3 December 2003, Rome -- Despite its crucial importance for the survival of humanity, agricultural biodiversity is in ever greater danger, FAO warned today.

Of the estimated 7 000 to 8 000 species that have been used in 10 000 years of agriculture, only 150 are cultivated today and no more than four - wheat, maize, rice and potato - account for more than 50 percent of our food calories from plants.

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, adopted in 2001, aims to protect the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the fair and equitable benefits from their use.

When signature closed on 4 November 2002, 77 States and the European Community had signed the Treaty. Some 33 States have currently ratified, accepted, approved or acceded to the Treaty. The Treaty will enter into force 90 days after it is ratified by the 40th country.

To draw attention to the importance of this Treaty, FAO organized a side-event to its governing Conference (29 November-10 December 2003) on Wednesday 3 December to present the Treaty and answer questions about it, in preparation for its entry into force, probably in early 2004.

Farmers photographed

A display of photographs taken by prize-winning photographer Pablo Balbontín, depicting traditional farming on three continents, will also be on display.

Balbontín's work portrays the hard work and the skills of these humble farmers from different corners of the planet whose toils, for the most part unseen and uncelebrated, continue to protect and conserve genetic diversity.

The Treaty will promote the rights of the very farmers who are the subject of Balbontín's photographs, in recognition of the enormous contribution they have made to conserving and developing plant genetic resources.

Pablo Balbontín signed copies of his book The Custodians of Biodiversity, which has English, Italian and Spanish texts, during the event.
Stephanie Holmes
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 56350