INTERNATIONAL UNDERTAKING ON
PLANT GENETIC RESOURCES (IU)
Keeping free access to the world's plant genetic resources for food and agriculture
BACKGROUND TO THE INTERNATIONAL UNDERTAKING WHICH IS BEING NEGOTIATED BY THE COMMISSION ON GENETIC RESOURCES FOR FOOD AND AGRICULTURE (CGRFA) OF THE UN FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION (FAO)
The negotiations on the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources (IU) are at a critical stage and need extra efforts to ensure they are completed in time for presentation to CBD/COP 6.
As public awareness of the implication of patents, corporate ownership of living organisms and genetic engineering becomes more sophisticated, the paradigm offered by the IU promises to be both inspirational and popular. It should be championed as a first, fundamental and practical step for a positive and more equitable system for sustaining life on this planet.
We would urge you to interest those working on TRIPs and GE issues to make the links with the IU negotiations, emphasising its importance for sustainable agriculture and as a model for keeping genetic resources in the public domain.
If we want to defend farmers interests and follow through our commitments made over the last two decades, not least in the 1996 NGO lobbies in Leipzig and elsewhere which promoted Farmers Rights, we have to work in favour of the rapid conclusion of the negotiations on the IU and its presentation as a legally-binding instrument to the CBD at its next Conference (COP 6) in 2002.
A lot of pressure must be brought to bear on governments to complete negotiations of an effective IU during the next twelve months. This will build on statements made by NGOs to governments at both the Global Forum on Agricultural Reasearch (GFAR), Dresden and the 5th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD/COP 5) in Nairobi in May 2000(1). See "Seeds for All" an NGO Position Paper on the International Undertaking developed at these meetings. Farmers' organisations, research institutions and NGOs worldwide should work together to raise the political profile of the IU, to inform the media and to build up pressure for an effective and legally-binding IU.
A public campaign for an International Undertaking is needed
The International Undertaking is the principal international agreement that could:
The IU is the worlds best hope for providing protection for these vital resources against the spread of unsustainable agricultural technologies and practices. These pose a major threat to genetic resources for food and agriculture and the wider environment. The increasingly powerful trans-national Life Industry is making multi-billion investments in these technologies and inputs including genetic modification and is able to protect their investments through patents and Plant Variety Protection. The IU would go some way towards helping to protect PGRFA from this corporate threat.
If we want an effective International Undertaking there is a lot of work to do to convince governments that a rapid conclusion of these negotiations is necessary, that Farmers Rights must be recognised and that tangible and real benefits must be provided back to farmers so that their work in developing and sustaining these resources will continue.
Farmers, research institutions and NGOs worldwide should work together to make the IU a topic of public concern, to inform the media in order to build up political pressure for an effective IU.
While the IUs capacity to be a functioning part of international initiatives for defending plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and farmer practices, it will depend on the political and economic support of richer nations (defined by both their financial and germplasm reserves). The embodiment of the IUs principles within the context of the CBD will greatly enhance the exploration of innovative models of democratic and practical resource sharing.
The inclusion of these principles in the CBD will encourage a broader approach to sustaining agricultural biodiversity outside of the constraints of outmoded, commercial laws on IPR, which are based on, and more suited to, mechanical concepts of invention.
An International Undertaking, in harmony with the CBD would ensure:
We must convince all governments that it is in everyone's interests to complete the IU negotiations
We invite NGOs, Farmers institutions and other Civil Society Organisations to:
Patrick Mulvany (mailto:Patrick_Mulvany@CompuServe.com) of the ITDG (Intermediate Technology Development Group) in the UK, or François Meienberg (mailto:email@example.com) of the Berne Declaration in Switzerland.
A CSO Position Paper on the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources
A legally-binding International Undertaking on plant genetic resources (IU), linked to both the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is essential for global food security. It is the only agreement that could ensure the conservation and the sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA), and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits back to farmers, arising from the use of these resources.
Because of the above and the interdependence on PGRFA between countries and the impossibility for bilateral tracking of origin and use of these resources, the IU is an indispensable instrument for these resources. NGOs are calling for the rapid conclusion to the negotiations on the International Undertaking.
We all benefit from the contribution that the diversity of PGRFA has made to food security, but the farmers who developed and sustain this diversity have received little recognition and no incentives.
The NGOs and Farmers' Organisations that participated in the Global Forum on Agricultural Research, held in Dresden in May 2000, adopted a statement which called, among other things, for 'the immediate completion of the International Undertaking', taking into account 'the contributions to the world's food system and the research needs of farming communities'.
At the same time, NGOs participating in the COP-V of the Convention on Bioogical Diversity in Nairobi issued similar calls: The Parties to the Convention must send a strong message to FAO to rapidly complete the harmonisation of the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources with this Convention to include forceful Articles on Farmers Rights; a multilateral system of Access, outlawing proprietary ownership through patents and Plant Variety Protection of all designated materials and the genes they contain; and Benefit Sharing related to end use i.e. food security.
The 1983 voluntary IU is being renegotiated by countries through the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture to bring into harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as a legally-binding instrument. As such, it will necessarily contribute to the objectives of the CBD through its focus on the conservation and the sustainable use of PGRFA, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of PGRFA.
But, given the distinctive nature, origin and problems of PGRFA and the farmers knowledge embodied in these, the IU will need to provide a framework which simultaneously permits free and facilitated access and exchange, through a multilateral system of access to the resources, and recognises and provides incentives to farmers and their communities for their historical and current contributions to the development of PGRFA, through the implementation of internationally recognised Farmers Rights.
For the last five years there have been ongoing negotiations to try to secure an international agreement on access to and use of the Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA), developed in farmers fields and stored in national, regional and international genebanks. The Intergovernmental Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA), housed within the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, is charged with leading these negotiations. The aim is to secure an International Undertaking (IU), adapted to be in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
During this time, the mandate and scope of these negotiations, as agreed by the FAO and supported by Decisions of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD (COP Decisions II/15, III/11, IV/6, V/9)(1) has been constantly questioned by some countries. The conflict is largely between those who wish to see farmers and other stakeholders have free multilateral rights of access to, and benefit sharing from, genetic resources they have developed and use to maintain food security; and those who support bilateral arrangements and the encroachment of intellectual property rights and law into these areas.
Demands for an IU that will make a difference
1. Legal Character
The IU should be a legally binding instrument adopted as a protocol to the CBD and under the auspices of the FAO. Where other existing international agreements are in conflict with the objectives of the IU and could cause damage or threat to PGRFA, the IU has to have precedence.
2. Coverage of the multilateral system of access and benefit-sharing
The multilateral system should cover all PGRFA, especially that which is of importance to food security in any specific locality. A clear demarcation between PGRFA and other genetic resources that are regulated under the CBD could be achieved by listing the species or genera that should be included in the IU.
3. Access and Benefit-Sharing and Financial Incentives
Access and benefit-sharing should be regulated within a multilateral system which is part of the IU.
Access to germplasm, facilitated through the multilateral system, would itself be a major benefit to all stakeholders. To do so, access has to be provided to all PGRFA, in situ and ex situ, acquired both before and after the coming into force of the CBD. To guarantee a facilitated access to all germplasm exchanged through the multilateral system, the material, germpalsm, genes and derivatives thereof, should be excluded from patenting and from IPRs like the UPOV system. If Access is facilitated in this way, future breeding work and Farmers' Rights will be supported.
Benefits should be shared through the fair and equitable sharing of the results of research and development, incentives and other public sector measures and the benefits arising from commercial utilisation of PGRFA for plant breeding and food. In addition, extra financial incentives could be secured through a global fund resourced from government grants and intergovernmental programmes.
These grants, income and revenues should be under the political control of the Conference of the Parties to the IU and be used to contribute to agreed plans and programmes to implement Farmers' Rights and to support PGRFA conservation and sustainable use (e.g. the Leipzig Global Plan of Action) in particular in developing countries.
4. Farmers' Rights
The Farmers' Rights are crucial for the conservation and development of PGRFA. The wording of the composite draft text, adopted by the eight regular session of the commission on genetic resources for food and agriculture (CGRFA, April 99) is as yet incomplete as it:
The CBD has reiterated its willingness to consider the renegotiated IU as a legally-binding instrument linked to FAO and the Convention, possibly as a Protocol. (Decisions III/11 and V/9). The CBD also calls upon " Parties to coordinate their positions in both forums." (Decision V/9). The timetable for achieving this before COP 6 in 2002 is tight and requires agreement of the finalised text at FAO's Council in November 2000, so that it can be discussed by SBSTTA 6 in 2001. An alternative timetable might be its adoption by the FAO Conference in November 2001 and its presentation directly by the FAO Conference to the CBD, as originally called for in CBD Decsison III/11. This still gives little negotiating time for completion - the pressure is on. Donor governments are therefore urged to find sufficient funds to enable rapid completion of the negotiations within this timeframe.
Position paper written by Patrick Mulvany (ITDG) and François Meienberg (Berne Declaration), June 2000. Grateful thanks to all who commented on the early drafts, especially Joyce Hambling, Pat Mooney, Dan Leskien, Henk Hobbelink, Peter Einarsson, Jan Boring, Christine von Wiezäcker and Kristin Dawkins
Patrick Mulvany (mailto:Patrick_Mulvany@CompuServe.com) of the ITDG (Intermediate Technology Development Group) in the UK, and François Meienberg (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org) of the Berne Declaration in Switzerland.
(1) The landmark 1996 Buenos Aires COP Decision III/11 on the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity echoes the three objectives of the CBD and contains paragraphs that include inter alia decisions on a multi-year Programme of Work to promote the positive and mitigate the negative impacts of agricultural practices on biological diversity in agro-ecosystems and their interface with other ecosystems and promote the objectives of the CBD with respect to genetic resources for food and agriculture. In Annex 1, it describes the problems and possibilities for agricultural biodiversity in different agricultural systems. The Decision also highlights the need to establish a relationship with WTO on matters concerning trade and agricultural biodiversity, and it encourages the FAO to complete the negotiations on the International Undertaking to be in harmony with the CBD.
Notes on the 8th Session of the CGRFA, 19-23 April 1999 by Patrick Mulvany, ITDG*
The opportunity to develop a legally-binding status for the IU, preferably a Protocol to the CBD, will depend on how effective and united the Contact Group is in September 1999. Europe should side with Africa in ensuring a credible, internationally-recognised and legally binding agreement, so long as its provisions on access, benefit sharing (including new money available in the financial mechanism) and Farmers Rights are in the best interests of the farmers and communities who developed the resource.
The completion of inter-governmental negotiations for the revision of the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources [IU] in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity was the main item on the agenda. This was not achieved and Farmers' Rights were poorly treated but there was a welcome commitment by Governments to meet again "Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed", however, so there are still opportunities in another set of negotiating sessions to ensure that the International Undertaking is a document that will have weight, credibility and value for the sustainable use of genetic resources for food and agriculture with full implementation of Farmers' Rights.
There was some progress but there were set-backs. There continues to be a wide consensus that the IU should take the form of a legally-binding instrument, closely linked to FAO and the Convention on Biodiversity. Some progress was made on two Articles- Articles 11 (Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing) and 12 (Coverage of the Multilateral System). The Commission noted that, in discussing Article 13 (Facilitated Access within the Multilateral System) it had been agreed to integrate Annex II of the Composite Draft Text into the text of the Article, although there is no agreement on which species should be included in the Annex.
On Article 15 (Farmers' Rights) there was late-night agreed text but disagreements about the implications of this - Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) were very dismissive of the outcome of this negotiation and would urge countries to re-open the debate. (For details on these articles see appended text)
CSOs stressed the imperative that the IU includes implementation of legally-binding, internationally recognised and meaningful Farmers' Rights, not a watered-down acknowledgement of Farmers' Rights and that they should be only in the gift of Governments. The CGRFA agreed UPOV-like wording that is not acceptable as it stands. Negotiations on this should be reopened.
The 'progress', as measured by seasoned insiders, is slow. The revised IU - the first international instrument to regulate access to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the sharing of benefits derived from them - will not be ready for adoption by the FAO Conference in November 1999, as planned. Rather, resources are being sought for meetings of the 40 Country (+ the EU) Contact Group this year, and possibly a further meeting / Extraordinary Session of the CGRFA before May 2000. We would urge that increased effort and priority be given to these landmark negotiations in order that they are completed before CBD/COP V. Although the results would not be formally presented then, it would assist governments in their negotiations on the implementation of the CBD to know that the IU negotiations were finalised. It would also assist in other negotiations in the World Trade Organisation, especially on TRIPs, and in the CSD, which is reviewing the Land Chapters of Agenda 21 at its 8th session in April/May 2000.
CSOs want to see a strong agreement, favourable to the millions of farmers who have contributed their knowledge, innovations and practices to the development of these plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. It should ideally be Protocol to the CBD, but perhaps administered by the FAO. But whatever the arrangements, some internationally-recognised and legally binding agreement, so long as its provisions on access, benefit sharing (including new money available in the financial mechanism) and Farmers Rights are in the best interests of the farmers and communities who developed the resource.
For further information see Links to IU Web Resources (below)
TEXT FOR ARTICLES 11, 12 AND 15, ESTABLISHED BY THE CONTACT GROUP DURING THE EIGHTH REGULAR SESSION OF THE COMMISSION
PART IV - MULTILATERAL SYSTEM OF ACCESS AND BENEFIT-SHARING
Article 11 - Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing
11.1 In their relationships with other States, Parties recognize the sovereign rights of States over their own plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, including that the authority to determine access to those resources rests with national governments and is subject to national legislation.
11.2 In exercise of their sovereign rights, Parties agree to establish a multilateral system, which is efficient, effective, and transparent, to facilitate access to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, and to share, in a fair and equitable way, the benefits arising from the utilization of these resources.
Article 12 - Coverage of the Multilateral System
12.1 In furtherance of the objectives of conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of their use, as stated in Article 1, the multilateral system shall cover the plant genetic resources for food and agriculture listed in Annex I, established according to criteria of food security and interdependence.
[12.2 The multilateral system shall also cover: (a) material held in ex situ collections by International Agricultural Research Centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research [international centres] that accept the provisions of [Annex V to] this Undertaking; [(b) material held in collections of other international institutions that accept the provisions of this Undertaking, and with the agreement of the Governing Body of this Undertaking.]E2 CGRFA-8/99/Rep
12.3 The Governing Body6 shall keep Annex I under periodic review as well as Annexes II, III and IV on the conditions of access, benefit-sharing and financial resources respectively, taking into account the inter-relationship among those annexes.]
PART V - FARMERS' RIGHTS
Article 15 - Farmers' Rights
15.1 The Parties recognize the enormous contribution that the local and indigenous communities and farmers of all regions of the world, particularly those in the centres of origin and crop diversity, have made and will continue to make for the conservation and development of plant genetic resources which constitute the basis of food and agriculture production throughout the world.
15.2 The Parties agree that the responsibility for realizing Farmers' Rights, as they relate to Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, rests with national governments. In accordance with their needs and priorities, each Party should, as appropriate, and subject to its national legislation, take measures to protect and promote Farmers' Rights, including:
(a) protection of traditional knowledge relevant to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture;
(b) the right to equitably participate in sharing benefits arising from the utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture;
(c) the right to participate in making decisions, at the national level, on matters related to the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.
15.3 Nothing in this Article shall be interpreted to limit any rights that farmers have to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed/propagating material, subject to national law and as appropriate.
The following segments of key text on Article 15 (Farmers Rights) show the changes made to Article 15.
At the beginning of the week, the draft included an additional point in 15.2
" the right to use, exchange, and, in the case of landraces and varieties that are no longer registered, market farm-saved seeds "
On Wednesday night, the diplomats deleted the text in 15.2 and inserted 15.3:
"Nothing in this Article shall be interpreted to limit any rights that farmers have to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed/propagating material, subject to national law and as appropriate."
On Thursday, farm and rural advocacy groups (CSOs) proposed alternative new wording in 15.2 and deletion of 15.3:
" the right to save, use, exchange and sell seeds and other propagating material and, in the case of seeds and other propagating material restricted by National law, the right to sell them in their customary manner and markets "
The history and progress of negotiations on the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources [for Food and Agriculture] (IU) is provided through a series of reports and papers and related agreements, linked from this page. They guide the reader to selected texts and sites where further information on the FAO International Undertaking can be found. They are not exhaustive but provide a selection of the material available on the Internet in English. From many of these pages, links to related information, for example reports of other meetings, other Codes of Practice, progress reports and so on are also linked.
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