Last updated: 08/09/2016

What is the Multilateral System?

The Treaty's truly innovative solution to access and benefit-sharing is its declaration that 64 of our most important crops - crops that together account for 80 percent of all human consumption - will comprise a pool of genetic resources that are accessible to everyone. On ratifying the Treaty, countries agree to make their genetic diversity and related information about the crops stored in their gene banks available to all through the Multilateral System (MLS).

This gives scientific institutions and private sector plant breeders the opportunity to work with, and potentially to improve, the materials stored in gene banks or even crops growing in fields. By facilitating research, innovation and exchange of information without restrictions, this cuts down on the costly and time consuming need for breeders to negotiate contracts with individual gene banks.

The Multilateral System sets up opportunities for developed countries with technical know-how to use their laboratories to build on what the farmers in developing countries have accomplished in their fields.

Access
       Access to genetic materials is through the collections in the world's gene banks. These can include collections of local seeds kept in small refrigeration units of research labs, national seed collections housed in government ministries or research center collections that contain all known varieties of a crop from around the world.

Under the Treaty and its Multilateral system, collections of local, national and international gene banks that are in the public domain and under the direct control of Contracting Parties share a set of efficient rules of faciliated access. This includes the vast collections of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a consortium of 15 international research centers.

In addition, the Global Crop Diversity Trust, a complementary funding mechanism to that established by the Treaty, is committed to raise the funds that will endow the gene banks and ensure their continued viability.

Benefit Sharing
       Those who access genetic materials through the Multilateral System agree that they will freely share any new developments with others for further research or, if they want to keep the developments to themselves, they agree to pay a percentage of any commercial benefits they derive from their research into a common fund to support conservation and further development of agriculture in the developing world.  The fund was established in 2008.