International plant gene pool becomes operational
Multilateral system boosts the exchange of plant genetic material
29 October 2007, Rome – A new multilateral system for the fair and equitable sharing of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture has become operational, FAO announced today.
Over the past seven months, the system has accelerated the exchange of genetic material, with more than 90 000 transfers of plant genetic material within the system.
The Multilateral System is part of the legally-binding International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture that entered into force in 2004 and has been ratified by 115 countries. Through the International Treaty, countries have agreed to make their genetic diversity and related information about the crops stored in their gene banks available to all who comply with the standarized benefit-sharing agreements.
Around 300 delegates will meet in Rome (29 October–2 November 2007) for the second session of the Governing Body of the Treaty.
A treasure for food security
“World agriculture is under enormous pressure to produce more food in a sustainable way,” said Shakeel Bhatti, Secretary of the Governing Body of the Treaty. “Agricultural production needs to be improved by developing food crops that can adapt to threats such as climate change, desertification, pests and diseases and at the same time meet the demand of a population that will grow from six billion people today to nine billion in 2050,” he added.
Agricultural biodiversity, which is the basis for food production, is in sharp decline due the effects of modernization, changes in diets and increasing population density. 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.
Today, only 150 crops feed most of the world's population, and just 12 crops provide 80 percent of dietary energy from plants, with rice, wheat, maize, and potato alone providing almost 60 percent.
Bread, couscous and tortillas
The Multilateral System provides farmers, plant breeders and scientists free of charge access to plant genetic materials of 64 crops - crops that together account for 80 percent of all human consumption - and helps to share benefits derived from their commercial use. These genetic materials are at the base of our food crops, our breads, our curries, our tortillas and our couscous.
The System gives scientific institutions, farmers, and private sector plant breeders the opportunity to work with the materials stored in gene banks or even crops growing in fields. By facilitating research, innovation and exchange of information without restrictions, this reduces the costly and time consuming procedures for breeders, while recognizing for the first time Farmers’ Rights.
The world's most important gene bank collections, more than 600 000 samples, held by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), have been included in the system, together with the Mutant Germplasm Repository of the FAO/IAEA Joint Division in Vienna and other collections.
“No country is sufficient in crop diversity. Only the sharing of plant genetic material from different regions and countries will enable us to explore the unknown characteristics and the future potential of plant genetic resources. The Multilateral System is an important tool for benefit sharing. However, a lot of efforts still need to be made to facilitate the access to genetic resources and the sharing of benefits derived from their commercial use”, Bhatti said.
The Rome conference will discuss issues relevant for the future of Treaty such as Funding Strategy, Farmers’ Rights and the sustainable use of resources.
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