Last updated: 08/09/2016

Planttreaty News - Leading the field

In This Issue Volume II - March, 2011

Ministers commit to review the world crop gene pool

Agriculture ministers and senior officials from more than 100 countries have committed to review the global crop gene pool of the International Treaty on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and urged those countries who have not signed the farming biodiversity treaty to do so as soon as possible.

The ministers paved the way forward on the eve of a meeting of the Treaty's Governing Body in Bali, Indonesia on March 14-18, adopting a lengthy declaration designed to steer the Treaty's future course to face food insecurity and climate change.

The Treaty, which came into force in 2004, creates a multilateral system through which member countries share the genetic material of 64 of the most important crops for food security - crops that account for over 80 percent of our plant-sourced food.

127 countries have already signed the Treaty with more signatures in the pipeline.

More tomatoes and more benefits?

Whilst wheat, rice and potatoes are included in the Treaty's gene pool, tomatoes were excluded ten years ago during the negotiations that lead to its adoption.

"The more efficiently crops are protected under the Treaty, the better humankind will be able to conserve and share crop genetic resources to meet the enormous food security challenges of the present and future generations," said Shakeel Bhatti, Secretary of the Treaty.

"Indonesia is a mega-biodiverse country and has always played a lead role in the Treaty and today it did so again showing that agriculture and  environment can and must go along together," said Bhatti.

Today, the Multilateral System forms a gene pool of over 1.3 million unique crop samples. The Treaty has also has a benefit sharing fund by which farmers are supported in the conservation and use of genetic diversity on their own farms.

Climate dangers

Spain, Italy and Norway and Australia are the major donors to the Benefit-sharing Fund (BSF) set up by the Treaty to support poor farmers in developing countries in adapting their traditional crops to the changing environment.

In their declaration, ministers and senior officials also recognized that climate change poses a serious risk plant genetic resources that are essential" as a raw material for crop genetic improvement -whether by means of farmer selection, classical plant breeding or modern biotechnologies-" and also "in the development of new market opportunities, and in adapting to unpredictable environmental changes."

It is expected that in the course of this meeting countries would announce new investments to extend the number of activities and conservation projects supported worldwide as well as the number of people that benefit from it. 

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Latest news and highlights:

Indonesia First Developing Country to Contribute to Crop Benefit Sharing Fund

127 Nations Signatories to Global Treaty to Save and Share Crop Diversity

125 project proposals being considered for funding by the Benefit-sharing Fund

Farmers’ Rights Consultation identifies gaps and needs Recommendations to be shared with the GB4

IRRI reports online on all their SMTAs signed since 2007

First of series of Educational Modules for implementing the Treaty launched at GB4 side event

First cycle of Treaty Benefit-sharing Fund projects teams farmers with scientists and fields with labs

Experience Andean traditions and crop diversity through Potato Park video posted online

The Secretariat of the International Treaty and the Convention on Biological Diversity sign a cooperation agreement

Treaty communication Media Resource Kit being developed

Five New Contracting Parties seat at the Plenary of the Fourth Governing Body

Thematic issues:

“Help desk” adds unique level of support to project applicants through series of regional workshops and open phone lines

The European Region announces the inclusion of more than 300 000 accessions in the Multilateral System

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Indonesia First Developing Country to Contribute to Crop Benefit Sharing Fund

BALI – (March 14, 2011) In a surprise statement at the Ministerial meeting in Bali to strengthen the links between biodiversity, food security and climate change, the Minister of Agriculture of Indonesia HE Ir. Suswono announced that Indonesia will be the first developing country to invest a financial contribution in the global seed conservation fund of the International Treaty.

The minister said he hopes that this serves an inspiration to other countries to sustain the Benefit-sharing Fund of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. This fund was set up by 127 countries in 2008 to fight against the erosion of crop biodiversity by sustaining farmers to conserve and adapt traditional seeds. 

The main beneficiaries of the fund are farmers and local communities in developing countries who are working towards maintaining and increasing food crop biodiversity.

International Organizations to Follow

An officer of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) also informed the International Treaty of its interest in partnering with the Benefit-sharing Fund to help farmers adapt their crops to climate change through the management of plant genetic resources by investing in the call, supporting joint resource mobilization efforts, providing strategic policy guidance and operation of the projects.

Moreover, in recognition of the need to prioritize the conservation and use of biodiversity in addressing rural poverty reduction, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) hopes to invest 1.5 million US dollars to the fund, while offering support to mobilize co-funding from other donors, which stands to increase IFAD financial support to three million US dollars.

“We are honoured by Indonesia’s generosity and leadership in supporting the Benefit-sharing Fund. We will invest this substantial investment judiciously to provide substantive results that benefit smallholder farmers”, emphasized Shakeel Bhatti, Secretary of the International Treaty.




127 Nations Signatories to Global Treaty to Save and Share Crop Diversity

Experts at Conference Call on Signatories to take Next Crucial Steps to Implement

Treaty,  In Face of Climate Change, Food Price Hikes,

BALI—(March 16, 2011) According to a report prepared by the Secretariat to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture ( and made available today at the Fourth Session of the Governing Body in Bali, 127 countries have now signed the Treaty, and the gene pool created under it has reached 1.5 million samples of the world’s 64 most important food crops. Meanwhile, a number of the signatories—technically known as Contracting Parties— are still in the process of making their crop collections available through the Treaty’s sharing system.

“Leading countries are urging other signatories to the Treaty to act quickly to help it live up to its potential as a hedge against hunger and climate change,” said Clive Stannard, consultant and former interim Secretary of the Treaty. “This is the world’s best shot at ensuring equitable access to the world’s most precious resource—the crop diversity that underlies our food supply.

In its report, the Secretariat highlighted the rapid progress that has been made in the last two years toward full implementation of the Treaty, but called for more resources to support conservation and breeding activities in developing countries, and to address their enormous lack of basic resources and infrastructure in this regard.

The global pact has built a strong foundation for spreading the wealth of the world’s crop diversity—and sharing the benefits that emerge from these exchanges. And one-sixth of the signatories have made their crop collections available under the Treaty. But more international commitment is urgently needed, and a mechanism for ensuring compliance with the terms of the Treaty remains unresolved.

“With climate change already altering growing conditions and populations rapidly increasing, preserving and sharing crop diversity on a global scale is no longer optional,” said Dr. Shakeel Bhatti, Secretary of the Treaty’s Governing Body. “No country – rich or poor – has within its borders the crop diversity required to meet future food needs. All countries need to improve the way they share their seed crop material as a matter of great urgency.”

The Bali conference is taking place in the shadow of an emerging food crisis. A handful of climatic events in the last year—such as droughts in Russia and China, and floods in Australia and Pakistan—have contributed to a 29 percent increase in food prices, which are now higher than they have been in decades. The swift rise in prices is alarming because of its potential to deepen poverty and cause political instability.

Meeting the growing demand for assistance in using and adapting crop diversity will first and foremost require more contributions to the Treaty’s Benefit-sharing Fund. Eventually, financial needs will be met partly through a 1.1 percent levy on revenue generated by patented products, such as new crop varieties, developed using materials accessed through the Treaty. But it may take years for a substantial amount of money to flow via this mechanism. In the meantime the Benefit-sharing Fund relies on voluntary contributions.

But the news is not all bad. “Fortunately, people are starting to realize that our collective fate is tied to embracing an international system that will bring on a new generation of high-yielding, crop varieties that can withstand the most serious effects of climate change,” said Dr. Bhatti.

He notes in particular that 127 countries have now signed the Treaty, and that 1.5 million samples of the world’s 64 most important food crops have been added to the gene pool created by the Treaty. Between 600 and 800 samples are exchanged each day through the Treaty’s Standard Materials Transfer Agreement (SMTA), which has been instrumental in overcoming legal obstacles that in the past have prevented breeders and researchers from gaining access to critically needed crop-breeding materials.

The Minister of Agriculture of Indonesia HE Ir. Suswono announced earlier this week that Indonesia will be the first developing country to offer a financial contribution to the global fund of the International Treaty with a USD 100,000 contribution. Contributions to the Fund are a concrete and tangible expression of the importance given to the Benefit-sharing Fund. The Minister said “We ministers responsible for implementation of the Treaty, are recognizing the importance and unique role of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture to address the challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change and demonstrate that the Treaty is vital to achieve the Millennium Development Goals on the eradication of extreme hunger and poverty, and ensure environmental sustainability.” For these reasons, he appealed to other countries to follow the example and contribute to the Fund.

With their contribution, Indonesia joins other countries such as Ireland, Italy, Norway, Spain that have recently contributed to the Benefit-sharing Fund. High-impact projects to support farmers to adapt to climate change through the use of plant genetic diversity will soon be approved for funding by the Benefit-sharing Fund. The expected funding for these projects in this year will be at least USD10 million.

The Fund is now funding projects all around the world to help farmers in 11 developing countries conserve crop diversity and to adapt to weather extremes and other threats to food security.

For example, in Peru, the Benefit-Sharing Fund is helping to maintain biodiversity in the 15,000-hectare “Potato Park”, where local and indigenous farmers are reintroducing thousands of heirloom potato varieties to adapt them to rising temperatures. Scientists predict that diseases and other threats aggravated by climate change could curtail potato yields by one-third in coming decades.

“Farmers and plant breeders are in a race against time to develop new varieties that can avert major food shortages caused by climate change,” said Alejandro Argumedo, Andes Association Coordinator. “Initiatives like Potato Park are our best bet for winning that race.”

Fostering Exchange and Conservation

Delegates in Bali examined ways to encourage more countries to make voluntary financial contributions to the Benefit-sharing Fund and canvassed ways to encourage seed and food-processing industries to also contribute to the Fund.

Several officials also noted that the Treaty is providing non-monetary assistance to developing countries by offering greater access to new crop varieties. A report by the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), whose research centers are among the biggest contributors of genetic resources to the Treaty, shows that the pact is facilitating a significant transfer of crop technology to developing countries. According to the report, 1.15 million crop samples had been distributed only by the Centers under Treaty protocols.

“All countries stand to benefit from participating in a truly global system because, at some point in the near future, everyone is going to need an infusion of crop materials to improve their food security,” said Bert Visser, director of the Netherland’s Center for Genetic Resources, which has made its full collection accessible to Treaty signatories. “Participating in the Treaty is not an exercise in altruism but a recognition of mutual self-interest.”

The Bali meeting came in the wake of the adoption of the Nagoya Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which acknowledges the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture as the primary legal instrument for facilitating access and benefit-sharing related to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Dr. Ahmed Djoghlauf participated in both the Ministerial Conference and the opening session of the meeting, and addressed countries and observers, saying that both the Nagoya protocol and the international Treaty are complimentary agreements. This will become increasingly important: the Treaty is already far advanced in terms of national adoption, while national consideration of the Nagoya protocol has not yet begun.




The concern is that going forward the combination of climate change, rapid population growth—the anticipated addition of 2 billion people by 2050—and other aggravating factors, like the diversion of food crops to biofuel production and rapidly rising incomes in developing countries such as China and India, is steering the world onto dangerous ground. FAO estimates that food production will need to increase by 70 percent over the next four decades to keep pace with demand. Expanded access to and the preservation of a wide and deep gene pool of crop varieties will be the critical factor in ensuring the development of a new generation of high-yield crops, conclude FAO experts.

For more information, please contact:
-Neil Sorensen, E:; M. +33-641668648 (GMT+8)
-Francisco Lopez, E:; M +393483186713 or +62 82124203801 (GMT+8)
-Coimbra Sirica, E:; M: +1 301 943 3287 (GMT-5)


125 project proposals being considered for funding by the Benefit-sharing Fund

125 project proposals filled with ideas for setting up strategies or action plans, or for organizing on-the-ground activities – all with the overall goal of helping farmers adapt to climate change and improving food security through the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources – were received by the Secretariat for the second round of the Treaty Benefit-sharing Fund.   Universities, NGOs, international and national research centers, farmer’s associations and other organizations from around the world interested in improving conservation of our food crops prepared the proposals. 

A group of international experts has been given the responsibility by the Bureau to appraise the proposals and find those best technical merit projects that should be approved for funding.



Farmers’ Rights Consultation identifies gaps and needs Recommendations to be shared with the GB4

The Global Consultation Conference on Famers’ Rights, held 23–25 November in Addis Ababa brought together 51 participants from 30 countries to look at issues of critical importance in recognizing and rewarding farmers for their roles as the stewards and innovators of agricultural biodiversity and contributors to the global pool of genetic resources. Norway’s Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI), which established The Farmers’ Rights Project, hosted the Conference as the culmination of a consultation process that included a questionnaire survey sent to stakeholders around the world in advance of the event.

The 3-day Conference considered such questions as: how to ensure that traditional knowledge can be shared without being misappropriated, and how to ensure farmers have sufficient participation in determining how the Treaty Benefit-sharing Fund both distributes and receives funds.

H.E. Mr. Sileshi Getahum, Ethiopia’s State Minister of Agriculture, opened the Conference, with Dr. Abera Deressa of the Ministry of Agriculture chairing the opening ceremony and Dr. Regine Anderson of FNI chairing the plenary sessions.  Participants heard presentations from experts and stakeholders and held discussions to share views and experiences on the issues. Although Farmers’ Rights are among the core objectives of the Treaty, responsibility for implementing them rests with national governments. The FNI project is working to develop a solid empirical basis, based on research, to move the discussion ahead, in the hope to pave the way for identifying options and processes for implementing Farmers’ Rights at national as well as international level.

The second day of the Conference was devoted to regional consultations which resulted in a series of proposals that are being shared with the Contracting Parties of the Treaty at GB4. Among the major ideas that emerged from the regional discussions in terms of issues to take before the Governing Body were those dealing with:
•    building farmers’ capacity to participate in decision-making regarding their rights to save, use, exchange, and sell farm-saved seed and propagating material,
•    establishing measures to ensure that traditional knowledge as well as systems that generate such knowledge are respected and promoted,
•    studying the relationship between benefit-sharing and fair-trade systems with a view to improving the benefit sharing mechanism of the Treaty and review the effectiveness of the flow of resources under the Treaty,
•    supporting the countries in building capacity among farmers to participate in decision making and for adapting their plant genetic resources management plans to climate change,
•    urging countries to develop national libraries on traditional knowledge associated with plant genetic resources and requesting the Secretariat to initiate work on developing a global library,
•    urging countries and CGIAR Centers to strengthen the transfer of farmers’ varieties currently conserved in national and international gene banks to community gene banks to enable farmers to access them more easily.

In addition, joint recommendations called for the Governing Body to study options for improving national seed legislation, and called for national governments to recognize that formal and local seed systems are complementary. Both should be supported in national legislation.  The Joint recommendations also called for the Governing Body to establish an Ad Hoc working Group to develop voluntary guidelines for the implementation of Farmers’ Rights at the national level.

The consultations were organized with regional components as a response to a request of the Governing Body at its Third Session, which called for regional workshops on Farmers’ Rights. 


IRRI reports online on all their SMTAs signed since 2007

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has become the first International Research Center to report through electronic means on all their Standard Material Transfer Agreements (SMTAs) in which they are the provider.  The Secretariat of the International Treaty has worked closely with the IRRI to facilitate the submission of information contained in the SMTAs and electronic copies of these contracts to the Secretariat.  The Information Technology System that has been put in place by the Secretariat of the International Treaty to facilitate the reporting obligations of the provider of material contains now more than 2000 standard agreements from this institution.  The contracts reported cover the period from January 2007 until the last quarter of 2010.  Other centers from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), as well as national gene banks from Contracting Parties, are considering adhering to similar agreed procedures.




First of series of Educational Modules for implementing the Treaty launched at GB4 side event

A series of educational modules to introduce the Treaty to specific stakeholder groups is being prepared under the coordination of the Secretariat. The first module was presented and officially launched during a side event at GB4.

The modules are being developed through a participatory process, with the support of a group of international experts who have offered input on structure, scope and contents of each lesson. Module 1 has a slow release.  In this way, learners will be encouraged to offer their feedback on how well it meets their needs. Their suggestions will be considered for incorporation into the final edition of the module.

Module 1 contains general information that is designed for newcomers to the Treaty. It shows how the Treaty mechanisms have been put it in place to help humankind cope with challenges such as food security, climate change and the loss of crop diversity. It also guides users through the objectives, scope and basic concepts of the Treaty, presents the Treaty’s evolution in its historical context, explains its main components and governance structure, and introduces the international framework governing crop diversity and partnerships for the Treaty’s implementation.



First cycle of Treaty Benefit-sharing Fund projects teams farmers with scientists and fields with labs

Stories have been harvested from the first cycle of Treaty Benefit-sharing Fund projects and are presented in a series of fact sheets now available online at the Treaty Web site.   The 11 grants were announced at GB3 and the two-year projects are now reaching their halfway points. In addition to their critical field work that includes the world’s major crops, as well as some lesser known but still vital varieties and their crop wild relatives, the projects have opened opportunities for dialogue by teaming farmers and scientists and encouraging them to compare and share what they know – bringing together the best practices of both farmers’ traditional knowledge and researchers’ modern techniques. The following highlights two of the projects.

  • Kenya: Improving finger millet, then returning it to farmers’ fields

Although a traditional staple in West Africa, finger millet has faced declining productivity over the last 50 years, mainly because farmers are still using unimproved local varieties and traditional sowing methods. The Treaty Benefit-sharing Fund Project has conducted a baseline survey on finger millet production in the area and established experimental plots across western Kenya to identify and cross finger millet genotypes. In just the first year of the projects, one of the project’s crosses has been found resistant to witch weed (Striga hermontheca) and two of the crosses have proven resistant to lodging and disease and have higher yields than unimproved varieties.

  • India: Women’s group completes food chain from field to market

A women’s self help group established by the Treaty Benefit-sharing Project in India not only improved family nutrition and food security through adopting and producing high-yielding and drought-resistant local varieties of cassava identified by the project, they also have managed to complete the food chain from field to market. The group members have worked together to develop new cassava products for the market such as cassava breads and cakes and in some cases, incomes have quadrupled. They also have propagated and shared planting materials with neighbours. In addition to the women’s group, planting materials and seeds of improved varieties have been distributed to local farmers who are studying the varieties’ adaptability to their respective farms.


Experience Andean traditions and crop diversity through Potato Park video posted online

The Peruvian Benefit-sharing Fund Project, set high in the Andes, comes to life through a video produced by the Secretariat that has been posted online. The video, in Spanish and English, introduces the Peruvian farmers and their fascinating array of traditional potato varieties as well as their traditional farming methods. But the camera is also there when a group of Ethiopian farmers comes to visit the indigenous villages located in the Potato Park and the two groups learn that they face similar problems and also have similar attitudes toward dealing with their problems. The video offers a visible example of the ways that local people are willing and able to tackle challenges such as climate change and the global food crisis.



The Secretariat of the International Treaty and the Convention on Biological Diversity sign a cooperation agreement

The secretariats of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) took another step forward to strengthen their ongoing collaboration with the signature of a cooperation agreement on capacity building, information exchange and technical assistance.

The agreement acknowledges the ongoing fruitful collaboration and responds to the need for mutual support one another in the promotion of activities and projects relevant to their mandates such as workshops, seminars and other events.

The agreement was signed by Shakeel Bhatti, Secretary of the International Treaty, and Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of CBD, on the occasion of the intergovernmental negotiations of the Tenth Conference of the Parties of the CBD in Japan.

This new agreement, which builds on an existing framework agreement between the CBD Secretariat and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, will also facilitate the coordination of technical assistance in the field of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture with a view to developing synergies at international, sub-regional and national levels.

Treaty communication Media Resource Kit being developed

In response to ongoing calls to help countries improve their ability to increase the visibility of the Treaty and its important role, the Secretariat has begun the development of a Media Resource Kit. Initially, it will contain examples of successful communications products developed by the Secretariat, the countries and even by the Benefit-sharing Fund projects. Part of the kit will be a media guide, with tips for Treaty National Focal Points and partners to develop communication outreach plans easy to adapt to national contexts. As it is developed, it will be piloted in selected countries so that their suggestions can be incorporated and other can benefit from experiences generated elsewhere on media and awareness raising on food security and agro-biodiversity conservation.




Five New Contracting Parties seat at the Plenary of the Fourth Governing Body

Since the last session of the Governing Body five new states have ratified the Treaty and seat at the Fourth Session of the Governing Body as Contracting Parties. These are the following: Nepal (19 October 2009), Albania (12 May 2010), Slovakia (8 June 2010), Montenegro (21 Jul 2010), Rwanda (14 October 2010).




“Help desk” adds unique level of support to project applicants through series of regional workshops and open phone lines

The evaluations submitted at the end of the six regional workshops held to support applicants in preparing their proposals for Treaty Benefit-sharing Fund Grants were filled with compliments. To the question, “Would you suggest to continue this approach of supporting applicants through help desk workshops?” one participant who attended the Ouagadougou workshop wrote, “This is wonderful – the first time to see an international organization support candidates who apply for funding,”  while another in the Nairobi workshop wrote “Oh yes, yes.”

The 2-day workshops, also held in Cairo, Chennai, Fiji and Peru, not only gave the participants background information on increasing importance of adapting plant genetic resources to climate change, they also offered sessions on basic project management and evaluation, and provided specific guidance on how to fill out the extremely detailed application forms correctly.

The workshops filled an important gap, brought on by a qualitative shift from resource-based to results-based management of projects. Thus, the sessions helped the applicants better define their projects’ indicators, outputs and logframes that the application forms called for.

“We wanted them to have the mindset of looking at the output they wanted to achieve and then to look for the means to achieve it,” said Helpdesk Coordinator Adam Yao who led five of the workshops. “We were surprised how many participants wanted refresher sessions on how to manage and evaluate projects,” added Mr Yao, who also provided individual coaching sessions to each participant. 

The benefits of these workshops will last long beyond the deadline for filing the project proposals, because working together with others from their regions allowed the participants to start building networks. In each workshop, participants initiated discussions on how they could continue to work together.

When the workshops were over, the Helpdesk support continued in the form of a dedicated phone line that was set up specifically to answer questions of the applicants in the two days before the deadline. Experts were on hand to field questions whether they came by phone or email.

As this was the first time for such an undertaking, lessons were learned. Some of the sessions lasted late into the night, leading to the suggestion to increase the workshops from 2 days to 3–4 days, and also to consider linking participants across regions for more exchange of ideas.




The European Region announces the inclusion of more than 300 000 accessions in the Multilateral System

The total number of accessions reported by the European Region to be in the Multilateral System of the Treaty has gone up to 318 000 accessions during the 2010/2011 biennium, including genetic material from both governmental and non-governmental institutions.  This kind of reporting has made possible to obtain an overview picture of the content of this material and its importance for food security.

The larger amount of accessions notified are those maintained by national and legal persons regarded as forming part of national plant genetic resources with a total figure of 172 433 accessions, followed by the Government with 89 577.  The report also includes 57 764 accessions from institutions that have various statuses and that are reporting through EURISCO, a European network of ex situ National Inventories.   In addition to those, the Secretary has also received direct notifications of inclusion of 2,317 accessions from national and legal persons regarded as forming part of national plant genetic resources.

The European Region has also informed that a number of countries have started to encourage natural and legal persons to incorporate materials in the global gene pool, like Switzerland.  This country is encouraging the inclusion of national seed gene banks, but also all accessions of Swiss private organizations financed by its National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.