While PGR have been sought after, collected, used and improved for centuries, it has only been since the 1930s that concern has been voiced over the need for conservation. Concerted international efforts to promote conservation, exchange and utilization are somewhat more recent.
The FAO established an intergovernmental Commission on Plant Genetic Resources in 1983, and adopted a non-binding International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources, which is now being revised in light of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). In 1995, the Commission was renamed the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA), a body which is currently comprised of the 143 member States of the FAO. The Commission and the International Undertaking constitute the main institutional components of the Global System for the Conservation and Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which also includes other international instruments and technical mechanisms being developed by the FAO.
A series of international technical conferences on PGR have been convened by the FAO, in cooperation with other organizations, in order to facilitate technical discussions among scientists and to create awareness about PGR issues among policy-makers at the national and international levels. The first significant meeting was held in 1961 and focused on plant exploration and introduction. The 1967 Conference formulated a number of important resolutions that were subsequently adopted by the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment. The most recent international technical conference, which took place in 1981, catalyzed the development of the FAO Global System.
By the early 1990s, it was becoming evident that another international conference was needed to assess progress, identify problems and opportunities, and give direction to future activities for the conservation and utilization of PGR. At its fourth session in 1991, the Commission proposed the convening of ITCPGR-4. The FAO established a multi- donor trust-fund project to coordinate the preparatory process for the ITCPGR-4.
In April 1993, the fifth session of the Commission noted that the Conference process would transform the relevant parts of the UNCED process (including Agenda 21 and the CBD) into a costed GPA based on the first FAO Report on the State of the Worlds Plant Genetic Resources. The Commission also noted that the process would make the Global System fully operational.
At its most recent regular session, held in June 1995, the Commission concentrated on negotiations for the revision of the IU (the focus of the First Extraordinary Session of the Commission in November 1994) and preparations for the Leipzig conference.
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