission revisited the issue of access and benefit-sharing for genetic resources for food and agriculture at each of its subsequent regular sessions.

 

  • In 2009, the Commission adopted Resolution 1/2009, which formed the basis for FAO Conference Resolution 18/2009, stressing the special nature of agricultural biodiversity and inviting the Conference of the Parties to the CBD to allow for differential treatment of different sectors or subsectors of genetic resources, of different genetic resources for food and agriculture (GRFA), of different activities and of different purposes for which activities are carried out.
  • In 2011, the Commission established an Ad Hoc Technical Working Group on Access and Benefit-sharing for Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and mandated it to identify relevant distinctive features of the different sectors and subsectors of genetic resources for food and agriculture requiring distinctive solutions. The group was also given the task of developing options that would guide and assist countries in developing legislative, administrative and policy measures that accommodate these features.

  • In 2013, the Commission replaced the Ad Hoc technical working Group with  a Team of Technical and Legal Experts on Access and Benefit-sharing, which consists of up to two representatives from each region. The Expert Team prepared the Elements to Facilitate Domestic Implementation of Access and Benefit-sharing for Different Subsectors of Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ABS Elements).

  • In 2015, the ABS Elements were welcomed by the Commission and the FAO Conference. The Conference of the Parties to the CBD subsequently (in 2016) invited its Parties and other governments to take note of and to apply, as appropriate, the ABS Elements.

  • In 2019, the Commission welcomed explanatory notes complementing the ABS Elements that had been prepared by the ABS Expert Team in collaboration with the Commission’s Working Groups.

  • In addition, the Commission initiated a survey of existing legislative, administrative and policy approaches, including best practices, for ABS for the different subsectors of GRFA and traditional knowledge associated with GRFA held by indigenous peoples and local communities, with the aim of identifying typical approaches and lessons learned