World’s most important gene banks now under international plant genetic resources treaty
New agreement ensures open access, benefits sharing for all
16 October 2006, Rome – The most important gene bank collections of the world’s key food and forage crops today came under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, ensuring that plant breeders, farmers and researchers will be able to access these plant genetic resources under standard conditions and share in the benefits arising from their use.
During the World Food Day celebrations at FAO headquarters, Director-General Dr Jacques Diouf, acting on behalf of the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, signed agreements with international agricultural research centres holding collections of around 600 000 samples of the world’s most important plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.
“Countries around the world will need to draw on these collections to respond to growing environmental pressures, such as climate change and unknown pests and plant diseases, and to feed a rapidly expanding population,” said Dr Diouf.
“These genes are the building blocks for the development of new plant varieties that are better suited to our needs and to the constraints of our ecosystems,” he added.
The international treaty, which was approved by the FAO Conference in November 2001, entered into force on 29 June 2004. There are now 105 member countries and the European Community. The treaty's main objectives are ensuring that plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, which are vital for human survival, are conserved and sustainably used and that resulting benefits are equitably and fairly distributed.
Biodiversity under threat
The agricultural biodiversity on which food production depends is in sharp decline due the effects of the modernization of agriculture, environmental changes and increasing population density.
Since the beginning of agriculture, the world's farmers have developed roughly 10 000 plant species for use in food and fodder production.
Today, only 150 crops feed most of the world's population, and rice, wheat, maize and potato alone provide more than 60 percent of dietary energy from plants.
It is estimated that about three-quarters of the genetic diversity found in agricultural crops have been lost over the last century, and this genetic erosion continues.
The genetic vulnerability of modern varieties can be seen in the threat facing commercial banana production from a fungal disease known as 'black sigatoka', as all five major commercial varieties derive from one original banana variety. The treaty and today’s agreements are a direct response to this kind of threat.
“The theme of World Food Day this year is investment in agriculture for food security,” said Dr Diouf. “These collections represent a substantive investment by the international community. They are a global capital on which all can now draw.”
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