E-mail this article to
yourself or a friend.
Enter address:


FAO conference approves plant genetic resources treaty

(Nov. 6, 2001 -- CropChoice news) -- The following news comes from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, with an editor's note from ETC Group, formerly RAFI.

An International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture approved on Saturday by the Conference of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), will ensure better use of plant genetic diversity to meet the challenge of eradicating world hunger.

The Treaty was approved with 116 favourable votes and two abstentions -- the United States and Japan. There were no votes against.

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is a unique comprehensive international agreement. It takes into consideration the particular needs of farmers and plant breeders, and aims to guarantee the future availability of the diversity of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture on which they depend, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits, FAO experts say.

The International Treaty is in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which was adopted in 1992 as the first international binding agreement covering biodiversity.

In 1994, the FAO initiated an inter-governmental negotiating process for the revision of the 1983 International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, in order to adopt it as a legally binding agreement, in harmony with the CBD. The parties at this Convention have recognized the distinct characteristics and problems of agro-biodiversity and the need for specific solutions to be developed by FAO.

The long and complex negotiating process, which gave birth to the new Treaty, has been led by Ambassador Fernando Gerbasi of Venezuela, Chairman of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA).

This new legally binding international agreement - which will enter into force when ratified by at least 40 States - provides a framework to ensure access to plant genetic resources, and to related knowledge, technologies, and internationally agreed funding. It also provides the agricultural sector with a multilateral tool to promote cooperation and synergy with other sectors, particularly with trade and the environment.

"The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is at the crossroads where agriculture, environment and trade meet. It is a major international instrument reflecting the significance of access and benefit sharing as the basis for continued and sustainable utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture," FAO Director-General Dr. Jacques Diouf said.

"The approval by the FAO Conference of this International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is a milestone in international cooperation. It is the successful outcome of lengthy negotiations which started in November 1994 among FAO's Member States," Dr. Diouf added.

The Treaty revises the previous International Undertaking, which was adopted by the FAO Conference in 1983 as an instrument to promote international harmony in matters regarding access to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. It recognized Farmers' Rights as being complementary to plant Breeders' Rights.

One hundred and thirteen countries have adhered to the original International 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."

The International Undertaking is monitored by FAO's CGRFA, a permanent forum for debate created in 1983 and currently composed of 160 Member Countries, which will now act as the Interim Committee for the new International Treaty, until it enters into force. Mr. José Esquinas-Alcázar, Secretary of the Commission, underlined "the technical, social, economic, political and ethical issues which surround the conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources."

Mr. Esquinas-Alcázar added that despite the approval of the International Treaty, "an enormous task still lies ahead to implement the provisions of the Treaty, in particular in view of the need to ensure that the genetic resources and local technologies developed by generations of farmers are complemented and enhanced by the new genetic technologies, and not threatened or replaced by them."

The length of the negotiations reflects the difficulties in reaching agreement on matters related to intellectual property rights and the list of crops covered by the Treaty. However, the Treaty shows the wide international commitment that both traditional and modern technologies should be used to serve humanity, in particular to alleviate hunger and promote sustainable development in developing countries.

Editor's note: While the Treaty is flawed in relation to the number of crop species it covers, the lack of money on the table for benefit-sharing, and ambiguities related to intellectual property, it is a very positive step forward for world food security, according to ETC, formerly RAFI. (www.etcgroup.org)