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The view from the rooftop of the UN Food and Agricultural organisation’s (FAO) headquarters in Rome is stunning. Unfortunately, the delegates to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) rarely see it. Instead, they are occupied with negotiations on how the plant genetic resources of the world should be maintained, accessed, and the benefits arising from their use shared fairly. This week, NordGen presented the Nordic countries’ approach to the matter.

The ITPGRFA includes several aspects on plant genetic resources but the very core of it, which has been in the center of the deliberations ever since the adoption in 2004, concerns how benefits arising from the use of genetic resources should be shared in a fair and equitable way.

“The ITPGRFA is the only legally binding instrument on access and rights to genetic resources of utmost importance to food security and to build resilient agrifood systems. That’s why the work of this week is so very important. Discussions are ongoing on the scope of the treaty. What plant species to include in multi-lateral rules and how to raise more money to its fund”says Lise Lykke Steffensen, Executive Director of NordGen.

The Nordic approach

Recently, experts from the entire Nordic region compiled a report which presents suggestions for a joint Nordic approach on access and sharing of genetic resources. The suggestions may seem natural for the Nordic countries but can be though-provoking for many other countries in the world.

“The report provides updated recommendations to the Nordic countries and NordGen on how to work with genetic resources. It is needed, because much has happened with both technology and in international law during the 20 years since the last time a similar report was published”, says Jens Weibull, Senior Officer at the Swedish Board of Agriculture.

The report contains detailed information on the issue, but the key take aways is that the Nordic countries will continue to work together and engage in international forums concerning genetic resources. The seeds of NordGen will be freely available in the public domain and under common Nordic management – also for use not related to food and agriculture. The report includes several suggestions on to how to raise money to the benefit sharing fund, an instrument for sharing the wealth derived from genetic resources in a fair way.

Ministerial declaration

“The Nordic Council of Ministers is currently preparing a ministerial declaration which is based on the report. It will be published shortly and is a strong sign on the Nordic countries’ commitment to take a global lead on these complicated matters”, says Lise Lykke Steffensen. When the report was presented under a side event to the 10th Governing Body session of the ITPGRFA at FAO’s headquarters in Rome this week, it was well received. “This report is really illuminating. In fact, it should be used as an introductory text to all those working with the ITPGRFA”, said Michael Halewood, Genetic Resources and Seed Systems Policies Team Leader at CGIAR.