Genetic Resources In Agriculture: The Key To Food Security

Signing of International Treaty at FAO meeting will safeguard genetic diversity of crops

The signature of the Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture marks a major step towards guaranteeing food security in the world. It is also a historic landmark in North-South cooperation, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, on the eve of the first meeting of its signatory states.
The Treaty is a legally binding instrument negotiated by FAO's member states, and came into force in June 2004 as the culmination of a long process that began in the 1970s. Its purpose is to safeguard the genetic diversity of crops, a heritage of crucial importance to future generations, three quarters of which, however, are estimated to have been lost during the last century.

The Governing Body of the Treaty will hold its first meeting in Madrid on 12-16 June, attended by all the countries that have ratified the Treaty, now numbering one hundred with the recent accession of Iran. It will be a key event for the future of the Treaty because it will lay down the procedures for implementation and other key aspects, such as a financial strategy, access to plant genetic resources and the sharing of benefits deriving from their use.
Throughout history, human beings have used some 10,000 plant species for food; today, our diet is based on just over 100 species, due to the introduction of a small number of modern and enormously uniform commercial varieties.

Parallel to this meeting, which is being organized with Spain's support, a Ministerial Meeting will be convened on 13 June. This should be well attended and is expected to send out a strong political message: adequate financial and human resources must be guaranteed to make the Treaty operational, particularly in the developing countries. One of the salient aspects of this agreement is its universality and the impetus it gives to closer North-South cooperation.

This international agreement not only guarantees the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources, but also the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of their use, including any monetary benefits of commercialization. For the first time, farmers' rights are formally acknowledged, on the understanding that it is the traditional small-holders in every part in the world who have made the greatest contribution to developing agricultural biological diversity over the millennia, and are still its main custodians," said Jose Esquinas Alcazar, who, since 1983, has been the Secretary of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, the intergovernmental forum where the Treaty was negotiated.

Genetic resources are the raw materials farmers and scientists need to develop new varieties so that humanity can address such potential challenges as plant pests and climate change, and so that people can improve their diets. FAO considers this Treaty an essential means of attaining the Millennium Development Goals, especially Goal 1, to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty, and Goal 7, to ensure environmental sustainability.
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