International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

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The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, popularly known as the International Seed Treaty, is a comprehensive international agreement in harmony with Convention on Biological Diversity, which aims at guaranteeing food security through the conservation, exchange and sustainable use of the world's plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, as well as the fair and equitable benefit sharing arising from its use. It also recognises Farmers’ Rights: to freely access genetic resources, unrestricted by intellectual property rights; to be involved in relevant policy discussions and decision making; and to use, save, sell and exchange seeds, subject to national laws.

The Treaty will implement a Multilateral System (MLS) of access and benefit sharing, among those countries that ratify the treaty, for a list of 64 of the most important food and forage crops essential for food security and interdependence. (The genera and species are listed in Annex 1 to the Treaty).

The Treaty includes, as one of its funding mechanisms, mandatory sharing of benefits arising from the commercial utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture covered by the MLS.

The Treaty was nurtured by the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA), which formed its Interim Governing Body. It now has its own Governing Body under the aegis of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations(FAO). The Governing Body met for the first time in Madrid in June 2006.

Some believe the Treaty could be an example of responsible global governance for ensuring that plant genetic resources essential for present and future food security can be kept accessible to all farmers and in the public domain. See, for example [1]. Others are more sceptical about its utility. See, for example [2]


Treaty mechanisms

The Treaty was under negotiation for 7 years. A previous voluntary agreement, the IU or International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, was adopted in 1983. However, the IU was reliant on the principle of genetic resources being the common heritage of humanity. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (1993) brought genetic resources under the jurisdiction and sovereignty of national governments. However, the CBD recognised the special and distinctive nature of agricultural genetic resources: they were international - crossing countries and continents - their conservation and sustainable use requires distinctive solutions and they were important internationally for food security. Subsequently the IU was renegotiated, to bring it in harmony with the CBD, and was renamed as a Treaty.

The Treaty was approved during the FAO Conference (31st Session resolution 3/2001) on 3rd November 2001, with 116 votes and 2 abstentions (USA and Japan). In accordance with its Article 25, it was opened for signatures until 4th of November 2002 by all members of FAO or any state member of the United Nations or of the International Atomic Energy Agency. It was subject to ratification, acceptance or approval (Article 26), by all members.

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture was open to accession a year after adoption and once closed to signatures (Article 27), i.e., on the 4th of November 2002. 77 countries and the European Union had signed the treaty by that date.

In accordance with Article 28, the Treaty entered into force on the ninetieth day after the deposit of the fortieth instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession, provided that at least twenty instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession have been deposited by Members of FAO. Having reached the required number of instruments in order for the Treaty to enter into force (40) on 31 March 2004, on which date 13 instruments (including the European Community) were deposited with the Director-General of FAO, the date of entry into force was on 29 June 2004.

The Treaty’s interim Governing Body - the FAO's CGRFA - took some decisions on the implementation of the Treaty. For example, on compliance, the Material Transfer Agreement, Financial arrangements and so on. However, it will be up to the Governing Body to take over these responsibilities once it formally meets in June 2006.

IUCN's Explanatory Guide to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture can be found at [3].


Plant genetic resources are essential to a sustainable agriculture and food security. FAO estimates humans have used some 10 000 species for food throughout history. However, only about 120 cultivated species provide around 90% of food requirements and 4 species (Maize, Wheat, Rice and Potatoes) provide about 60% of human dietary energy for the world's population. Of the myriad of varieties of these crops developed by farmers over millennia, which form an important part of agricultural biodiversity, more than 75% have been lost in the past 100 years.

Some fear that corporate financial interests might prevent safeguarding of livelihoods, promotion of food security, biodiversity-rich farming under control of local communities, and implementation of Farmers' Rights.

Critics say many of the central issues are unresolved or open to interpretation. Some of the points raised are:

  • to what extent will intellectual property rights be allowed on genetic resources in the MLS, within treaty rules: some argue an agreement aiming at open access to genetic resources for food anad agriculture should not allow restrictive property rights, and the treaty says in Article 12.3.d that "Recipients shall not claim any intellectual property or other rights that limit the facilitated access to the plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, or their genetic parts or components, in the form received from the Multilateral System";
  • to what extent will farmers and communities be allowed to freely use, exchange and breed the seeds, and what enforcement procedures will be used by national governments to ensure principles of Farmers' Rights will be respected;
  • how will the benefits from the commercial use of genetic materials covered in the MLS be shared, in terms of amount, form and conditions.
  • while the whole Brassica family (Cruciferae) including all its sub-species and varieties is in the MLS the total number of food crops and forages and their relatives included in the treaty is very limited. Soya, sugar cane, oil palm and groundnut are among important crops missing from the list in Annex 1.

The Treaty came into force on 29th June 2004 at which time there were more than 54 ratifications by countries. An article prepared on the occasion of the Treaty becoming law is posted at [4].

Participating countries

There are 103 Parties to the Treaty (102 countries and the European Union) [5].

  • (Most Parties and additional Signatories are also Members of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture - with the exception of those written in italics - see notes below.)

Parties: Algeria, Angola, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan*, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Cook Islands, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti*, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, European Community, Finland, France, Ghana, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Honduras, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati*, Kuwait, Lao*, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Myanmar, Namibia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Niger, Norway, Oman, Panama, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Syrian Arab Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates*, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda, Uruguay, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe. [TOTAL 103]

Additional Signatories to the Treaty: Argentina, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Gabon, Haiti, Malta, Marshall Islands*, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, Serbia and Montenegro, Swaziland, Thailand, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Turkey, United States of America. [TOTAL 22]

Other Countries that are Members of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) but have neither Signed nor are Parties to the International Seed Treaty (IT PGRFA): Afghanistan, Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, China, Croatia, Comoros, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Fiji, Gambia, Georgia, Grenada, Guyana, Iceland, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nepal, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Qatar, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Seychelles, Slovak Republic, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Suriname, Tonga, Ukraine, Vanuatu, Viet Nam. [TOTAL 49]

  • The CGRFA has a membership [6] of 167 countries plus the European Commission and acted as the Interim Governing Body of the International Seed Treaty (IT PGRFA) from the date of its coming into force on 29 June 2004 until the first meeting of its Governing Body on 12 June 2006.
  • * Six countries written in the above lists in italics and marked with an asterisk are not Members of the CGRFA.

See also

External links

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