International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

Message from the Secretary

The International Treaty in the time of COVID-19

2020 was supposed to be a landmark year for biodiversity and the richness of life on earth. Instead, it has been overshadowed by a health crisis, death and desolation. As Spring 2020 emerged and crops readied for harvest from or planting in farmers’ fields (depending on the hemisphere), a new kind of “plague” descended upon humanity: COVID-19.

During this troubling time of physical isolation, social disconnection and uncertainty, we are reminded, once again, of just how very inter-connected and inter-dependent we really are, on both the individual and communal levels. We are also reminded of how fragile life can be and of our common vulnerability as a species.

The harsh truth is that COVID-19 is taking a toll – on human life, our food systems and on the management of the crops upon which we depend – as well as disrupting agricultural value chains and thereby posing risks to household food security. It is an accepted fact that a healthy diet must include adequate vegetables, pulses, grains and fruit. The bases for these crops and plants are precisely what the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture focuses on – seeds and other plant genetic resources for food and agriculture – and they are equally at risk because of the current situation.

In this context, the International Treaty is playing a role in assessing and responding to the potential impacts of COVID-19 on people’s lives and livelihoods, global food trade, markets and food supply chains. The International Treaty offers some valuable mechanisms that can aid in and contribute to recovery.

To measure the impact of the global pandemic, the Secretariat of the International Treaty is mobilizing resources and expertise to assess the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the management of crop germplasm, which is a fundamental asset for sustainable agricultural and resilient food systems. We started by conducting a survey that provided National Focal Points and other International Treaty stakeholders an opportunity to share information and views, identify needs and actions. Subsequently, with the support of the Kingdom of Morocco and in collaboration with the Global Crop Diversity Trust, we convened an online panel with high-level international experts. The Online Expert Panel addressed current and potential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the conservation, management and use of plant genetic resources for food security and sustainable agriculture. In particular, the Panel discussed how to mobilize the resources and mechanisms of the International Treaty to adapt to COVID-19 realities, as well as the alignment of the International Treaty with FAO’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme.

We aim to follow up on this initiative with a series of other international panels on specific aspects of or issues related to the conservation, access to, management and use of crop germplasm. We will also undertake further assessment of both the medium and longer-term impacts of the current crises, while identifying lessons learned from the various experiences of our stakeholders, in order to adequately prepare for future crises or systemic shocks.

Indeed, we can take some comfort in knowing that the International Treaty provides some solid mechanisms that can help alleviate these setbacks. Among the strong mechanisms that we can rely on are the national and international genebanks, which are part of a strong Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing, a vital Global Information System, and the ultimate back-up of PGRFA in the Global Seed Vault. These structures can help us regenerate, rebuild and regrow, and contribute to the overall resilience of our food systems.

This is why Multilateralism is so important. This is why working together under one International Treaty is so important.

The International Treaty continues working hand-in-hand with farmers, plant breeders and scientists to conserve, sustainably use and exchange plant genetic resources for food and agriculture every day. In doing so, we are doing what we can to ensure food security during this global crisis and beyond.

While these may be dark times, full of uncertainty and alarming forecasts when it comes to our global health and the health of our food systems, we are all in this together. And together, we will overcome this global crisis and build back better.

As we come to an end of this unusual year, our hope is that 2021 be COVID-free, peaceful and productive. We hope 2021 will be marked by renewed energy, regeneration and life. On behalf of the Secretariat, I want to reiterate our commitment to continue working with you to conserve the plant genetic diversity upon which humanity depends for our nutrition and health.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay strong. Stay well.

Yours sincerely, 

Kent Nnadozie
Secretary, International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture 

#ItAllStartsWithTheSeed #BuildBackBetter

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