International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
The International Undertaking was the first comprehensive international agreement dealing with plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. It was adopted by the FAO Conference in 1983, (Resolution 8/83), as an instrument to promote international harmony in matters regarding access to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. One hundred and thirteen countries have adhered to the Undertaking, which seeks to "ensure that plant genetic resources of economic and/or social interest, particularly for agriculture, will be explored, preserved, evaluated and made available for plant breeding and scientific purposes". It is monitored by the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA).
The Undertaking was the subject of a series of agreed interpretations, in the form of three FAO Conference resolutions, which are now annexed to it. They were intended to achieve a balance between the products of biotechnology (commercial varieties and breeders' lines) on the one hand, and farmers' varieties and wild material on the other, and between the interests of developed and developing countries, by balancing the rights of breeders (formal innovators) and farmers (informal innovators). Resolution 4/89 recognized that Plant Breeder's Rights, as provided for by the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), were not inconsistent with the Undertaking, and simultaneously recognized Farmers' Rights defined in Resolution 5/89. The sovereign rights of nations over their genetic resources were recognized in Resolution 3/91, and it was agreed that Farmers' Rights would be implemented through an international fund for plant genetic resources.
In 1992, the Agenda 21 (Chapter 14) called for the strengthening of the FAO Global System on Plant Genetic Resources, and its adjustment in line with the outcome of negotiations on the Convention on Biological Diversity.
In adopting the agreed text of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in May 1992, countries also adopted Resolution 3 of the Nairobi Final Act, which recognised the need to seek solutions to outstanding matters concerning plant genetic resources, in particular:
- access to ex situ collections not addressed by the Convention, and
- the question of Farmers's Rights.
It was requested that these matters be addressed within FAO's forum.
In 1993, FAO Conference accordingly adopted Resolution 7/93 for the revision of the International Undertaking and requested FAO to provide a forum in the CGRFA, for the negotiation among goverments, for
- the adaptation of the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources, in harmony with the CBD;
- consideration of the issue of access on mutually agreed terms to plant genetic resources, including ex situ collections not addressed by the CBD; and
- the issue of the realization of Farmers' Rights.
Negotiations for the Revision of the International Undertaking
The negotiations for the revision of the Undertaking in harmony with CBD, started in the First Extraordinary Session of the Commission on Plant Genetic Resources, in November 1994. Although the scope of the Undertaking is limited to plant genetic resources for food and agricuture, this mandate, adopted after careful negotiation, is not limited to the ex situ collections not addressed by the CBD. The mandate, context and background for this process are explained in document CPGR-Ex1/94/3.
The Commission, at its Fifth Session in 1993, had requested for the preparation of a rolling Global Plan of Action (GPA) on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, in order to identify the technical and financial needs for ensuring conservation and promoting sustainable use of plant genetic resources. In 1996, FAO convened the Leipzig International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources, where 150 countries formally adopted the Leipzig Declaration and the GPA.They also declared that it was important to complete the revision of the Undertaking.
The GPA and its implementation has been a subject of discussion in the Undertaking. The other key elements under discussion in the negotiations included the scope, and access to plant genetic resources; the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; and the realization of Farmers' Rights. Countries have agreed that the Undertaking should maintain a multilateral system of access and benefit sharing, that meets the specific needs of agriculture.
The negotiations culminated in the adoption of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture by the FAO Conference on 3 November 2001.