ROME, 5 September 2002 -- Cameroon and Egypt have signed the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, a legally binding international agreement which covers all plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

The Treaty was signed yesterday by the Ambassador of the Republic of Cameroon, Michael Tabong Kima, at FAO Headquarters. Last week, Egypt's Ambassador, Nehad Ibrahim Abdel-Latif, signed the Treaty which, as he put it, is an essential agricultural agreement to benefit present and future generations.

Since it was adopted by FAO's governing Conference last November, 58 States and the European Community have signed the Treaty and eight of them have also ratified it. The Treaty will enter into force when ratified by 40 countries. FAO expects more countries will sign and ratify during the period leading up to the next session of the FAO Intergovernmental Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (9-11 October 2002). The Commission acts as Interim Committee for the Treaty.

The international agreement aims to ensure the conservation of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, their sustainable use, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from their use, including benefits derived from commercial use.

Genetic resources for food and agriculture are essential in the development of sustainable agriculture and food security. It is estimated that 10 000 species have been used for human food and agriculture. However, only about 150 plant species make up the diets of the majority of the world's population.

"In spite of their vital importance for human survival, genetic resources are being lost at an alarming rate. Thanks to the Treaty, benefits will be shared providing incentives to continue conserving and developing these resources," according to Mr. José Esquinas-Alcázar, Secretary of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.