The Crop Trust is essential to the funding strategy of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, known as the Plant Treaty, which came into force in 2004.
A consensus takes root
The story of the Plant Treaty began two decades earlier. It was at the 1983 Conference of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome that delegates adopted an International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources, sowing the seed of an idea. In Rio in 1992, the Convention on Biological Diversity brought questions of how to conserve and share biodiversity to the top of the agenda in its 192 ratifying countries. The seed sprouted.
Two years later the 13 research centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) signed an agreement with FAO declaring that their crop collections are held in trust on behalf of the world community. This act created the largest public domain pool of crop diversity ever assembled. However, to meet their perpetual obligation the CGIAR genebanks needed an absolutely dependable source of funding, and this was still lacking.
The final rallying cry was FAO’s 1996 Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. This plan called for “safeguarding as much existing unique and valuable diversity as possible in ex situ collections of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture”, and to “develop an efficient goal-oriented, economically efficient and sustainable system of ex situ conservation”.
Making an asset of interdependence
The Plant Treaty was the outcome of these calls for action. It cemented the special status of the CGIAR’s in-trust crop collections, ensuring these would continue to be available to all. But it went much further than that. It declared that 64 of our most important crops – which together account for 80% of humanity’s food supply – would be brought into the same multilateral system, along with many of their wild relatives. All contracting parties would make their collections of this diversity available to everyone.
Under the Plant Treaty, breeders can easily obtain and work with material of these crop families from more than 130 countries. In many cases they will do something innovative with it, such as create a new variety by combining lines from different parts of the world. Anyone who does so agrees that they will, in turn, make the derived variety freely available – or if they use it to develop a commercial product, that they will pay a percentage of profits into a special benefit sharing fund.
A Relationship Agreement between the Governing Body of the Plant Treaty and the Crop Trust was approved at the Governing Body’s first meeting in 2006. This recognized the Crop Trust as an essential element of the funding strategy of the Treaty. It also established four seats on the Crop Trust’s Executive Board to be appointed by the Governing Body, while confirming the Board’s executive independence in managing the operations and activities of the Crop Trust. Working together makes sense when our goals are the same. The International Treaty and its predecessors created the context of cooperation in which we operate, and we are creating a global system that can turn interdependence into a shared wealth of possibilities.