The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture has been a key accomplishment in world sustainability in the past 20 years. It provides a vital policy framework for food security. Every country can contribute, every country can benefit. But there is still progress to be made and I’m pleased to report some progress today.
Yesterday, on the opening day of Rio+20, I met with colleagues from around the world representing the public and private sectors to discuss what is needed to achieve the goals of the Treaty. The Treaty is not only about conserving and utilizing materials; it’s also about sustainability and alleviation of poverty and hunger. Access to the diversity of plant genetic resources is one of the greatest benefits derived from the Treaty.
Since the beginning of the negotiation of the Treaty, CGIAR has been involved and this was mentioned more than once at yesterday’s meeting. The importance of the CGIAR collections that distribute by far the largest number of varieties under the treaty was recognized. Furthermore, the fact that CGIAR made a deliberate choice to put all of its breeding program material into the multilateral system was appreciated. This ensured that the benefit sharing provisions of the Treaty would apply. Bioversity International scientist Michael Halewood was recently interviewed in advance of Rio+20 to raise awareness of the importance of the Treaty for the CGIAR and vice versa.
Why should we all be concerned about the Treaty? It’s fairly simple. We all eat food that farmers produce. Every time a farmer makes a decision on what to plant, and on what not to plant, he or she is making a genetic resources decision. The Treaty is a key tool Brazil and other countries can use for threats known and unknown.
Presenters at the meeting provided evidence that the international seed trade is rising dramatically. More than ever before, countries need to share genetic material in order to cope with crop diseases and climate change and fight hunger and malnutrition. At Bioversity International, we work with smallholders to diversify their land by adding crops that in many cases can provide a new form of income, increase the resilience of the production system and improve ecosystem services, but this is impossible unless access to materials is possible.
Today as part of Rio+20, I participated in the second High-Level Round Table on the Treaty where discussions about how we move it forward. This round table adopted the following “Rio six point plan of action”
- To establish a Platform for the co-development and transfer technologies as part of non-monetary benefit sharing of the Treaty;
- To promote a Public-private partnership for pre-breeding;
- To facilitate a new keystone-type dialogue to complete the governance of all PGRFA under the Treaty, as part of the International Regime on ABS, including all the relevant stakeholders;
- To raise awareness of the actual and potential value of underutilized species of local and regional importance for food security and sustainable development;
- To increase awareness among policy makers and other key stakeholders about the importance of the full implementation of the Treaty, not only for food and agriculture but also for food security, nutrition and the resilience of agriculture systems, particularly in the context of climate change;
- To explore the possibility of expanding the list of the coverage crops included in Annex 1 of the Treaty.
As a metaphor for itself, the treaty is the seed that is there and has been planted. It now needs to be used by all countries in order to keep sustaining life.