Plant genes for all?

Global agreement on plant genetic resources came into force

Different types of wheat © FAO
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The International Agreement on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture entered into force yesterday. The legally binding treaty aims to conserve and sustainably use plant genetic resources indispensable for the world's food. In addition, it should also enable developing countries to participate equally in the opportunities that arise from the use of plant genetic material, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

"The agreement marks the beginning of a new era, " said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf. "Humanity must protect and develop the gene pool, which is essential for agriculture. The agreement provides signatory states, farmers and plant breeders with a multilateral system regulating access to plant genetic resources from 35 food and 29 animal feed plants. "So far, 55 countries have ratified the agreement.

Biodiversity is increasingly threatened by the modernization of agriculture, population growth and changing dietary habits, leading to generosion and genetic homogeneity, according to the FAO. Of the more than 10, 000 edible plants known, only around 150 are used for human consumption. Rice, wheat, corn and potatoes alone cover about 60 percent of the food requirement. The FAO estimates that around three quarters of the genetic diversity of agricultural plants has been lost since the beginning of the last century.

Genetic uniformity makes plants more susceptible to pests. The consequences of this can be seen in the example of the banana. Currently, the biggest threat to commercial banana cultivation is a leaf spot disease, the now-widespread Black Sigatoka fungus. He can reduce the harvest by a third to half. The five most important commercial banana varieties come from only one variety.

Easier access ...

The agreement will greatly facilitate the access of farmers, plant breeders and plant genetic resources researchers in the future. In order to obtain breeding material from different countries, plant breeders and scientists no longer need to close expensive bilateral agreements; a larger reservoir of plant genetic material is thus more easily accessible. If the plant genetic material is used in marketed products, part of the proceeds will go to a fund in support of the agreement. display

... and better exchange

Better exchange of information and technology transfer should help developing countries build their own capacity in plant genetic resources. For the first time, the agreement also recognizes the breeding contribution of farmers, especially those from developing countries, and grants them equal participation in the benefits of using plant genetic material. The world's most important gene banks with around 600, 000 samples are integrated into the multilateral system of the International Agreement and are therefore available to all signatory states.

(FAO, 30.06.2004 - NPO)