Regulating and applying standards

The worldwide concern about degradation of the Earth's forests has led to unprecendented international co-operation to find solutions. The United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992 gave birth to many international, regional, national and local initiatives to promote the wise use of trees and forests. These initiatives have taken the form of consultations, agreements, policies, legislation, guidelines, standards, programs and projects. All try to ensure that the extent of our tree and forest resources are maintained or where possible increased, and managed for sustained outputs of goods and services. None of this can be achieved without the vital role of forest reproductive material in enabling regeneration of the future trees and forests. It is therefore wise for field practitioners to be aware of the various initiatives and understand what they mean - either directly or implied - for the role of forest reproductive material. Below we give examples of the most important initiatives, both pre- and post-UNCED, and their relevance to our topic.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was one of the outcomes of UNCED. It defines biological diversity as - "the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and other ecological complexes of which they are a part: this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecoystems", recognising that forests are an important repository of this biological biodiversity. Signatory Parties to the Convention commit themselves to promote conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and its parts, the equitable sharing of benefits, and sets out desirable in situ and ex situ conservation measures. The recently discussed work programme on forest biological diversity has important implications for forest management, not only for conservation purposes, but also for the availability, development and use of biological resources, including forest reproductive material. The Convention recognises national sovereignty of countries over such material, rather than being a common heritage, but calls for countries to facilitate access to material for environmentally sound use by others mainly via bilateral agreements. The practical implications of such access and benefit sharing is the subject of continuing dialogue and study in various fora and work programmes. SeeFinding out more - Agreement texts - CBD[missing link label]for the text of the convention.

The Non Legally Authoritative Statement of Principles for a Global Consensus on the Management and Sustainable Development of All Types of Forests (in short - Statement of Forest Principles), is another outcome of the UNCED process, and recognises the importance of forest genetic material, where it affirms (in section 4) that: "The vital role of all types of forests in maintaining the ecological processes and balance at the local, national, regional and global levels through, inter/alia, their role in protecting fragile ecosystems, watersheds and freshwater resources and as rich storehouses of biodiversity and biological resources and sources of genetic material for biotechnology products, as well as photosynthesis, should be recognized". SeeFinding out more - Agreement texts - Statement of Forest Principles[missing link label]for the text of the principles.

The legally binding International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGR) was adopted by the FAO Conference in November 2001. Central to this treaty is "the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from their use, in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity, for sustainable agriculture and food security" (Articles 5 and 6). The overall scope of the ITPGR is all plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (including crop, forest, domestic animal and fish genetic resources). Noting that food security has traditionally depended on open exchange of genetic resources developed by farmers worldwide, the treaty includes as one of its components a Multilateral System for Access and Benefit Sharing. The Multilateral System presently applies to a list of crops providing about 80% of the world¿s food calorie intake from plants. These were decided on the basis of global level interdependence in regard of these crops and their importance for food security. The list includes one forestry genus, Prosopis, and several woody species such as Artocarpus, Citrus, Cocos, and Malus. The terms and conditions for access and benefit sharing (referred to as ABS) are to be set out in Material Transfer Agreements. While, as mentioned above, the treaty is compatible with the principles of the CBD, it focuses on and promotes multilateral agreements rather than bilateral agreements for access and benefit sharing. SeeFinding out more - Agreement texts - ITPGRfor the text of the treaty.[missing link label]For information about legal aspects of the ITPGR and other documents, visit the following website:http://www.fao.org/Legal/default.htm.

Material Transfer Agreements (MTAs) - promoted by the ITPGR - are intended to specify the range of conditions that must apply concerning access and benefit sharing by any person or organisation wishing to use genetic resources, such as: purpose of access, facilitation, documentation, intellectual property rights, future availability, and national legislation. MTAs have been in existence for a number of years in one form or other in the forestry sector to cover forest reproductive material, and are currently used on a multi- or bilateral basis. Some examples are provided on this web site. SeeFinding out more - Agreement texts - MTAsfor examples of MTAs.

The OECD Scheme for the Certification of Forest Reproductive Material Moving in International Trade is concerned with the certification of genetic quality of reproductive material, and has been in existence for many years, predating UNCED. The Forest Seed and Plant Scheme was updated in 1995/96 and defines four broad categories of forest reproductive material: (1) source-identified material, (2) selected material, (3) qualified material and (4) tested material. The Scheme also defines seven types of basic materials as follows: (1) seed source, (2) stand, (3) seed plantation, (4) seed orchard, (5) parents of families, (6) clone and (7) clonal mixture. These categories and types are used to define fourteen authorised combinations for the purposes of certification. Some 23 countries are participating in the scheme, each of which has a Designated Authority to implement the Scheme. See[missing link label]Finding out more - Organizations - OECDfor further details of the scheme.

The FAO International Code of Conduct for Plant Germplasm Collecting and Transfer. This voluntary code, adopted in 1993, provides broad guidelines concerning collection and transfer of plant germplasm, and proposes procedures for requesting and/or issuing licences for collection missions; guidelines for collectors; and responsibilities and obligations for sponsors of missions, gene bank curators; and users of genetic material. It also calls for participation of farmers and local institutions in collecting missions and proposes sharing of benefits with host country and farmers. As such, the code provides helpful support in drawing up Material Transfer Agreements where required by the ITPGR. SeeFinding out more - Selected references - Selectionfor the FAO website for this code.

The CIFOR Generic Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management - are a recommended set or generic standards designed to ensure the environmental, social and economic sustainability of forest management. They have been developed from various national and international initiatives to define such standards, and are designed as a foundation from which to develop national C&Is. A group of these standards concerns maintenance of ecosystem integrity, which requires that (i) the processes that maintain biodiversity in the managed forests are conserved, (ii) ecosystem functions are conserved and (iii) conservation of processes that maintain genetic variation are maintained. SeeFinding out more - Organizations - CIFORfor further information.

There are many schemes for certifying the sustainability of forest management. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international accrediting body for a range of such schemes based on sets of criteria and indicators similar to CIFOR's. Certification of forest management should help to ensure the sustainability of forest reproductive material. For details about FSC, seeFinding out more - Networks - FSC.

National phytosanitary certification

Each country will have its own rules and regulations concerning plant health, which apply to forest reproductive material moving internationally. These are legal requirements to ensure that pests and diseases, and in certain cases, weed species, are not introduced to areas where they are absent. They are issued by designated authorities.

International Seed Testing Association (ISTA) rules and regulations

Seed testing laboratories that are accredited to ISTA can issue internationally recognised certificates of seed physical and physiological quality. The rules and regulations define the conditions and tolerances required for tests of e.g. seed weight, purity, moisture content, germination and vigour. The Association of Seed Analysts (AOSA) plays an equivalent role in the USA. SeeFinding out more - Organizations - ISTAfor further information about the Association.
last updated:  Wednesday, April 18, 2007