HomePlantsNew fee system for access to genetic resources discussed at FAO

New fee system for access to genetic resources discussed at FAO

Date: 14.11.2019 Author: Sara Landqvist Category: Plants

NordGen is observer in the Governing Body of the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

This week, representatives of NordGen are in Rome to participate in the international cooperation for plant genetic resources. Delegates and observers from 146 countries have traveled to FAO’s headquarter to discuss different matters. Among other things, the agenda included the issue of a new prescription system for those using genetic resources from the world’s genebanks. The aim of the system is to raise more money that are to be reinvested in developing countries to ensure a sustainable use of their plant genetic resources.

NordGen is an observer in the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA or the Treaty). The Treaty comprises plant genetic resources that we are depending on to produce our food and feed for animals. These resources are more important to protect than ever as climate change is progressing in a faster rate than the plant breeders are able to develop new plant varieties which can perform well in the new conditions. The Treaty has its secretariat at FAO.s head office in Rome and is working with three aims:

  •  recognizing the enormous contribution of farmers to the diversity of crops that feed the world;
  • establishing a global system to provide farmers, plant breeders and scientists with access to plant genetic materials;
  •  ensuring that recipients share benefits they derive from the use of these genetic materials with the countries where they have been originated.

Week-long meeting in Rome

The Governing Body of The Treaty is convening representatives of the member states and observers every other year. This week, the Governing Body has its meeting in Rome. The participants discuss paragraphs, bureaucracy and wording details but it constitutes the foundation for very important matters.

“What it all comes down to is that everyone should have fair access to genetic resources and that poor countries can get access to the benefits that arise from using them. It is crucial that the international community agree on these matters. Not least since climate change and natural disasters today pose a substantial threat towards genetic resources worldwide. A stable agreement on how they are to be used and distributed is essential” says Lise Lykke Steffensen, Executive Director of NordGen.

Change of the Multilateral System

Today, a list of 64 crops are included in the so-called Multilateral System (MLS). These plants are the most important for the world’s food production and are also freely available from genebanks. The benefits that arise from using these genetic resources are to be shared with others – and a fee is to be donated to a fund called the Access and Benefit Sharing Fund. The means in the fund are reinvested in poorer countries to strengthen the work with plant genetic resources locally.

“The Multilateral System has been active for sex years. But during this time, very little money has reached the fund meaning that poor countries still find it difficult to safeguard and develop the use of their own plant genetic resources in a sustainable way. This is a problem, and a problem which the international delegates in Rome are trying to resolve this week”

The use is the foundation for conservation

Where the Multilateral System demands that 64 crops are being made freely available, the Nordic countries has gone one step further. We have made the entire Nordic seed collection freely available, something that’s regulated in an agreement called the Kalmar declaration. In practice, this means that we distribute 4 000 seed samples each year to researchers, plant breeders and others needing the genetic resources in their profession. If the members of The Treaty agree upon changing the Multilateral System, those needing the genetic resources would need to pay for a prescription enabling them to order seed samples from the world’s genebanks. It would mean more administrative work for the genebanks.

“Of course, it would lead to more work for us. But it’s also important that the benefits that arise from the use of plant genetic resources are shared fairly. They need to be reinvested to help also the genebanks in poor countries where a great diversity of plant genetic resources often can be found. There are no easy solutions to the issues debated in this week’s meeting in Rome. But they are important. And nothing is decided before all of the 146 member states have given their consent” says Lise Lykke Steffensen.