In 1993 the UN agreed on the Convention on Biological Diversity, CBD, in Rio. Its purpose is the preservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and it gives every country the right to and the responsibility for its genetic resources. Every Nordic country has ratified CBD, which is also known as the Rio Convention. A global action plan for the sustainable use of the plant genetic resources for food and agriculture was drawn up in 1993 and signed by every member of the FAO (the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). This global action plan stresses the need to build up strong and effective national programmes for the sustainable use of plant genetic resources.
There have been different amounts of progress made in the programmes of the Nordic countries. The programmes in Finland, Sweden and Norway were established in 2001–2003 and are the most developed, while the programmes in Denmark and Iceland are at their planning stage.
NordGen and the national programmes work very closely with each other. The main task of NordGen is to work for the benefit of the Nordic region and promote Nordic synergies, and to enable cooperation and coordination where this is required. NordGen works for Nordic cooperation at all levels. NordGen is responsible for and pays for preserving seed-propagated plant species, while the preservation of vegetatively-propagated plant species is paid for and carried out at a national level. This is where the national programmes play their greatest role, for example, through inventories and collections of plant material and the establishment and maintenance of national gene banks and clonal archives.