Plant treaty: Ways to benefit custodians of agricultural biodiversity in focus

Treaty calls on nations to protect, promote their rights to save and use traditional seeds

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Monday 19 September 2022

The ninth session of the governing body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) began September 19, 2022 in Delhi.

Making this treaty truly universal will help ensure that agricultural diversity is saved, shared and cared for, FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said in a recorded message at the inaugural session of the meeting hosted by the Government of India. “We must conserve this treasure for our descendants, the food security of current and future generations, the improved resilience and preservation of our planet.”

The parties to this treaty have come together after nearly three years to discuss governance of agricultural biodiversity and global food security. 

The theme of the meeting is ‘Celebrating the Guardians of Crop Diversity: Towards an Inclusive Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework’. The discussions here would inform the deliberations on global biodiversity governance in December 2022 at the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity to be held in Montreal, Canada.  

The issue of access and benefit-sharing is among other subjects that would be discussed at the governing body meeting. While this subject was discussed extensively at the eighth session of the Governing Body too, the group was unable to reach consensus on measures to enhance the functioning of the Multilateral System.

To discuss the subject further, the parties agreed to hold a series of informal consultations. The outcome of these meetings would be considered during the discussions over the next week — the governing body meeting would end September 24, 2022. 

The multilateral system supports agricultural research and development as well as global food security by providing each member access to important food and forage crops. Under this system, a global pool of plant genetic resources has been created and made available to all members. 

A total of 64 crops species are included in this pool and these account for as much as 80 per cent of global food required. 

As many as 1,000 samples of plant genetic resources are exchanged each day. Just like CBD’s Nagoya Protocol, the International Treaty also guides access and benefit-sharing that may arise from the commercialisation of plant genetic resources.

The benefits can be both non-monetary and monetary in nature. These include both monetary and non-monetary benefits. 

In case of monetary incentives, any person or institution that commercialises a new crop or variety using the genetic resources needs to pay a share to the benefit fund. In situations where the new variety developed is not made available to others (for example, due to patents), the breeder / developer has to pay a share of profits to the Benefit-sharing Fund. The rate of compensation is 0.77 per cent of gross sales. 

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture was adopted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations November 3, 2001. 

The International Treaty is the first legally-binding international instrument to formally acknowledge the enormous contribution of indigenous people and small-holder farmers as traditional custodians of the world’s food crops. 

It also calls on nations to protect and promote their rights to save and use the seeds they have taken care of for millennia. 

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