FAO.1 December 2011,Rome. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has adopted a new global framework for the conservation and sustainable use of the diversity of plants on which food and agriculture depend. FAO’s governing Council last Wednesday approved the Second Global Plan of Action for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which represents a renewed international commitment to ensuring effective management of plant diversity as a key element in fighting poverty and achieving increased food security in the face of climate change.
Plant diversity is threatened by “genetic erosion”, a term coined by scientists for the loss of individual genes or combinations of genes, such as those found in locally adapted landraces. One of the main causes of genetic erosion, according to FAO’s 2011 State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, is the replacement of local varieties by modern varieties. Other causes include environmental degradation, urbanization and land clearing through deforestation and bush fires.
“Through the Second Global Plan of Action the world community confirms its commitment to halting genetic erosion and preserving the wealth of plant genetic resources’’ said Linda Collette, Secretary of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. “These resources provide valuable traits for meeting challenges of the future, such as adapting our crops to changing climatic conditions or disease outbreaks.“ The main focus of the Second Global Plan of Action is to strengthen conservation and sustainable use of plants and seed systems, and the crucial linkages between them, through a combination of appropriate policies, use of scientific information, farmers’ knowledge and action.
It contains a set of 18 inter-related Priority Activities prepared on the basis of regional consultations and the gaps and needs identified by the Second Report on the State of the Worlds Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The Second Global Plan of Action urges all countries to better manage crop diversity in farmers’ fields; develop strategies to protect, collect and conserve crop wild relatives and wild food plants that under threat, support use of a wider range of traits for plant breeding and strengthen seed systems especially of locally adapted varieties.
The Plan also calls on the donor community to boost national and international efforts to strengthen institutions and capacities to address these globally agreed priorities. “This is a major accomplishment” said Mr. Modibo Traore, Assistant Director General, of Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department. “I thank our members for putting their faith in FAO. Together we will need to make concerted efforts in achieving the goals.”The original Global Plan of Action was adopted through the Leipzig Declaration in 1996.
1. Plant genetic resources for food and agriculture provide the biological basis for agricultural production and world food security. These resources serve as the most important raw material for farmers, who are their custodians, and for plant breeders. The genetic diversity in these resources allows crops and varieties to adapt to ever-changing conditions and to overcome the constraints caused by pests, diseases and abiotic stresses. Plant genetic resources are essential for sustainable agricultural production. There is no inherent incompatibility between the conservation and the use of these resources. In fact, it will be critically important to ensure that the two activities are fully complementary. The conservation, sustainable use and fair and equitable sharing of benefits from the use of genetic resources are international concerns and imperatives. These are the objectives of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which is in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity. In the context of the sovereign rights of states over their biological resources and the interdependence of countries with regard to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, the Second Global Plan of Action for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is an appropriate manifestation of the international community's continued concern and responsibility in this area.
2. Over the past 15 years, the Global Plan of Action has been the main reference document for national, regional and global efforts to conserve and use plant genetic resources for food and agriculture sustainably and to share equitably and fairly the benefits that derive from their use. As part of the FAO Global System for the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, the Global Plan of Action has been the key element used by the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture to fulfil its mandate with respect to plant genetic resources. The Global Plan of Action has also provided an important reference for other genetic resources sectors. It has assisted governments in the formulation of national policies and strategies on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. It has also been used by the international community to define priorities at the global level, to improve coordination of efforts and to create synergies among the genetic resources stakeholders. The Global Plan of Action has proven to be instrumental in reorienting and prioritizing the research and development agendas of relevant international organizations with regard to activities related to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.
3. The adoption of the Global Plan of Action by 150 countries in 1996 in Leipzig was a milestone in the development of the international governance of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. It set the stage for the successful completion of the negotiation of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture under the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
4. Since its adoption, there have been a number of major developments with respect to the conservation and use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, which called for an update of the Global Plan of Action. The recently published Second Report on the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture has provided a solid foundation for this updating process. The world is facing increasing food insecurity, reflected inter alia in highly volatile food prices. Climate change, increasing urbanization, the need for more sustainable agriculture and the need to safeguard plant genetic diversity and minimize genetic erosion all require that greater attention be given to the conservation and use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. At the same time, there are important new opportunities that can improve the management of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, including powerful and widely available communication and information technologies as well as significant advances in biotechnology and the development of bioproducts derived from agriculture. Furthermore, the policy environment has changed significantly over the past 15 years, particularly with the entry into force of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, and among others, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, as well as with the adoption of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization. The world has also seen a renewed commitment to agriculture and related research and development activities. An updated Global Plan of Action is needed to respond to, and reflect, these developments.
5. The Second Global Plan of Action addresses the new challenges and opportunities through 18 Priority Activities. The Second Report on the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, a series of regional consultation meetings, as well as inputs from experts worldwide have provided the inputs needed to make the Second Global Plan of Action current, forward looking and relevant to global, regional and national perspectives and priorities. Updating the Global Plan of Action also strengthens its role as a supporting component of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
6. Based on the various inputs listed above, it has been possible to streamline the number of Priority Activities, reducing them from 20 in the original Global Plan of Action to 18. This was done by merging former Priority Activities 5 and 8 (Sustaining existing ex situ collections and Expanding ex situ conservation activities) into the new Priority Activity 6, Sustaining and expanding ex situ conservation of germplasm. Former Priority Activities 12 (Promoting development and commercialization of underutilized crops and species) and 14 (Developing new markets for local varieties and “diversity-rich” products) have been merged into the new Priority Activity 11, Promoting development and commercialization of all varieties, primarily farmers’ varieties/landraces and underutilized species.
7. In addition, the focus of a number of other Priority Activities has been adjusted so as to accommodate newly defined priorities. The Second Global Plan of Action gives greater emphasis and visibility to plant breeding, as reflected in Priority Activity 9, Supporting plant breeding, genetic enhancement and base-broadening efforts. An effort has also been made, based on guidance from the regional consultations, to simplify and clarify the document.