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• 20•06•2001 •

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Keeping free access to the world's plant genetic resources for food and agriculture

6th Contact Group Meeeting: 23 - 28 April 2001, Spoleto

Click for 6th Contact Group Updates on: 30 April;   28 April;    27 April;    26 April;    25 April;    24 April;    23 April

3 May 2001CSO Report on Contact Group meeting. (Resumen en castellano)

Click for CSO Sign-on Letter and 327 signatories from 59 countries (in English, castellano, français, portugesa)

Click Here for Latest on IU Negotiations


6th Contact Group Meeting

Press Articles

Analytical Backgrounders

5th and 4th Contact Group Meetings and FAO Council

Links to other NGO/CSO and official documents

MONDAY 30 April 2001

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Delegates left Spoleto late on Saturday with Europe and G77 in agreement on almost all articles but after a late detonation of a bombshell from one country which re-introduced old text concerning 'designation' of collections.

[12.2 Parties are encouraged to include in the Multilateral System, as identified in paragraph 12.1, plant genetic resources for food and agriculture listed in Annex 1 from diverse holdings within their territory. At a minimum the Multilateral System, as identified in paragraph 12.1, shall encompass plant genetic resources for food and agriculture that are under the management and control of the national government of a Party.]

This text, if it received any support, would leave it up to individual countries to say which material can be included in the IU - a chance not only for them to exclude all private collections, but also, in retaliation, for all G77 countries to remove farmers' in-situ varieties from the IU. Result: no IU. This country may use its negotiating muscle to split the very good Europe/G77 consensus

Delegates agreed a text of the IU broadly the same as the Chairs draft but containing some [Square Brackets] around key articles and phrases, including:

  • Extent to which IPRs can be claimed on the genetic resources of the crops in the IU;
  • Commercial Benefit Sharing's link to IPRs;
  • Designation of collections (One country wants the right to designate only certain collections and not include for example, private collections of crops included in the IU);

Some progress has been made:

  • The status of the CGIAR collections (pre and post 1992) and their inclusion in the IU.
  • Defintions of terms used are broadly agreed - some difficulty with the term PGRFA! Does it say what it means or not?.
  • A List of 19 genera of crops beyond the 30 that have been agreed and a whole set of forage grasses and legume species (see attached list);

Farmers' Rights text has not been touched. It remains weak.

The CGRFA will meet from 25-30 June, and then send the IU, possibly still with some contested text, to the FAO Council and Conference in November.

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SATURDAY 28 April 2001

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Today, the Contact Group will meet for the last time. It will have to agree on text sufficiently coherent to enable an extraordinary meeting of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, possibly in June, to finalise the International Undertaking in time for approval by FAO Council and Conference.

The working groups have worked late into the night to produce agreed text. The List of crops to be included in the IU grows slowly but still excludes many that are of importance for Global Food Security including many vegetables that are so nutritionally important. Problems still exist with the status of the CGIAR collections, particularly accessions received after 1992. Unresolved issues also include the extent to which PGRFA of the crops on the List can be kept in the public domain; the penalties that IPR holders will have to pay into the common fund for restricting access to PGRFA in derived varieties; Farmers' Rights to sell their seeds in their customary manners and markets.

This week has not only been about improving the wording of the IU and clarifying understanding, it has also been about trust. Has trust between the delegates and regional groupings been improved over the past week? It will be on this basis that any political differences will be overcome. No region is going to give ground on key objections if they doubt the sincerity of others in their desire to see an equitable and just IU that will improve long-term food security and ensure access for all to the seeds needed for global food production.

Chair Gerbasi has weaved significant magic. His efforts this week have rescued the IU from the brink of disaster. But it needs all countries and all regions to provide sufficient political commitment to finalising the IU, between now and the CGRFA meeting, if his work and the tireless efforts of the Contact Group are not to have been in vain.

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FRIDAY 27 April 2001

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Civil Society concern is growing. 323 Organisations from 59 countries have signed the open letter to the negotiators - 12% signed up this week alone. The negotiatiors must resolve their differences and send acceptable text to the CGRFA.

3Working Groups (definitions, list of crops, legal) worked late into the night and will present their results today. Meanwhile a resolution on the CGIAR collections will be found. 4 or 5 countries remain side-lined. They will have to act fast or face public humiliation. We will not accept IPRs on these genetic resources essential for food security.

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THURSDAY 26 April 2001

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Some progress – but focus on achieving the big picture is needed

It appears that Chair Gerbasi was very tough this morning and he, with the support of the Bureau, appealed to all Delegates to get on with real negotiation. There would be no more money for further meetings if no progress is made. Alternatively - call it a day and accept the process has been a disaster.

This has galvanised efforts...

WEDNESDAY 25 April 2001

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Article 12.2 (d)

Chair’s proposed draft text reads:

“Recipients shall not claim any intellectual property or other rights that limit the facilitated access to the plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, or their genetic parts or components, in the form received from the Multilateral System”

This Access Article was the main topic of conversation on Weednesday. 12.2 (d) now has brackets around [, or their genetic parts or components] because of objections from a group of four Asian, Antipodean and North American OECD countries; and in response a G77 grouping forced brackets around [, in the form received from the Multilateral System]. Most countries are happy with the Chair’s compromise text, however, and this could stand as a majority proposal for the CGRFA to debate.

What else has been achieved? More questions…

  • Is the List of Crops going to include all the CGIAR ‘MandateCrops’ and will it reach the 30 crop minimum we proposed? Will it include all the major grains and pulses needed for food security?
  • Will the Contact Group resolve the issue of the CGIAR collections if the ‘List’ includes all their crops?
  • Will the definitions used in the IU all be CBD compatible?
  • And will the Legal language be consistent internally and with existing CBD and FAO language.
  • Finally, what will the meeting conclude about those countries who do not wish to join the majority in offering an IU with unbracketed text to the CGRFA? Will they “footnote” them all?

Delegates really need to be bold and reassert the specific, distinctive nature of PGRFA and that the application of patents to isolated genes and other derived material taken from the MLS is the business of the CGRFA and that it should comment and propose governance mechanisms on these key IPR issues. It cannot be the sole purview of TRIPS and WIPO – FAO and the CBD are the competent bodies to deal with these issues. The IU is the legal instrument for the governance of GRFA, ensuring there is free access to these vital resources for farmers and breeders.

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TUESDAY 24 April 2001

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One country, upset that its new text, promoting IPRs and proposing only VOLUNTARY contributions to the Fund, threatened to walk out. Maybe the delights of springtime in Spoleto decided them against such a step and they have stayed on - indulging themselves in Umbria's hospitality and seasonal warmth?

If Monday was marked by an unhelpful attempt to sabotage the IU, Tuesday showed the difficulty that some negotiators have in seeing the 'wood for the trees'. They stumbled through old arguments about the status of the CGIAR ex-situ collection of half a million seed samples. Would these continue to be kept in the public domain or only partially or would they be patentable or should they be repatriated to countries of origin? The FAO-CGIAR Accord, which keeps these collections under the trusteeship of FAO, is up for renegotiation soon. These collections, taken from farmers across the world in good faith, are in jeopardy if they cannot be secured through the IU.

The Chair has proposed the following text:
"15.1 The Contracting Parties recognize that the ex situ collections of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture held by the International Agricultural Research Centres (IARCs) of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research are an important element of this Undertaking. The Contracting Parties invite the IARCs to sign agreements with the Governing Body, in accordance with the following terms and conditions:

(a) Material listed in Annex I to this Undertaking (the list of crops covered by the IU) and held by IARCs, shall be provided according to the provisions set out in Part IV of this Undertaking;
(b) Material other than that listed in Annex I to this Undertaking and collected before its entry into force, which is held by IARCs, shall be provided in accordance with a standardized Material Transfer Agreement. At its first meeting, the Governing Body will determine the conditions to be contained in the Material Transfer Agreement, in accordance with the relevant provisions of Articles 12 (access) and 13 (benefit sharing), and taking into account any sovereign rights of the country of origin over those materials;

Why are objections being raised? Who is seeking what gains from the break-up of the collections (and even the CGIAR)? Who is sabotaging progress?

Via Campesina, the International Farmers' Movement, has sent a strongly worded letter to the negotiators demanding that they keep genetic resources free from IPRs and patents and that they negotiate an agreement that fully respects Farmers' Rights. "Via Campesina demands that the negotiators respect these rights and fully incorporate them into any agreement, and avoid any incorporation of IPRs on plant genetic resources in the International Undertaking."

CSOs are watching and waiting (sometimes outside of the room) but the negotiators need to get on with the job and deliver what the FAO Council expects of the Contact Group and the Commission. In the December Council last year, they "warmly thanked the Chairman of the Commission, Ambassador Gerbasi, for his untiring efforts, invited him to continue leading the negotiations to their conclusion and requested him to convene, in consultation with the Director-General and subject to the availability of funding, further sessions of the Contact Group as required, followed by a negotiating session of the Commission to finalize and agree upon the text of the International Undertaking for submission to the Thirty-first Session of the Conference in November 2001;"

What's the problem? Why do some of the negotiators create difficulties in relatively straightforward issues and thus not allow themselves sufficient time to deal with what Chair Gerbasi has urged on all of them:
"It remains my conviction that, to achieve the deadline set us, the negotiations in the forthcoming meeting of the Contact Group must deal expeditiously and in a spirit of practical compromise with the lesser questions, so that the main political questions may be addressed and resolved."

One word is missing, among the tens of thousands banded about the negotiating table and in separate working groups throughout the hours of yesterday, and that is the word "progress". No progress on benefit sharing; no progress on the CGIAR collections; no progress on access to the Multi Lateral System; no progress on coverage; no progress on Farmers' Rights. Is this what we expect from a week of expensive negotiating time? Is now the time to name and shame those who do not want an agreement, exclude them, and then build on the consensus among the majority of nations? Frustration is rife.

The Contact Group has until Saturday, when clouds will descend on a now-sunny Spoleto, to agree sufficient text that will allow an extraordinary session of the Commission to finalise the IU in time for the FAO Conference in November.

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MONDAY 23 April 2001

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Spoleto, Umbria

In Spoleto, Italy, 41 nations of the world are locked in negotiations on an international agreement to keep open access to the genetic resources needed for food and agriculture: the seeds that are vital for global food security. This agreement is the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture – the IU.

This is the last opportunity for the negotiators to show the world that they are serious – that they are capable of reaching an agreement that secures these resources for future generations and does not allow corporate greed to monopolise them through Patents and Intellectual Property Rights.

At the outset of the meeting on invitation of Chair, CSOs presented their Open letter. It made a significant impression on the meeting. Chair Gerbasi emphasised how important the role of CSOs has been in mobilizing support for the IU.

On Commercial Benefit Sharing (the main topic of the day) the meeting was excited to hear that one country had new text but when it was eventually read out, after many hours of guesswork, it was clear that they had been deceived and that it was backward, 'pre-Teheran' text – talking about the benefits of IPRs and the need only for voluntary contributions. It was ignored. 4 countries - USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – remain footnoted on this issue.

EU and most of G77 supported the Chair's new text which proposes that if access to the genetic resources of the main crop plants is restricted by IPRs and patents, then the rights-holders have to pay a proportion of their royalties to a common fund which will contribute to the financing of the International Undertaking. The new wording is not ideal as it still retains an acceptance of IPRs on genetic resources for food and agriculture. This topic has been aired but not resolved to all countries' liking and will surely arise again in a later meeting.

Alternative financing mechanisms, proposed by 3 other participants, are also under discussion including mandatory direct 'taxation' of corporate profits or sales.

The meeting will now go on to consider other crucial issues such as the status of the half million seed samples in the CGIAR genebanks. There are still difficult issues on the scope of the IU - the extent of exclusion from IPRs for the crops covered by the IU - and indeed agreement on which crops these will be.

CSOs are determined that the IU is a just, equitable and effective agreement that facilitates universal access to those genetic resources essential for food and agriculture:

  • we will not accept an agreement in which access is restricted by IPRs;
  • we want to see you include a list of at least 30 genera of crops essential for food security
  • we want Article 15 on Farmers’ Rights to be re-opened and/or commended to the Right to Food negotiations at UNHCHR.

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  1. Clear political commitment to complete the IU negotiations and its subsequent implementation
  2. The IU to be the predominant international agreement on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) -- and as such to influence interpretation of WTO rules, where these conflict
  3. The exemption of PGRFA from all forms of intellectual property rights - meaning not only the intact material, but also the germplasm and genes it contains - once the IU comes into force
  4. An internationally-enforced obligation to implement Farmers' Rights in all countries
  5. Access arrangements to cover all the varieties of all the crops covered by the IU including those on farms, in research institutes, public and private collections &c,
  6. Legally-binding benefit-sharing from the use of any resources that are currently privatised, and a direct consumer-producer link through contributions from the food industry

(From ITDG Briefing Paper, October 2000)
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Call to Action to Pressure Governments to Complete Negotiations on International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources (IU)
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NGOs concerned with agricultural biodiversity and development, building on recent statements made at GFAR and COP5, are organising to pressure governments to come to an agreement on the International Undertaking in time for its presentation to CBD/COP 6. A position paper outlining the issues and Call to Action are available from The Berne Declaration and ITDG.

A direct lobby of relevant government departments and ministers will be part of the process to call for the rapid completion of negotiations on an International Undertaking, in harmony with the CBD, that would ensure PGRFA is kept in the public domain, a commitment of substantial resources to make the system function including benefits linked to the commercial use of the resources for plant breeding and food, and a strengthening of the IU's farmer-oriented elements.

We invite NGOs, Farmers institutions and other Civil Society Organisations to participate through circulating the Position Paper "Seeds for All" and the Call to Action to interested NGOs, lobbies of both Agriculture and Environment Ministers as well as the CGRFA, and increasing media interest in the importance of the IU, as a countervailing force to Patenting and GE, for protecting these resources for food security.

Background Papers are available at: <> and <>. Also see the GRAIN Seedling Article - "IU: Now or Never" <> (Draft available - Click Here)

For more information or email copies of the paper, please contact: Patrick Mulvany ( of Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) in the UK, or François Meienberg ( ) of the Berne Declaration in Switzerland.
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A Call for Action on the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources

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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:

  • protect the rapidly eroding genetic resources which underpin global food security
  • recognise the ongoing contributions of farmers and provide incentives
  • keep PGRFA and the genes in them in the public domain, not permitting either patents or other IPRs such as UPOV convention on these resources. An IU defined in this way will be in harmony with the CBD and will respond to the demands of southern countries for the revision of the World Trade Organization's agreement on Trade Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (WTO/TRIPs) Article 27.3(b) to include widening of the scope of exclusions from patentability to cover all life forms (and their comonents) and for a sui generis system in which the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and the promotion of Farmers' Rights are fully taken into account.

The IU is the world’s 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 IU’s 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 IU’s 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:

  • Multilateral access to these genetic resources for current and future generations, outlawing Intellectual Property claims on any of the material, the genes they contain or knowledge in the system;
  • Benefits are linked to the commercial use of the resources for:
  • Plant breeding - to produce seeds and other propagating material that will enhance food security
  • Food - some contribution directly or indirectly from consumers to reflect the contribution that PGRFA has made to the food they eat
  • Benefits to farmers are commensurate with and compensate them for their historical contribution to developing the resources for global food security
  • Farmers’ Rights to save, use, exchange and sell seeds and other propagating material and, in the case of seeds and other material restricted by national law, the right to sell them in their customary manner and markets;
  • Committed financing for the IU and for associated programmes such as the Leipzig Global Plan of Action.

We must convince all governments that it is in everyone's interests to complete the IU negotiations

Proposed Actions:

We invite NGOs, Farmers institutions and other Civil Society Organisations to:

  • Adopt the Position Paper "Seeds for All"
  • Circulate this Call to Action, the Position Paper "Seeds for All" and related information (e.g. GRAIN paper on the IU) to other interested NGOs
  • Lobby both Agriculture and Environment Ministers to support the points raised in the Position Paper and urging them to find sufficient funds to enable rapid completion of the negotiations within a timeframe that allows its adoption by CBD/COP 6 (for detailed demands see: "Seeds for All" - A Position Paper on the International Undertaking)
  • Follow the negotiations of the FAO/CGRFA and publicise these through email and websites in order to identify where pressure needs to be brought to bear
  • Interest media in the importance of the IU, as a countervailing force to Patenting and GE, for protecting these resources for food security.


Patrick Mulvany ( of the ITDG (Intermediate Technology Development Group) in the UK, or François Meienberg ( of the Berne Declaration in Switzerland.

Also see:<>, <> and <>.

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A 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.

It would:

  • assure global food security in the long term.
  • reward the enormous contribution that farmers all over the world have made to the conservation and development of plant genetic resources, and ensure the continuity of this work in the future.
  • give traditional knowledge the same status as scientific plant breeding.
  • include the distinctive requirements of PGRFA in the Convention on Biological Diversity.
  • conserve the enormous but rapidly decreasing diversity of PGRFA developed by farmers over centuries
  • keep PGRFA in the Public Domain.

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

In general:

  • We need a clear political statement for new and additional funding to implement the IU.
  • We demand that serious, legally binding benefit sharing, in accordance with the CBD, is implemented in the IU.
  • Because there are many lessons to be learned, the IU needs a mechanism for reviewing the agreement. With fixed reviews, the IU could be signed earlier, because some questions, which cannot be solved now, could be negotiated in the following years.
  • The IU needs a strong, independent and open-ended Commission, with representation from Farmers' Groups and Civil Society Organisations, to control the implementation.
  • No Patents or IPRs as defined in the UPOV system, should be taken out on the material, including the germplasm and the genes it contains, received through the multilateral agreement.
  • An obligation to implement Farmers Rights in all countries.


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:

  • does not provide international rules on Farmers’ Rights (the present draft still makes them subject to National legislation). Such rules should include the prohibition of any biological methods (e.g. Terminator Technologies) that prevent farmers from saving seeds.
  • does not guarantee farmers their inalienable rights to save, use, exchange and sell seeds and other propagating material and, in the case of seeds and other material restricted by national law, the right to sell them in their customary manner and markets.


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 ( of the ITDG (Intermediate Technology Development Group) in the UK, and François Meienberg ( of the Berne Declaration in Switzerland.

Also see:<>; <> and Last Chance for an Open Access Regime? Paper by GRAIN.

(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.

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