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A Brief Introduction to the FAO Commission of Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGR)

The FAO Commission on Plant Genetic Resources was established in 1983. Renamed the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in 1995, it currently comprises 170 countries and the European Community. The CGRFA’s main objectives are to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources for food and agriculture, as well as the fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from their use, for present and future generations.

The CGRFA deals with policy, sectorial and cross-sectorial issues related to its mandate. It develops and monitors the Global System for Plant Genetic Resources and the Global Strategy for the Management of Farm Animal Genetic Resources. It also facilitates and oversees cooperation between the FAO and other relevant bodies, including the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). Its regular sessions are held every two years and extraordinary sessions are convened when required. Six extraordinary sessions have been held so far.

In 1997, the Commission established two subsidiary bodies, the Intergovernmental Technical Working Group on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITWG-PGR) and the Intergovernmental Technical Working Group on Animal Genetic Resources (ITWG-AnGR), to deal with specific issues in these areas. The Commission’s multi-year programme of work (MYPOW), which was adopted in 2007, provides for activities on aquatic, forestry and microbial genetic resources, as well as on cross-sectorial matters, in order to implement its full mandate.

CGRFA-9: At its ninth regular session (October 2002, Rome, Italy), the Commission addressed issues related to animal and plant genetic resources, including development of the first report on the State of the World’s animal genetic resources (AnGR), and implementation and monitoring of the Global Plan of Action on PGRFA. Delegates also revised the interim Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) between the international agricultural research centers of the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and the FAO, and considered the status of the draft code of conduct on biotechnology.

CGRFA-10: At its tenth session (November 2004, Rome, Italy), the Commission agreed to hold an international technical conference on AnGR in 2007 to mark the completion of the first report on the State of the World’s AnGR. Regarding its future work, the Commission requested the Secretariat to prepare a multi-year programme of work (MYPOW) for submission to CGRFA-11, with a view to implementing the Commission’s full mandate in the medium and long term, which would include: a study on the status and needs of aquatic, forestry and microbial genetic resources; biodiversity for food and agriculture; the agro-ecosystem approach to genetic resource conservation; and cross-sectorial matters.

CGRFA-11: At its eleventh session (June 2007, Rome, Italy), the Commission adopted a MYPOW for its next five sessions, recognizing the need to implement its full mandate through a planned and staged approach. The MYPOW lists major outputs and milestones for CGRFA-12 to 16 on PGRFA, AnGR, aquatic and forestry genetic resources, micro-organisms and invertebrates, and cross-sectorial matters, including the development of reports on the State of the World’s aquatic and forestry genetic resources. The Commission also approved a draft Interlaken Declaration on AnGR and the elements of a Global Plan of Action for AnGR, incorporating Strategic Priorities for Action, with some parts of the text still bracketed, and forwarded them to the International Technical Conference on AnGR.
Plant Genetic Resources

The development of the Global System on Plant Genetic Resources began in 1983. The Global System contains two key elements: the Report on the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA) and the Global Plan of Action (GPA) for the conservation and sustainable utilization of PGRFA. The first Report on the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources was prepared through a country-driven process, and was presented at the Fourth International Technical Conference held in Leipzig, Germany in 1996. The GPA, adopted through the Leipzig Declaration, comprises a set of activities covering capacity building, and in situ and ex situ conservation of PGRFA.

The Global System also includes: the non-binding International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources; the code of conduct for germplasm collecting and transfer; gene bank standards and guidelines; the draft code of conduct on biotechnology; the international network of ex situ collections; and the World Information and Early Warning Systems (WIEWS).
International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

Concluded in the framework of the CGRFA, the ITPGR is a legally binding instrument that targets the conservation and sustainable use of PGRFA and equitable benefit-sharing, in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), for sustainable agriculture and food security. The Treaty also contains sections on general provisions, farmers’ rights, supporting components, and financial and institutional provisions. The Treaty establishes a Multilateral System (MLS) for facilitated access to a specified list of PGRFA including 35 crop genera and 29 forage species, balanced by benefit-sharing in the areas of information exchange, technology transfer, capacity building and commercial development. The Treaty entered into force on 29 June 2004, and as of September 2008 it has 120 parties.

NEGOTIATION PROCESS: The Treaty’s negotiations were based on the revision of the International Undertaking on PGRFA (IU). Although a non-binding agreement, the IU was not adopted by consensus, as eight developed countries formally recorded reservations.

The IU was originally based on the principle that PGRFA should be “preserved … and freely available for use” as part of the common heritage of mankind. This principle was subsequently subjected to “the sovereignty of States over their plant genetic resources,” according to FAO Resolution 3/91. In April 1993, the CGRFA decided that the IU should be revised to be in harmony with the CBD.

Negotiations spanned seven years. From 1994 to 1998, the CGRFA met in five extraordinary and two regular sessions to develop the structure of, and refine, a draft negotiating text. From 1999-2001, a contact group consisted of 41 countries, chaired by Amb. Fernando Gerbasi (Venezuela), held six sessions to address contentious issues, including the list of crops to be included in the MLS, benefit-sharing, intellectual property rights (IPRs) to materials in the MLS, financial resources, genetic materials held by the International Agricultural Research Centers (IARCs) of the CGIAR, and definition of key terms. CGRFA’s sixth extraordinary session (June-July 2001, Rome) attempted to conclude negotiations, but delegates did not reach agreement on the definitions of “PGRFA” and “genetic material,” the application of IPRs to materials in the MLS, the new treaty’s relationship with other international agreements, or the list of crops to be included in the MLS. The session adopted the text and transmitted outstanding issues to the FAO Council.

The 121st FAO Council and an Open-ended Working Group held under its auspices (October-November 2001, Rome) resolved outstanding issues and, on 3 November 2001, the 31st FAO Conference adopted the ITPGR by a vote of 116 in favor, zero against and two abstentions. As part of the interim arrangements, CGRFA, acting as the ITPGR Interim Committee, convened to: prepare draft rules of procedure and draft financial rules for the ITPGR Governing Body, and a budget proposal; propose procedures for compliance; prepare draft agreements to be signed by the IARCs and the Governing Body; draft a standard material transfer agreement (MTA) for facilitated access to material in the MLS, including terms for commercial benefit-sharing; and initiate cooperative arrangements with the CBD Conference of the Parties.

ITPGR IC-1: During its first meeting (October 2002, Rome, Italy), the ITPGR Interim Committee adopted its rules of procedure and established an Open-ended Working Group to propose draft rules of procedure and financial rules for the Governing Body, and draft procedures for compliance. The meeting also adopted the terms of reference for an expert group to address the terms of the standard MTA.

MTA EXPERT GROUP: The expert group on the terms of the standard MTA (October 2004, Brussels, Belgium) considered options for the terms of the standard MTA and its draft structure, and recommended that the Interim Committee establish an intersessional contact group to draft the elements of the standard MTA.

ITPGR IC-2: At its second meeting (November 2004, Rome, Italy), the ITPGR Interim Committee agreed to establish an open-ended intersessional working group to address the rules of procedure and financial rules for the Governing Body, the funding strategy and procedures for compliance, since the working group established by its first session did not meet due to lack of funds. Delegates also agreed on the terms of reference for an intersessional contact group to draft the standard MTA for the Governing Body’s consideration.

OPEN-ENDED WORKING GROUP ON RULES OF PROCEDURE, FINANCIAL RULES, COMPLIANCE AND FUNDING STRATEGY: In its meeting (December 2005, Rome), the Working Group revised the draft rules of procedure, financial rules, and resolution on the funding strategy with the strategy in an annex, and prepared a draft resolution on compliance, for consideration by the first meeting of the Governing Body.

MTA CONTACT GROUP: In its first meeting (July 2005, Hammamet, Tunisia), the Contact Group on the standard MTA set out the basic structure of the agreement. A number of controversial issues remained outstanding, such as: dispute settlement, including whether arbitration would be binding or not; the benefit-sharing mechanism and payment; and an African proposal to add a legal person representing the Governing Body, as a Third Party Beneficiary, as part of the MTA to monitor its execution. The second meeting (April 2006, Alnarp, Sweden) agreed on a draft standard MTA but left a number of issues unresolved, including: the third party beneficiary’s rights; the definitions of “product” and “sales,” and the formula for benefit-sharing; obligations of the recipient in the case of subsequent transfers of material; dispute settlement; and applicable law. Contact Group Chair Eng Siang Lim (Malaysia) established an intersessional Friends of the Chair group to resolve pending issues prior to the first meeting of the Governing Body.

ITPGR GB-1: The first session of the ITPGR Governing Body (June 2006, Madrid, Spain) adopted a standard MTA and the funding strategy. The standard MTA includes provisions on a fixed percentage of 1.1% that a recipient shall pay when a product is commercialized but not available without restriction to others for further research and breeding; and 0.5% for the alternative payments scheme. The Governing Body further adopted: the rules of procedure, including decision making by consensus; financial rules with bracketed options on an indicative scale of voluntary contributions or voluntary contributions in general; a resolution establishing a compliance committee; the relationship agreement with the Global Crop Diversity Trust; a model agreement with the IARCs of the CGIAR and other international institutions; and the budget and work programme for 2006/07.

ITPGR GB-2: The second session of the ITPGR Governing Body (October-November 2007, Rome, Italy) addressed a series of items, including implementation of the funding strategy, the MTA for non-Annex I crops, cooperation with the CGRFA, and sustainable use of PGRFA. Following challenging budget negotiations, the meeting adopted the work programme and budget for 2008/09. It also adopted a resolution on farmers’ rights, as well as a joint statement of intent for cooperation with the CGRFA.
Animal Genetic Resources

Initiated in 1993, the Global Strategy for the Management of Farm Animal Genetic Resources provides a technical and operational framework for assisting countries. It comprises: an intergovernmental mechanism for direct governmental involvement and policy development; a country-based global infrastructure to help States plan and implement national strategies; a technical support programme aimed at the country level; and a reporting and evaluation system to guide the Strategy’s implementation, maximize cost-effectiveness and facilitate collaboration, coordination and policy development. A communication and information tool called the Domestic Animal Diversity Information System (DAD-IS) is being developed for the Strategy’s implementation, to assist countries and networks by providing searchable databases, tools, guidelines, a library, links and contacts for the better management of all animal genetic resources (AnGR) used in food and agriculture. 

INTERNATIONAL TECHNICAL CONFERENCE ON ANGR: The first International Technical Conference on AnGR was held from 3-7 September 2007, in Interlaken, Switzerland. Following a forum on the scientific aspects of AnGR and a presentation of the final version of the report The State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, delegates negotiated and adopted the Global Plan of Action for AnGR, including a section on implementation and financing that had been the subject of considerable discussion, including during CGRFA-11, as well as the Interlaken Declaration, which stresses the importance of AnGR and confirms the adoption of the Global Plan. The successful completion of the Global Plan and Interlaken Declaration provides a framework for future action and represents the beginning of a challenging long-term process for countries and the FAO to sustainably manage the world’s AnGR for food and agriculture.
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