International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

The Multilateral System

Policy background: At its Eighth Session, the Governing Body welcomed “the collaboration between the Secretary, the Crop Trust and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) to identify and systematize baseline data of a wide range of crops and their genetic resources that is essential for decision-makers at global, regional and national levels in order to develop strategies to ensure the adequate conservation and use of these plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.” The Multi-Year Programme of Work for the Governing Body, adopted through Resolution 15/2022, contains as a milestone for the Tenth Session of the Governing Body “Strengthening information-based decision-making in PGRFA management: results of two new global analyses.”


The data behind the plants that feed the world

Which crops do we use most across the world? Which are widely transported? Are those the same crops that are best conserved? Which are in highest demand and is supply coming from several regions or from particular areas? Where should we act to better secure the crops that we depend on for our food and agriculture?

The availability of comprehensive and reliable information is crucial for developing evidence-based policies and strategies for the conservation and use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Information on food and agricultural crops, on their use, interdependence, demand, supply, and security is increasingly available but scattered through a number of information systems, databases and scientific literature.

The study “The plants that feed the world: Baseline data and metrics to inform strategies for the conservation and use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture” brings together pertinent information from these different sources. It presents a set of reproducible metrics that provide an evidence base for the international plant genetic resources community to prioritize conservation and utilization activities. Measured periodically, these metrics can also provide insights on change over time in the use of crops and issues regarding interdependence on, demand for, supply of, and security of their genetic resources.

The study was undertaken by a team of international experts to pool together information from a wide range of sources in a user-friendly manner and to develop a reproducible set of metrics and indicators, complementing existing indicators. The main global database sources consulted include FAOSTAT, the Data Store of the International Treaty, FAO WIEWS, Genesys PGR, GBIF, PlantSearch, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault’s SeedPortal, UPOV’s PLUTO database, and NCBI’s Entrez database. The resulting metrics were organized into five domains – crop use, interdependence, demand, supply, and security.

The study includes findings about the importance of the Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing of the International Treaty, the primary global operational mechanism to exchange plant germplasm needed for research and breeding around the world, while pointing at gaps and possibilities to enable its growth.

A number of vignettes complete the study with information on contemporary issues on crop conservation and use, to further showcase how the management of plant genetic diversity is evolving at present.

It is hoped that this publication will support countries, researchers, breeders and other stakeholders in prioritizing activities, implementing multilateral frameworks and leading policy discussions related to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.


• “The study presents figures on 355 crop species directly involved in feeding humanity. Many of these are greatly underused, not well characterized, or not widely known. But some are just becoming important or are likely becoming more important in the future with climate change.” – Geoff Hawtin, author

• “With all this information we are able to understand where these crops are at, how much countries need them or want to work together in a multilateral way to conserve them and trade them and how we should devote international resources towards various different crops.” – Colin Khoury, author

• The study tells us that the way and extent to which we use different crops and crop varieties changes geographically and over time. Likewise, our approach to food and nutrition security, climate change, sustainable agriculture, biodiversity loss and other challenges have shifted over the decades. New challenges, knowledge and opportunities arise and across the world we see that diversification is becoming a strategy in response. The demand for crops is changing and this should equally inform our planning for policies and research on plant genetic resources for our food and agriculture, at national, regional and global levels.


> Listen to the Treaty Talks podcast, exploring the trends and stories behind the study

> View publication

> Access datasets (Crop indicator application; Crop list; Results)

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