المعاهدة الدولية بشأن الموارد الوراثية النباتية للأغذية والزراعة

Find answers to frequently asked questions about the work and role of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources.

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1. What is the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture?

1. What is the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture?

a. The International Treaty is the major international agreement between member countries to conserve, use and manage plant genetic resources for food and agriculture around the world for the benefit of people everywhere. The Treaty ensures that farmers and plant breeders access, easily, the raw genetic material needed to develop new crop varieties, including those with higher yields and those that are resilient to climate change.

b. It provides a global solution to the challenges of crop diversity loss and climate change adaptation through mechanisms such as the Multilateral System and Benefit-sharing Fund. To date, its Multilateral System on Access and Benefit-sharing covers 64 of the world’s major crops, accounting for about 80% of our food derived from plants.

c.  The genetic resources of our most important food crops – the “life insurance policy” for our food production – are managed and exchanged by member countries and other stakeholders according to the provisions of the International Treaty.

2. What are “Contracting Parties?”

2. What are “Contracting Parties?”

a. Contracting Parties are those countries and inter-governmental organisations, such as the European Union, who sign and agree to abide by the conditions of the International Treaty to conserve and sustainably use plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA).[1] The members (Contracting Parties) agree, among other things, to share these resources with one another under the legal umbrella of the International Treaty.

b. As of 01 January 2021, the International Treaty has 148 Contracting Parties (members), including the European Union. The newest member is Mozambique.[2]

 


[1] For more information, please see: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i1042e.pdf

[2]For details, please see: http://www.fao.org/plant-treaty/countries/membership/en/

3. How does a country become a member of the International Treaty?

3. How does a country become a member of the International Treaty?

a.  Any country that is a member of the United Nations, or any of its specialized agencies or of the International Atomic Energy Agency can join the International Treaty. To join, they have to formally inform the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the parent organization of the International Treaty, of their decision to join the treaty through ratification, accession, approval or acceptance.

b. Once a country joins the International Treaty, 90 days after depositing the relevant document with the Director General of FAO, it is called a “Contracting Party”.

4. What are plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA)?

4. What are plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA)?

a. PGRFA are the raw material that form the basis of all crop varieties. This material can be used to develop new varieties or improve the quality and productivity of crops. It includes genetic material of plant origin, e.g. seeds, tubers, mature plants, planting material, etc.

b. PGRFA include seeds and all other plant genetic material.

5. Why are plant genetic resources important?

5. Why are plant genetic resources important?

a. Plants are the primary basis for human sustenance. Plants are the source of most of the food we eat and the air we breathe. Agriculture, through nurturing and utilizing plant diversity, plays a key role in feeding billions and protecting our natural resources and the environment. In fact, it is estimated that out of over 6000 plants that have been used for food by humanity, a mere 30 plant species provide over 90% of human dietary needs.[1] And just four of them – rice, wheat, maize and potatoes – provide more than 60%.

b. Crop diversity provides the biological foundation of agriculture. It is the raw material for plant evolution and adaptation, and for plant breeding for the future. Recent UN reports on climate change show that crop genetic resources can play a vital role in creating a more climate-resilient agriculture.[2]

c. Plant genetic diversity increases options and provides insurance against future adverse conditions, such as extreme and variable environments. Our crop plants have been raised over millennia, through evolutionary forces and human selection, from their wild ancestors. The genetic diversity – the variation in the molecular building blocks that control expression of individual traits – is at the core of a crop’s ability to continually undergo these changes. The combination of current and historical genetic diversity underpins our potential to adapt crops to the changing needs of farmers and consumers.

d. Countries are dependent on one another when it comes to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Food production in most countries depends on crops that originated elsewhere. For example, potatoes and maize originated in Latin American, but are now vital crops and part of the staple diet in Europe and Africa, respectively.

e. Crops grown in different environments develop differently and genetic material from food plants in one country can be essential in another country that is trying to increase food crop production, fight plants pests, diseases and the effects of climate change. That is why we need to share plant genetic resources across borders for our collective food security.

f. Seeds are critical for the development of new plant varieties and are necessary in order to meet human needs for food, nutrition, health and economic security.


[1] FAO State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture: http://www.fao.org/3/CA3129EN/CA3129EN.pdf

[2] https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/11/1051411

 

 

6. What does the International Treaty do?

6. What does the International Treaty do?

a. The International Treaty makes it possible to share plant genetic resources across borders through a unique Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing (MLS).[1]

b. It is important that crop genetic resources are (a) conserved, (b) made available across borders, and (c) sustainably used. This is where the International Treaty plays a crucial role: it administers the global system that enables countries to exchange much-needed plant genetic material. This, in turn, helps farmers develop and grow plants that are better adapted to the changing environment and human needs.

c. The International Treaty also works to conserve the planet’s food crop diversity. Thousands of crop varieties have been lost over the decades. Only a few crops are used in modern agriculture and these often have a narrow genetic base. This contrasts with the large number of land races with a substantial genetic variation used by earlier generations. Not even advanced gene technology can replace natural variation, with its abundance of genes and gene interactions. Gene interaction is irreplaceable and without it, no breeding can take place. If we do not counteract this genetic erosion, it could have serious consequences for future food security. For example, crops with a narrow genetic base are very vulnerable and can be completely destroyed by diseases. The plant breeders must then go back to older varieties or closely related wild species in order to find resistance genes for the disease in question.

d. Organized and rational conservation of plant genetic resources is necessary for us and future generations to be able to breed crop varieties and face new challenges. We do not yet know everything about future demands for crop varieties, but we do know that they will have to be part of a more environmentally friendly and sustainable food system, be of better quality and have improved resistances, especially when it comes to meeting the challenges of climate change, pests and diseases.


[1] For more information on the MLS, please see: http://www.fao.org/plant-treaty/areas-of-work/the-multilateral-system/overview/en/

 

 

7. What is “sustainable use” in terms of plant genetic resources?

7. What is “sustainable use” in terms of plant genetic resources?

a. In the broadest sense, this encompasses the whole range of actions involved in the conservation, diversification, adaptation, improvement and delivery to farmers through seed systems.

b. The International Treaty helps maximize the use and breeding of all crops and promotes development and maintenance of diverse farming systems. Most of the world’s food comes from four main crops – rice, wheat, maize and potatoes. However, local crops, not among the main four, are a major food source for hundreds of millions of people and have potential to provide nutrition to countless others.

c. Sustainable use of PGRFA takes into account the wider principles of ecologically, economically and socially sound approaches. These principles address the challenges of meeting basic food needs, generating income for the rural poor, and providing a foundation for protecting the environment.

d. Sustainable use of plant genetic resources refers to the use of components of crop biodiversity in a way and at a rate that does not lead to the long-term decline of biological diversity, thereby maintaining its potential to meet the needs of present and future generations. (Also see Article 6 of the International Treaty & Article 2 of the Convention on Biological Diversity.)

8. What is the “Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing (MLS)”?

8. What is the “Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing (MLS)”?

a. The International Treaty created and administers a unique global system that enables countries to exchange much-needed plant genetic material with one another through a Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing.

b. Crops grown in different environments develop differently and genetic material from food plants in one country can be essential in another country that is trying to increase food production, fight plants pests, diseases and the effects of climate change. This is made possible through the MLS of the International Treaty.

c. As of January 2021, the International Treaty has facilitated the transfer of over 5.6 million samples of germplasm through its MLS, rendering it the largest pool and exchange mechanism in the world.[1]

d. The information attached to each seed or genetic material is immensely valuable and is made available to Contracting Parties through the International Treaty’s Global Information System.

e. The benefits derived from the world’s plant genetic resources are to be shared equitably, to ensure food security for all.


[1] For more details about the material currently available through the MLS, please see: http://www.fao.org/plant-treaty/areas-of-work/the-multilateral-system/collections/en/

 

9. How does the International Treaty’s Multilateral System help?

9. How does the International Treaty’s Multilateral System help?

a. Our world is changing faster than our food plants can adapt. The International Treaty helps farmers stay ahead of the climate change curve, working now to develop food crops that will be adapted to thrive in harsher conditions in the future. For example, flood-tolerant rice varieties developed in Indonesia might contain genetic material that could help farmers in Bangladesh or Kenya adapt their crops to new climatic conditions. In order to gain access to what they need, their country can use the International Treaty’s MLS, which, in turn, helps the farmers develop and grow plants that are better adapted to the changing environment. That is why we need to share plant genetic resources across borders for our collective food security.

b. The benefit-sharing part of the Multilateral System includes financial and non-financial support for PGRFA conservation activities around the world. Those accessing material from the MLS and making a profit from what they develop with that material are to pay back a portion of those profits into a Benefit-sharing Fund, which supports farmers and PGRFA projects in developing countries.

10. What is the Benefit-sharing Fund (BSF)?

10. What is the Benefit-sharing Fund (BSF)?

a. The International Treaty established and operates a special initiative operated for the benefit of developing countries – the Benefit-sharing Fund (BSF). This Fund supports agricultural projects for farmers, public institutions and others in developing countries to conserve and use PGRFA to improve food crop production, fight plant pests and adapt to the effects of climate change. The high demand for project funding is indicative of the considerable gaps and significant need for support.

b. The International Treaty’s BSF seeks to catalyse and accelerate the conservation and use of plant genetic resources on a global scale through technology transfer, capacity building, high-impact projects and innovative partnerships involving farmers, plant breeders, civil society and other stakeholders. The Fund gives priority to on-farm management and conservation, increases food security and encourages innovative partnerships.

c. The Benefit-sharing Fund supports projects involving smallholder farmers and local communities in the management and sustainable use of plant genetic material for food and agriculture.

d. As of January 2021, the International Treaty’s BSF has supported 81 projects in 67 developing countries

e. The International Treaty’s BSF is estimated to have positively impacted the lives of over 1 million people around the world since its inception in 2009.

f. As of January 2021, the International Treaty is implementing the fourth round of projects[1] of the BSF.


[1] For a full list of projects supported through the BSF, please see: http://www.fao.org/plant-treaty/areas-of-work/benefit-sharing-fund/projects-funded/en/

 

 

11. Where does the Benefit-sharing Fund get its funds from?

11. Where does the Benefit-sharing Fund get its funds from?

a. Recipients for material from the Treaty’s MLS are to pay a portion of any profits they gain from the use of such material into the BSF. The process of developing and commercialising new varieties takes time, so the amount of user-based payments is still low. Therefore, currently, the BSF rely primarily on voluntary contributions.

b. Since it started in 2009, the International Treaty’s BSF has dedicated a total amount of USD 26 million to projects in developing countries.

c. The Fourth Round of the BSF has invested approximately USD 6 million in projects in developing countries around the world. The 3rd Round invested about USD 10 million, the 2nd Round about USD 10 million and the 1st Round started with USD 500 000

12. How does the International Treaty support Farmers’ Rights?

12. How does the International Treaty support Farmers’ Rights?

a. The International Treaty is one of the first legally-binding international instruments that explicitly acknowledges the enormous contribution of farmers and indigenous communities in developing and managing the world’s crops and other PGRFA which constitute the basis of our food supply. They have taken care of the world’s PGRFA for millennia. And they will continue to contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of these resources in the future. In fact, Article 9 of the International Treaty is devoted to Farmers’ Rights . [1]

b. The International Treaty acknowledges  Farmers’ Rights and calls for (i) protecting the traditional knowledge of these farmers, (ii) increasing their participation in national decision-making processes and (ii) ensuring that they share in the benefits from the use of these resources.

c. The International Treaty calls on its Contracting Parties and all nations to protect and promote the rights of smallholder farmers, particularly in terms of protecting their rights to their seeds, and their involvement in relevant national decision-making.

d. In accordance with Article 9 of the Treaty, the responsibility to protect, promote and realize these Farmers’ Rights rests with national governments through a number of suggested measures and by providing farmers with a basis to advocate for their rights.[2]

 


[1] For more information about Article 9 and Farmers’ Rights, please see: http://www.fao.org/plant-treaty/areas-of-work/farmers-rights/en/

[2] Please also see: http://www.fao.org/3/I7820EN/i7820en.pdf

13. What is the Global Information System (GLIS)?

13. What is the Global Information System (GLIS)?

a. The International Treaty’s Global Information System facilitates the exchange of relevant scientific, technical and environmental information on plant genetic resources. This provides vital information for plant breeders, agricultural researchers and farmers who use their traditional seeds but also need varieties with specific traits to help face climate and other challenges.

b. Data is shared through the GLIS Portal, which is a global entry point for information on PGRFA conservation, management and utilization activities.

c. GLIS also facilitates the use of Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs), which are a common standard to identify and exchange information about PGRFA worldwide. Assigning international standards to different crop varieties boosts collaboration on conservation, research and breeding.

14. Where does the International Treaty get its overall funding from?

14. Where does the International Treaty get its overall funding from?

a. Funding for the International Treaty to carry out its programs and activities comes from its Contracting Parties and from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.[1]

b. The Benefit-sharing Fund of the International Treaty receives contributions from users of the Multilateral System to fund agricultural development programs for PGRFA in developing countries.

c. In addition, donors provide funds for the BSF, specific projects and activities.


[1] For more information about the Funding Strategy, please see: http://www.fao.org/plant-treaty/areas-of-work/funding/en/

15. How does the International Treaty contribute to towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

15. How does the International Treaty contribute to towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

a.  The International Treaty contributes to a number SDGs.

       i. SDG 2: Zero Hunger – by promoting the use of PGRFA in support of a sustainable system of agriculture that produces and facilitates access to sufficient food for all people, thus working to end hunger.

      ii. SDG 15: Life on Land – by helping halt the loss biodiversity through crop seed conservation and sustainable use.

     iii. Also, the following SDGs:

  • SDG 1: No Poverty – working to end poverty by building capacity and involving rural communities in PGRFA agricultural projects
  • SDG 5: Gender Quality – working towards gender equality by involving and empowering women (farmers/plant breeders/scientists/policy-makers) in the conservation and sustainable use of crop biodiversity
  • SDG 13: Climate Action – working to face climate change by helping increase farmers resilience to climate shocks through the use of adapted crop varieties

16. What is the connection between the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and the International Treaty?

16. What is the connection between the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and the International Treaty?

a. The International Treaty provided the international legal framework needed for the establishment of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway.[1]

b. Both the International Treaty and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault work to conserve and safeguard seeds. Both work to ensure food security in a sustainable way. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault contributes conservation by providing a safety backup of the world’s major crops and plants for future food security.


[1] Watch this 2-min film: https://bit.ly/3dE9taG-TreatyAndSeedVault

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