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From ECO, an NGO Newsletter @ COP IV


Agricultural Biodiversity is arguably the most vital sub-set of biodiversity and, because of its dependence and impact on human societies, could become the defining theme of the Convention. It is a seriously threatened resource, which has been developed and nurtured through the traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of countless farming, fishing and pastoral communities over the millennia.


The COP's historic Decision III/11 and SBSTTA's Decision III/4 on Agricultural Biological Diversity recognised this, and the Conference of the Parties now needs to ensure actions are taken urgently to reduce the threats to, and increase the opportunities for, the conservation, sustainable use and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits from the use of agricultural biodiversity.


However there are two specific issues that require urgent action by the fourth COP:


1. WTO/TRIPS Review and Agreement on Agriculture


This may well be the last major environmental conference before the 1999 TRIPs Review of Article 27.3.b (concerning protection of plant varieties either by patents or by an effective sui generis system). It is the COP's opportunity to send out strong signals about the need for careful and proper assessment of the possible impacts of this, and other WTO measures which are up for review and negotiation in 2000 and beyond.


The COP could also recommend the exclusion from patentability of all life forms at the forthcoming review of TRIPs.


At the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture there is significant progress on the adaptation of the International Undertaking (IU) on Plant Genetic Resources, which includes articles on Access and Benefit sharing, Financial Mechanisms and Farmers' Rights, in harmony with the CBD. This process needs to be compatible with CBD Article 8j, and the COP has said it would welcome the FAO putting forward the negotiated IU as a Protocol to this Convention, and this Protocol should have primacy over any other agreements particularly with respect to impacts which could cause a serious damage or threat to biological diversity. COP should urge FAO to prepare the IU for the COP in 1999 or 2000.


2. Need for Action by the Secretariat, FAO and others to implement the Multi-year Programme of Work agreed in Decision III/11


This COP must give a clear signal to the world about the urgency with which it is acting to safeguard this genetic heritage. The sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity will ensure the food and livelihood security of future generations and can be achieved, in part, by strongly supporting local communities' diverse and sustainable agricultural practices and by clearly recommending further co-ordinated actions by the SCBD, FAO and other organisations in developing and implementing the multi-year programme of work.


The COP should further ensure that the ex situ collections taken from the fields of farmers around the world and held in Trust by the FAO and also by other international organisations and private companies can never be used for private gain - that biopiracy be outlawed.


While welcoming the joint CBD-FAO programme of work, the COP should urge greater investment in concrete actions to provide technical support, especially on the assessment of the magnitude and significant threats to, and severity of the impacts on, agricultural biodiversity, the development of instruments and criteria for the assessment and monitoring of agricultural biodiversity as well as support to developing integrated/ farming systems approaches to the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity and agroecosystems.


It should also demand early publication of the GEF operational policy note on agricultural biodiversity to resource the needed assessments of agricultural biodiversity and required actions, ensuring that this also includes opportunities for support to informal sector groups including NGOs, and especially local and indigenous communities that are largely the main conservers and sustainable users of this resource.


Agricultural biodiversity is a precious resource that must be sustainably used. We depend on it for all our food needs and for fodder, fibre, fuel and pharmaceuticals. The COP must make strong statements and ensure that decisive actions are taken in support of this Programme of Work - the food and livelihood security of billions of people depends on this.

Note by Patrick Mulvany, ITDG

5 May, 1998

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