International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

Toolbox for Sustainable Use of PGRFA

Policy for Sustainable Use

Under Article 6 of the Treaty, Contracting Parties are required to develop and maintain appropriate policy and legal measures that promote the sustainable use of PGRFA. Such measures are an inherent part of the global PGRFA use system, without which sustainable use activities may be limited or impeded. Therefore, the development and effective implementation of appropriate policies is essential for the sustainable use of PGRFA.

Policies may take many forms and are relevant to all elements of the global PGRFA use system. They are typically statements of principles, sets of guidelines, or focused strategies comprising specific goals and actions. While they do not have to be legally binding instruments, adoption by governmental bodies provides the best opportunity for promoting and implementing actions to meet their aims. Importantly, the development and endorsement of sustainable use policies should involve all relevant stakeholders, including non-governmental and civil society organizations, farmers and local communities, who can contribute and be involved in policy decisions made by governments.

The development of policies in support of sustainable use of PGRFA may not only involve the formulation and adoption of new policies or enhancement of existing ones, but also a review and amendment of those that could unintentionally be discouraging conservation and sustainable use activities—for example, national seed policies that only recognize ‘formal’ seed systems. Critically, for their effective implementation, policies need to be backed up by appropriate capacity building—including through the provision of education and training, suitable financial or other incentive mechanisms, long-term technical back-stopping, and empowerment of farmers and local communities.

Effective collaboration and coordination between public administrations, non-governmental and civil society organizations, as well as between public and industry sectors is also fundamental for the successful realization of policies for sustainable use, as well as sensitization of stakeholders and the public to the importance of sustaining PGRFA diversity for livelihood and food security.

Policy to recognize the role of farmers and local communities

Policy to recognize the role of farmers and local communities

To effectively implement the sustainable use provisions of the International Treaty, policies are needed to acknowledge and promote the activities of farmers and local communities in the maintenance and diversification of PGRFA.  Such activities not only provide fundamental provisioning services to humanity in the form of food and genetic resources, but help people to achieve seed sovereignty, food and livelihood security, and good nutrition and health. Appropriate policies may for example advocate the certification and marketing of farmers’ varieties, recognize Farmers’ Rights, support farmer innovation and local seed systems, and promote participatory approaches to crop improvement. For such policies to be effective, it is vital that farmers and local communities are involved in decision-making processes during their development. 

Seed policies are an important vehicle to recognize and promote the role of farmers and local communities in sustainable use of PGRFA. Seed policies are essential to provide farmers and other crop maintainers with access to quality seeds of crops which are appropriate for their needs. In many countries the main source of seeds is ‘informal’ seed systems which involve exchange between individual farmers and households and within broader networks, as well as supply from local markets. Community seed banks may also play an important role in such systems. Policies are therefore required to recognize and support these seed supply processes and facilities due to their fundamental role in food and economic security for millions of people worldwide. Many national seed policies currently only recognize ‘formal’ seed systems but some countries are reviewing and amending policies to ensure that the rights of farmers and local communities to use self-saved and locally exchanged seeds are respected.

Policy for conservation of PGRFA

Policy for conservation of PGRFA

The development of policy for the conservation of biodiversity (including plant genetic resources) has a long history—but most significantly, the need to address biodiversity conservation was formally recognized through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Since its inception in 1992, Contracting Parties of the CBD have developed National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) to implement its provisions. The focus of these NBSAPs has largely been on the establishment of protected areas for the conservation of important habitats and keystone or flagship species, as well as ex situ programmes for crop genetic resources and threatened species.

The main provision for conservation of PGRFA has historically been national gene bank facilities—however, the CBD and the International Treaty both emphasize the critical importance of in situ conservation, both of wild and cultivated PGRFA diversity. Therefore, the development and implementation of policy in support of in situ conservation and on-farm management is essential to meet the aims of both treaties. Achieving complementarity between in situ and ex situ approaches is paramount when developing such policies and adequate provisions for financing both measures are critical. 

Access and benefit sharing policy

Access and benefit sharing policy

In harmony with the CBD, access and benefit sharing (ABS) is one of the main provisions of the International Treaty. Through the Treaty’s Multilateral System (MLS), Contracting Parties agree to provide facilitated access to genetic resources of 64 crops that are crucial for food security worldwide to facilitate research, innovation and exchange of information. Benefit sharing through the MLS is in the form of both monetary and non-monetary benefits, such as information exchange, technology transfer and capacity building. It is therefore vital that CPs have appropriate mechanisms in place to facilitate access to PGRFA material included in the MLS.

Other types of benefit sharing may be implemented through voluntary initiatives involving private plant breeding companies, government agencies, national and international research institutes, NGOs and local farming communities. Actors involved in participatory plant breeding programmes, for example, benefit by sharing knowledge, skills and genetic resources. In other types of initiatives, benefits may be in the form of support for local sustainable development projects or capacity building through knowledge and technology transfer.

Integration of policy for sustainable use into national frameworks

Integration of policy for sustainable use into national frameworks

The aims of the International Treaty with regard to sustainable use of PGRFA are in harmony with a number of other international agreements, including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Second Global Plan of Action for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (Second GPA), and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Therefore, measures may be taken by countries to integrate such policies into existing national policy frameworks, thus synchronizing and strengthening countries’ actions for sustainable use.

Aichi Biodiversity Target 13 of the CBD Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020, for example, aims at the maintenance of local crop varieties in production systems, as well as underutilized species and crop wild relatives (CWR), including through increased recognition of the role of indigenous and local communities and farmers in maintaining genetic diversity in situ. Policy to support specific measures for the conservation and sustainable use of PGRFA may therefore be incorporated into revised NBSAPs to meet the objectives of Aichi Biodiversity Target 13, as well as the CBD Programme on Agricultural Biodiversity—in particular, the International Initiative on Biodiversity for Food and Nutrition.

Synergies between the aims of the International Treaty and the GPA are implicit; however, GPA Priority Activities 8–12, which promote sustainable use and specifically advocate crop diversification and recognition of farmers’ varieties, are particularly relevant. Relationships are also inherent between the Treaty and the SDGs—in particular, SDG Goal 2 which aims to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.

Subject category


Number of records: 389
In many developing countries, there is a lack of adequate seed policies – i.e. principles that guide government action and define the roles of stakeholders. The absence of such policies weakens countries’ capacity to provide smallholders with adequate access to...
Subject area: Policy development, Strengthening seed systems
Subject category: Strategies and action plans, Seed policy
Method Publication or report
This publication is an output of a national workshop on community seed banks (CSBs) in Nepal. The proceedings present conceptual, practical and policy issues concerning the establishment and management of CSBs. Lessons learned from the experiences in Nepal will be...
Subject area: Strengthening seed systems
Subject category: Community seed banks
Publication or report
The Strategic Action Plan to Strengthen the Conservation and Use of Mesoamerican Plant Genetic Resources in Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change (SAPM) is a ten-year road map to strengthen conservation, access and use of plant genetic resources in Mesoamerica, as...
Subject area: Policy development
Subject category: Strategies and action plans
Case study Publication or report
This booklet explains how using the Agrobiodiversity Index, companies and governments can reduce operational and reputational risks and seize opportunities, by estimating and monitoring the agrobiodiversity impact of supply chain investments. The Agrobiodiversity Index can also help investors to screen...
Subject area: Promoting local crop diversity
Subject category: Financial and incentive mechanisms
Publication or report
This audio slide show presents an example of a seed project supported by The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the European Union (EU) in Afghanistan. In this project, assistance is provided to build up the...
Subject area: Strengthening seed systems
Subject category: Enhancing local capacity, Seed quality assurance, Smallholder seed enterprises
Article or presentation Case study Multimedia
« Previous 1 2 3 4 5 ... 78

Share this page