EU contributes €5 million to help farmers maintain crop diversity

Support under plant genetics treaty fund announced during Rio+20

21 June 2012, Rio de Janeiro - The European Union is contributing €5 million (6.5 million dollars) towards the Benefit-sharing Fund of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, FAO announced today, at a high-level ministerial meeting on the plant treaty at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

The Benefit-sharing Fund helps farmers in developing countries manage crop diversity for food security and climate change adaptation.

This is the single largest contribution made to the Benefit-sharing Fund since it was established in 2008. It will help to increase the capacity of smallholder farmers to manage traditional crops like potato, rice, cassava, wheat and sorghum.

"Plant genetic biodiversity is a key factor for sustainable agriculture. We share the commitment to ensuring that the world's ecosystems, and in FAO's specific case the world's agro-ecosystems, are healthy and sustainable," said José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General, at the 2nd High-Level Round Table on the International Treaty for Food and Agriculture at Rio+20.

The meeting focused on delivery of the Treaty's potential benefits for biodiversity, climate change mitigation, and sustainability. FAO hosts the Secretariat of the International Treaty which entered into force in 2001.

The European Union joined the Treaty in 2004 and this is the first time that a member of the Treaty which is not an individual country has contributed to the Fund. The funding package follows previous contributions from Australia, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain and Switzerland.

The Benefit-sharing Fund is governed by 127 countries and addresses food security at a time when climate change and other threats are contributing to massive losses of crop genetic diversity. The Fund already supports projects in 21 countries by promoting innovative planning and practical solutions for the use of crop biodiversity in areas affected by climate change, rural poverty or food insecurity.

"We need full political and financial commitment in support of sustainable agriculture if we want to guarantee food security worldwide while ensuring the conservation of our natural resources, such as biodiversity," Dacia Cioloș, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, said.

"In this context, strengthening the implementation of the International Treaty will be essential to face major challenges for food security such as climate change," he added.

"Farmers, as managers of genetic diversity, have much to offer both to their own communities and to the world at large thanks to their efforts to conserve and improve their crops through breeding and selection, and by making them available for use by others," said Lars Peder Brekk, Minister of Agriculture and Food of Norway and Chair of the High-Level Task Force of the Treaty.

The treaty recognizes “farmers’ rights” and includes among them the right to participate equitably in benefit-sharing and in national decision-making about plant genetic resources.

“The participation of small-scale farmers and other stakeholders in this process, from civil society organizations to the private sector, is not only welcome but also necessary,” said Graziano da Silva.

The plant genetics Treaty is constitutionally linked with the Convention on Biological Diversity and spearheads the cooperation of FAO with the Convention in the field of genetic resources. During the high-level roundtable, a joint cooperation initiative was announced between the Treaty and the CBD to further consolidate the governance of all plant genetic resources for food and agriculture under the Treaty in FAO.

Scientific criteria

"One of the Benefit-sharing Fund's unique features is the transparent process that governs the allocation of funds. After a wide announcement of each call, all the project proposals received for funding are evaluated according to established scientific criteria by international experts in order to fund the best projects," said Shakeel Bhatti, Secretary of the International Treaty.

Another key feature of the Fund discussed during the Second High-level Round table is its specific focus on conservation and sustainable-use activities in developing countries and regions which are not adequately funded in any other way. The contribution from the EU will make possible a range of activities, including:

  • On-farm evaluation, selection and management of local and introduced seed varieties;
  • Conservation of local and threatened varieties in national or international genebanks or the development of local and community genebanks;
  • Documentation and sharing of local and indigenous knowledge that brings value to local crops and varieties;
  • The transfer of technologies for conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources to farmers and selected institutions in developing countries;
  • Establishment of links between farmers and communities elsewhere to promote the sharing of genetic material and information about that material, which will help farmers to respond to climate change.

Photo: ©FAO/ITPGRFA/Sandro Cespoli
A market in Peru.