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Italy donates to food gene pact

Something to celebrate on International Biodiversity Day

Photo: ©FAO/Fiammetta Piperno
Tutti frutti - fruit varieties in Italy
21 May 2010, Rome – Italy has announced a contribution of 1.2 million euros to compensate some of the world’s poorest farmers for conserving and propagating crop varieties that could prove to be the saviour of global food security over the coming decades. 

The contribution to a benefit-sharing scheme managed by the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture was announced on the eve of International Day of Biodiversity on May 22 which has as its theme: Biodiversity, Development and Poverty Alleviation. 

The Treaty has its headquarters at FAO. The Italian donation follows on the heels of a $2.2 million donation made by Spain at the end of last year, and highlights the interest of many Mediterranean countries in the preservation of food crop diversity.  

Mediterranean diet

Many of the foods we eat have their origins in the Mediterranean such as olives, oats, artichokes and dates, and Italy has preserved many varieties of vegetables only found in that country.  

“The Mediterranean still has one of the richest food gene pools in the world and Italy, where even the kind of cauliflower you buy in the market can still vary from region to region, is very supportive of this issue,” said Shakeel Bhatti, Secretary of the Treaty.

“We are very grateful to Italy for its generous donation and other support it has given us.”                       

An essential part of the treaty is a benefit-sharing scheme that supports projects in the developing world such as one in Egypt to conserve rare varieties of citrus fruits.

There is another in Morocco to preserve wheat varieties that are resistant to the UG99 fungus, called stem rust. Some scientist have predicted UG99 could wipe out more than 80 percent of the world's wheat crops as it spreads from sub-Saharan Africa. 

“Plant genetic diversity is crucial to confront the global challenges of food insecurity and climate change. Italy’s support for the Benefit-sharing Fund of the Treaty will promote a sustainable and diversified food basis of smallholder farmers in the developing world," said Shivaji Pandey, Director of FAO’s Plan Production and Protection Division. 

64 food crops

The Treaty established a global pool comprised of 64 food crops that make up more than one million samples of known plant genetic resources.

The Treaty stipulates that whenever a commercial product results from the use of this gene pool and that product is patented, 1.1 percent of the sales of the product must be paid to the Treaty’s benefit-sharing fund.

Other countries to have contributed to the benefit-sharing scheme include Norway and Switzerland. The initiative is on track to raise $10 million this year and has already invested in eleven global projects aimed at smallholder farmers in developing countries.

The Ministry of Agricultural Food and Forestry policies and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs underlined in a joint statement that Italy has supported all aspects of the International Treaty since its inception.

By investing in the Treaty’s new Benefit-sharing Fund Italy is directly and positively addressing global biodiversity and agro-biodiversity for a sustainable management of the rural areas and natural resources also by supporting smallholder farmers preserve and use crop diversity in developing countries, the two Ministries said.