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

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 access and benefit-sharing 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

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, 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 established 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 Elements to Facilitate Domestic Implementation of Access and Benefit-sharing for Different Subsectors of Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ABS Elements), welcomed by the Commission and the FAO Conference in 2015.
  • In 2017, at its Sixteenth Regular Session, the Commission requested non-prescriptive explanatory notes to be developed describing the distinctive features and specific practices of the different subsectors of genetic resources for food and agriculture within the context of the ABS Elements.