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International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

Sustainable Use

The implementation of the Article 6 of the Treaty

The sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture is one of the three main objectives of the Treaty, which devotes Article 6 to it. This article proposes a series of measures to promote the sustainable use of PGRFA and calls upon Contracting Parties to develop and maintain appropriate policy and legal measures to that end.

The implementation of Article 6 is a standing priority item on the agenda of the Governing Body of the International Treaty, with the aim to promote an integrated approach to sustainable use of PGRFA among Contracting Parties. The Secretariat has compiled submissions sent by Contracting Parties, other governments and relevant organizations and institutions with regards to their experiences and progress related to the sustainable use of PGRFA.

At its Fourth Session of the Governing Body requested the Secretary to launch a process towards the development of a Programme of Work on Conservation and Sustainable Use of PGRFA, through the organization of a Stakeholders’ Consultation and the establishment of an Ad Hoc Technical Committee on Sustainable Use of PGRFA (TCSU). In line with the double aim of sustainable use of PGRFA to produce food and to preserve crop variety, the scope of the measures to be adopted under Article 6 is a broad one.

Such measures should address not only crop varieties that are commercially used, but also traditional varieties, and other varieties that cannot be commercialized, including crop wild relatives. Article 6 is very closely linked to Article 5, which addresses issues related to the conservation of PGRFA. It also has close linkages with other provisions, like Article 9 on Farmers' Rights and Article 18 related on the Funding Strategy.

The sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture is one of the three main objectives of the Treaty, which devotes Article 6 to it.

6.1 The Contracting Parties shall develop and maintain appropriate policy and legal measures that promote the sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

6.2 The sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture may include such measures as:

a) pursuing fair agricultural policies that promote, as appropriate, the development and maintenance of diverse farming systems that enhance the sustainable use of agricultural biological diversity and other natural resources;  

b) strengthening research which enhances and conserves biological diversity by maximizing intra- and inter-specific variation for the benefit of farmers, especially those who generate and use their own varieties and apply ecological principles in maintaining soil fertility and in combating diseases, weeds and pests;  

c) promoting, as appropriate, plant breeding efforts which, with the participation of farmers, particularly in developing countries, strengthen the capacity to develop varieties particularly adapted to social, economic and ecological conditions, including in marginal areas;  

d) broadening the genetic base of crops and increasing the range of genetic diversity available to farmers;  

e) promoting, as appropriate, the expanded use of local and locally adapted crops, varieties and underutilized species;  

f) supporting, as appropriate, the wider use of diversity of varieties and species in onfarm management, conservation and sustainable use of crops and creating strong links to plant breeding and agricultural development in order to reduce crop vulnerability and genetic erosion, and promote increased world food production compatible with sustainable development; and  

g) reviewing, and, as appropriate, adjusting breeding strategies and regulations concerning variety release and seed distribution.

The relevance of the Treaty for Sustainable Use

The relevance of the Treaty for Sustainable Use

Plant genetic resources play an important role in meeting the challenges of local, regional and global food security, as they allow us to optimise crops according to our needs.

Seed crops are thus critical for the development of new plant varieties and are an integral component in the efforts to:

  • meet human needs for food, health and economic security;
  • reduce agricultural pressures (chemical inputs, ploughing, etc.) on the environment; and
  • adapt to changing weather (drought, salinity) and ever evolving pests and diseases.

Diversity in species, varieties and cultivation practices has permitted agriculture to withstand moderate change in climate over the past 10000 years. Although farmers have always adapted their cropping systems to adverse climatic and environmental conditions, the speed and complexity of climate change poses a new magnitude of problems. Adapting crop varieties to local ecological conditions can reduce risk due to climate change, but the need for adapted germplasm is urgent and requires characterization, evaluation, and the availability of materials.

Climate change impacts on crop diversity

Climate change impacts on crop diversity

Climate change brings new and enhanced demand for plant genetic resources. National and international breeding programmes for a number of crops are already targeting new varieties with adaptations to future climatic stresses. The effort to breed for traits valued both today and for the future is likely to increase the general demand for plant genetic resources.

While demand for such resources is global, their natural distribution is restricted to the centres of origin of crops, often specific sub-regions within continents.

It is important that on-farm and in situ conservation is going to be implemented within the context of agricultural development strategies.

The Treaty greatly promotes the conservation and utilization of plant genetic resources. First of all, the conclusion and subsequent ratification of the Treaty by more than 135 countries implies that many governments have now recognized the importance of plant genetic resources, the threats to their survival, and the need to develop specific policies in order to conserve them and make their wider use. Plant genetic resources have reached the agenda and raised the attention of policy makers and politicians.

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