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FARMERS' RIGHTS IN ITPGRFA:

Little progress on sustainable use at the Third Session of the Plant Treaty

Due to a combination of unfortunate circumstances, the Governing Body at its Third Session made little progress with regard to the implementation of Article 6 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (Plant Treaty). Whereas the Secretariat is to develop a toolbox to assist countries in their implementation of Article 6, the assessment of progress in this regard was referred to the reporting mechanism of the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. For several reasons this may weaken the implementation of Article 6, and it does by no means represent the major steps forwards that are so urgently needed to ensure that crop genetic diversity can be maintained for present and future generations.

Article 6 provides that the Contracting Parties shall develop and maintain appropriate policies and legal measures that promote the sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and lists a number of measures that Contracting Parties may adopt in this regard. The implementation of Article 6 is crucial for the realization of Farmers' Rights, as it is basically about enabling farmers to continue to sustainably use crop genetic diversity, thereby making it available for present and future generations. As such it can be seen as another way of implementing Farmers' Rights, a reason why this analysis is included at the Farmers' Rights website.

Since the First Session of the Governing Body in Madrid, 2006, sustainable use of crop genetic resources, as set out in Article 6 of the Plant Treaty, has been given priority in the work of this Body, and decisions have been adopted, which brought the work forward (read more here).

The work of the Governing Body has been followed by side events and reports seeking to promote progress on the implementation of Article 6. Particularly Switzerland and some non-governmental organizations (for example Searice) have been active in this regard.

Despite a comprehensive report from the Secretariat, with guidance on further potential steps by the Governing Body, and several background documents (see more information here), the Governing Body made little progress at its Third Session.

Agenda Item 13 of the Third Session

After the Secretariat had presented the documentation for this agenda item, a rich exchange of views and experiences took place. Many delegations, as well as non-governmental organizations made statements, and there were many suggestions as to what the Governing Body could do. However, no concrete proposals in terms of resolutions or decisions were put forward for consideration. When the exchange of statements was over, the Chair of the Governing Body concluded that the item was closed, and introduced the next item on the agenda. Thus, the agenda item on sustainable use was closed before the Governing Body had arrived at any decision or resolution with regard to further steps - as no concrete proposals had been made.

This situation caused discussions outside the negotiation hall, and several delegates expressed their view that something needed to be done to ensure that new steps were taken, based on the document prepared by the Secretariat. After all, sustainable use has been emphasised as a priority of the Governing Body. However, such an intervention needed to be prepared, and that afternoon another important issue was on the agenda: Farmers' Rights. Thus, only during the night was it possible to prepare an intervention on sustainable use - to be presented the following day.

A lost opportunity

Friday morning, the last day of the Third Session, the Philippines on behalf of Asia asked for the floor regarding point of order, and informed about the situation that had emerged after Item 13 on sustainable use had been closed without any decision. On that background the Asian resolution proposal was announced, but it was left to the Chair to decide when it would be appropriate to discuss it. Thus, the resolution text was not presented. Switzerland responded that it was too late for a resolution at this stage of the Session, but that the text could be distributed to all and that the Governing Body could seek to bring the elements of the resolution in the report, as appropriate. The Chair concluded that the text be given to the Secretariat for inclusion in the report, and then the Philippines could make further suggestions during the adoption of the report on that item.

As no other countries supported the proposal of Asia, the Philippines accepted the Chair's suggestion. As a result, the proposed resolution was not distributed, but submitted to the secretariat (but you can read it here).

The report

Friday afternoon, the draft report was distributed. It contained five paragraphs on sustainable use, two of which have operational implications for the Governing Body. The first invites the Contracting Parties to regularly submit progress reports on the implementation of Article 6 through the reporting mechanism of the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (GPA). The second operational provision requested the Secretariat to develop a toolbox to assist countries in the design of measures to promote sustainable use and submit it to the Contracting Parties in the next session of the Governing Body.

Both of these suggestions were actually controversial: the first because the implications with regard to the responsibility of the Governing Body to monitor progress and ensure compliance as set out in the Treaty has not been considered, and because the reporting mechanism of the GPA does not cover all important aspects of Article 6 of the Plant Treaty; the second because it was not clear to all delegates, as expressed in the discussion the previous day, what was meant with a toolbox, and that more consideration would have been due with regard to the process of arriving at such a toolbox (transparency and participation).

When the adoption of the report from the Third Session finally came up Friday evening, the delegations were quite exhausted and many were also hungry, as there had been limited time for meals. Although it was expected that Asia would take the word to ensure inclusion of items from its proposed resolution that were not included in the draft report, they did not do so, probably because they considered that the Secretariat had included what could be included at this stage, and because the resolution as such had not received support earlier that day.

Another lost opportunity

Norway, however, intervened with regard to the paragraph 24 of the report on delegating the assessment of progress to the reporting mechanism of the GPA, and proposed a new text for this paragraph (see Norwegian statement and proposal here). The argument was that a procedure as outlined in the draft report had not been proposed or discussed in the Governing Body, and that the implications for the ability of the Governing Body to monitor progress could be serious. Instead it was proposed that the Secretariat develop a methodology for the assessment of progress, for consideration at its next session, thereby considering the possibilities of linking this methodology to the reporting mechanism of the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

It seems, however, that delegations did not really understand the contents of this proposal. The Norwegian delegate was asked to repeat her proposal and then to take some time to consider whether the proposal could be withdrawn. This would also have given delegations the possibility to consider the proposal and would perhaps have changed the situation. However, the Chair summarized the response by asking the Norwegian delegate only to take time to consider withdrawing the proposal, and not to read it one more time. After all, there was heavy time pressure at this stage of the session. The Norwegian delegate withdrew the proposal at once.

The results

After three sessions of the Governing Body we are thus left with the decision that the Secretariat develop a toolbox until the next session, and that all reporting is to go through the GPA-mechanism. What the latter will imply may be taken up at the next meeting in the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in October 2009. Contracting Parties and relevant organizations that wish to speed up the implementation of Article 6 will thus have to engage in the work of the Commission as well as of the Secretariat for the next inter-sessional period. It is vital that Contracting Parties give more consideration to the desired output of the Fourth Session of the Governing Body than of the Third Session, to ensure further progress with regard to the implementation of Article 6.


Read more about:
   Implementation of Article 6 at earlier sessions of the Governing Body
   Documents on sustainable use for the Third Session of the Governing Body

Information and documents on agenda item 13: sustainable use:
   Official text of the report from Governing Body Session 1 on sustainable use (excerpt)
   Official text of the report from Governing Body Session 2 on sustainable use (excerpt)
   Excerpts from the Working Document for Governing Body Session 3 on sustainable use
   Text of proposed resolution from the Asian Regional Group (not distributed)
   Draft report from Governing Body Session 3 on sustainable use (excerpt)
   Intervention from Norway on paragraph 24 of the report (proposal withdrawn)

Other relevant links:
   IAO Report on Sustainable Use of Agrobiodiversity in Italy



Pages in this sub-section:
   FARMERS' RIGHTS IN ITPGRFA
   On the International Treaty
   Central provisions on Farmers' Rights
   Follow-up in the Governing Body of the Treaty
   The Benefit-Sharing Fund of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
   New resolution on Farmers' Rights under the Plant Treaty
   Little progress on sustainable use at the Third Session of the Plant Treaty
   Global Consultations on Farmers' Rights
   The Fourth Session of the Governing Body
Top top
 In this section:
  ABOUT FARMERS' RIGHTS
  Farmers' Rights in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
  Why Farmers' Rights matter
  The contents of Farmers' Rights
  History of Farmers' Rights in the FAO
  Farmers' Rights in the literature
  Civil Society Organizations' approaches to Farmers' Rights

Photo: G. Ulutuncok

Page last updated 31 January 2011