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Genetic resources

Rice are displayed on sale at a vegetable stall at the Esquilino market in Rome.  ©FAO/Marco Salustro

Genetic resources for food and agriculture are the raw materials upon which the world relies to improve the productivity and quality of crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries, as well as to maintain healthy populations of wild species. The conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources for food and agriculture is therefore at the core of food security and nutrition. Conserving and using a wide range of diversity – both among species and within species – means securing options to respond to future challenges.

FAO's role in genetic resources

The diversity of genetic resources for food and agriculture (i.e. plants/crops, animals, aquatic resources, forests, micro-organisms and invertebrates) plays a crucial role in meeting basic human food and nutritional needs. It is essential for maintaining and enhancing the efficiency and the resilience of production systems, as well as contributing to sustainable diets and to the delivery of ecosystem services, such as pest and disease regulation.

FAO contributes to international policy through the work of its Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

  • The Commission, which is the only intergovernmental forum specifically dealing with all components of biodiversity for food and agriculture, oversees and guides the preparation of periodic global assessments as well as negotiates global action plans, codes of conduct and other instruments relevant to conservation and sustainable use.
  • Through the International Treaty, which is the only international legal and operational instrument covering all plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, countries and users get access to genetic resources for research, training and breeding and participate in the benefits derived from their use.

From assessments to policy

The Commission’s global assessments are country-driven and based on national assessments of the state of the genetic resources, their use, the drivers of genetic erosion and the challenges and opportunities involved in conserving and using them in a sustainable manner to contribute to food security and nutrition.

To address the main gaps and challenges identified in the assessments, the Commission negotiates Global Plans of Action, policy instruments providing a framework to guide the implementation of actions at community, national, regional and international levels for the conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources for food and agriculture.

Exchange of genetic resources

All countries depend on genetic diversity from other countries and regions.

International cooperation and open exchange of genetic resources are therefore crucial for food security.

The global operational systems of the International Treaty, which include Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing and the Global Information System on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, facilitate the exchange of plant genetic resources and relevant information.

The work of FAO in this area contributes to the achievement of Millennium Development Goals 1 and 7.