The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGFA)  was adopted at the Thirty-first Session of the Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome 3 November 2001. It entered into force 29 June 2004, and is the only legally binding international agreement exclusively pertaining to the management of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Its objectives are the conservation and sustainable use of these resources, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from their use – in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – for sustainable agriculture and food security. The most important benefit is that of access to these vital resources for food and agriculture. The core of the International Treaty is a Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-Sharing concerning 35 food crops and 29 forage plants that are under the management and control of the Contracting Parties and in the public domain.


Provisions on Farmers' Rights in the Plant Treaty

The realization of Farmers' Rights is a cornerstone in the implementation of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, as it is a precondition for the conservation and sustainable use of these vital resources in situ as well as on-farm.

The Treaty recognizes the enormous contributions made by farmers worldwide in conserving and developing crop genetic resources. This constitutes the basis of Farmers' Rights. According to Article 9, governments are to protect and promote Farmers' Rights, but can choose the measures to do so according to their needs and priorities. Measures may include the protection of traditional knowledge, equitable benefit sharing and participation in decision-making. Also, the rights of farmers to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seeds and propagating material are addressed, but without giving any particular direction for implementation.

The Plant Treaty provides the international platform for negotiations on norms and rules for the realization of Farmers’ Rights. Much has been achieved in describing the contents of Farmers’ Rights and developing a joint understanding with regard to norms for their realization since the adoption of the Plant Treaty. Read more about what the provisions on Farmers’ Rights mean in practice here.


Supportive provisions in the Plant Treaty

Other articles in the International Treaty are also important for the implementation of Farmers' Rights. For example, it provides that countries shall promote or support, as appropriate, farmers' and local communities' efforts to manage and conserve on-farm their plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (Para. 5.1 [c]) and take steps to minimize or, if possible, eliminate threats to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (Para. 5.2). Article 6 states that the Contracting Parties shall develop and maintain appropriate policy and legal measures that promote the sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. A range of measures are listed for this purpose, among them 'reviewing, and as appropriate, adjusting breeding strategies and regulations concerning variety release and seed distribution' (Art. 6.2 [g]). Two other provisions (Para. 13.3 and Para 18. 5) state that funding priority for the Benefit-sharing Fund under the Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing will be given to farmers, particularly in developing countries, contributing to maintaining crop genetic diversity.

In addition, the International Treaty supports the implementation of the Global Plan of Action (Art. 14), with its provisions on Farmers' Rights. Articles 7 and 8 provide for international co-operation and technical assistance with a particular view to strengthening developing countries capabilities to implement the International Treaty. The Governing Body of the Treaty consists of all Contracting Parties and shall promote the full implementation of the Treaty, including the provision of policy direction and guidance, and monitoring of implementation (Art. 19). According to Article 21, the Governing Body is to ensure compliance with all provisions of the International Treaty, and the Preamble highlights the necessity of promoting Farmers' Rights at the national as well as the international levels.

Crucial questions are how the Governing Body can promote compliance with the provisions of the Treaty related to Farmers' Rights, how the Contracting Parties may implement Article 9, and how they best could cooperate in solving the tasks. These challenges have been addressed at all sessions of Governing Body since the Plant Treaty entered into force. Read more about the negotiations at each session of the Governing body here and about the intersessional work preparing for the negotiations here.

Text: Regine Andersen