International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

The "Seed Treaty” is the younger sibling of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). It shares the objectives of the CBD while focusing on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture: their conservation and sustainable use, and, for species listed in Annex 1 of the Treaty, the access and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits.

Plant genetic diversity is probably more important for farming than any other environmental factor, simply because it is the factor that enables adaptation to changing environmental conditions such as plant diseases and climate. Thus, it’s essential for food security both in short and long term to ensure the sustainable management of these resources.

The Seed Treaty was adopted in 2001 and entered into force in 2004. As of May 2020, 146 countries and the European Union are contracting parties.

The core elements of the Seed Treaty include:

Conservation of plant genetic resources through both ex situ (gene banks) and in situ/on farm measures (Article 5)

Sustainable use of plant genetic resources (Article 6) through promoting diverse farming systems; strengthening research which enhances biological diversity by maximizing intra- and inter-specific variation for the benefit of farmers, especially those who generate and use their own varieties and apply ecological principles in maintaining soil fertility and in combating diseases, weeds and pests; promoting plant breeding efforts with the participation of farmers; and promoting the expanded use of local and locally adapted crops.

According to Art. 6 (g), sustainable use also includes reviewing and adjusting breeding strategies and regulations concerning variety release and seed distribution. The question of how intellectual property rights on plants impact genetic diversity, traditional knowledge and farming systems is thus relevant to sustainable use of plant genetic resources.

Recognition of Farmers’ Rights (Article 9): The Seed Treaty recognizes the enormous contribution that the local and indigenous communities and farmers of all regions of the world, particularly those in the centers 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. It gives governments the responsibility for implementing Farmers' Rights, and lists measures that could be taken to protect and promote these rights:

  • The protection of traditional knowledge relevant to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture;

  • The right to equitably participate in sharing benefits arising from the utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; and

  • 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.

Article 9.3 states: "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."

There Farmers’ Rights are also mentioned in the preamble: "Affirming also that the rights recognized in this Treaty to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed and other propagating material, and to participate in decision-making regarding, and in the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from, the use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, are fundamental to the realization of Farmers’ Rights, as well as the promotion of Farmers’ Rights at national and international levels;"

Establishment of a multilateral system for access and benefit sharing. This system facilitate the access to genetic resources of the 64 species included in the Annex 1 of the treaty as well as establishes a fund for benefit sharing primarily in support of farmers in all countries, especially in developing countries, and countries with economies in transition, who conserve and sustainably utilize plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Also non-monetary benefit sharing mechanisms are suggested such as capacity building, technology transfer and exchange of information (articles 10-13).

See also:

Further reading