In 1983 the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources was adopted at the FAO Conference, which is the supreme governing body of the organization. The objectives were to ensure that plant genetic resources for food and agriculture would be explored, preserved, evaluated and made available for plant breeding and scientific purposes. The Undertaking was based on 'the universally accepted principle that plant genetic resources are a heritage of mankind and consequently should be available without restriction' (Article 1). This formulation, and other articles with it, were to form the basis for controversies with regard to intellectual property and plant breeders' rights, as they had already emerged in the negotiations leading up to the International Undertaking. In turn, these controversies came to provide the background for the introduction of 'Farmers' Rights' as a political concept, as we shall see. In 1983, there was, however, as yet no documented mention of Farmers' Rights.

At the same Conference Session, the Commission on Plant Genetic Resources was established (Resolution 9/83, Twenty-second Session of the FAO Conference, Rome, 1983), to deal with issues related to plant genetic resources, including monitoring the operation of the international arrangements provided for in the International Undertaking. The Commission was later to become an important arena for discussions on Farmers' Rights. Later on, in 1995, the mandate of the Commission was broadened to cover all components of agrobiodiversity of relevance to food and agriculture (Resolution 3/95, Twenty-eighth Session of the FAO Conference, Rome, 1995). It was then renamed the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA).