Below is the Crop Trust’s report, delivered by Marie Haga, to the participants of the Sixth session of the Governing Body of the International Treaty (GB6) held in Rome, Italy, from 5 to 9 October 2015.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honor for me, as the Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, to present, on behalf of the Executive Board, the Crop Trust’s report to this Governing Body.
Slightly more than a week ago, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals were adopted. A ground breaking global agenda for a sustainable world free of poverty – all based on enlightened self-interest.
Food security figures prominently. For obvious reasons. The Global Community is facing an enormous challenge: to feed larger populations in a changing climate, while maintaining our environment. Production of more and more nutritious food on less land, with less water, less fertilizer and less pesticides does not come automatically.
– And it can’t be achieved unless you go back to the building blocs of agriculture – to the diversity of crops. Target 2.5 under SDG number 2 on food security fully recognizes the importance of agricultural biodiversity.
– That it is a prerequisite for food security.
All of us in the plant genetic resources community should rejoice! It is due time that crop diversity gets more of the recognition it deserves. Plant genetic resources for food and agriculture are undoubtedly one of the world’s most important natural resources. A global common good.
The International Treaty on PGR is the framework under which this fundamentally important natural resource is managed globally. Its existence, and more importantly, its implementation is essential for the future of agriculture. The Crop Trust welcomes decisions by Governments to make the Treaty an even more effective and efficient instrument – in terms of crop coverage and benefit sharing mechanism, and welcomes activities to have more countries ratify the Treaty.
The politics of that process is not for the Crop Trust. Our job quite simply is to conserve and make available the diversity of crops ex situ. This is what we do – nothing more, nothing less.
Our mandate is ex situ conservation. This does not mean we are not equally concerned about in situ conservation. In situ and ex situ conservation should be seen as a complementary. It is not a question of either-or.
The Plant Treaty is essential for the Crop Trust’s work. It is the legal environment within which we operate. Our job is simply Treaty implementation.
At the operative level there is a division of work between us that needs to be understood and respected. But we also interface operatively. Let me take the Potato Park in Peru as an example.
The Treaty has supported the potato Park financially through the Benefit Sharing Fund. The Crop Trust has supported the Potato Park with project money. The Crop Trust also contribute to funding the International Potato Centre in Lima, CIP, that cooperates very closely with the Potato Park. 410 potato varieties have been repatriated by CIP to the Potato Park, and potato seeds from the Potato Park have recently been deposited in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault that the Crop Trust contributes to operate.
This example proves that we should not allow organizational considerations to limit our vision. We should develop more mutually supportive initiatives.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is one element of the Global System for ex situ conservation and use that the Crop Trust is mandated to develop, in partnership with the Norwegian Government and the Nordic genebank.
Personally, I find any seed deposit very touching, and I’m humbled by the occasion, but the Peruvian deposit that I just mentioned at the end of August was very, very special. There were more moist eyes than just mine when the representatives of the Potato Park spoke about the importance of potatoes for their culture and how they felt like leaving family members behind in the cold vault by depositing their seeds. But they also beautifully expressed how they saw the necessity of bringing seeds to Svalbard because their children might need them one day in a continuously changing world.
We are now in the phase of retrieving the first seeds from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. ICARDA’s seed bank is unable to function as intended due to the war situation in Syria, and ICARDA has requested seeds back to reestablish the gene bank in Morocco and Lebanon. After the seeds have been regrown in their new homes, samples will be redeposited in the Vault.
We are sad that seeds have to be withdrawn since it reflects a crisis, but it is comforting to know that we are on the way to establish a solid global system for conservation of crop diversity that protects against some of the effects of war or natural disasters.
We encourage all national genebanks around the world interested in making use of the free-of-charge back-up facility to talk to the NordGen Representative who is present here or any of us from the Crop Trust.
You will see from our report that our technical work has continued unabated over the period from the last Governing Body meeting.
A major reason for the establishment of the Crop Trust was to ensure stable long term funding for the international collections managed by the CGIAR under Article 15 of the Treaty. These collections hold some of the most important material globally and constitute a central pillar of the global system for ex situ conservation. The Crop Trust is privileged to manage the CGIAR research program on genebanks. We work to help the international genbanks to achieve high standards of performance and introduce quality management systems – all in close collaboration with the genebanks themselves.
We are far from reaching the endowment target that is required to safeguard these and other globally important ex situ collections financially. But we are dedicated to the task and are working to transition the CGIAR genebank funding entirely to the endowment over the next years. To this effect, we will have a Pledging Conference on 14 April next year in Washington DC in conjunction with the IMG/World Bank Spring Meetings. We are grateful that the conference will be chaired by the Economic Cooperation and Development Minister from Germany and the Foreign Minister from Norway – and that the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations will give the keynote address.
We have invited more than 50 countries to attend this conference, including all G20 countries as well as other countries with the financial capacity to contribute to development aid. Selected private sector actors may also be invited if they commit to provide financial resources for the cause of crop diversity. We hope for a successful outcome and encourage countries to participate at a senior government level.
We will continue to support the development of the Genesys global portal on accession level data and support the deployment of GRIN-Global genebank data management software, developed in collaboration with USDA. Both contribute to the Treaty’s work on information systems.
With regards to our project on crop wild relatives, we would like to gratefully acknowledge the government of Norway for funding this important work in support of the Treaty. Under this project we are able to offer crucial financial and technical support to developing countries to collect crop wild relatives, following nationally applicable standards.
In many cases this material is threatened in the field and in urgent need of conservation. Species and localities are selected on the basis of the kind of gap analysis called for by the Global Plan of Action. We only support work on wild relatives included in the genera listed under Annex 1. Crop Wild Relatives and which are being regularly shared under the MLS through the article 15 collections as well as many national collections.
Let me also inform you that a methodology, based on the crop conservation strategies, has been developed to help identify national collections of global significance that could be eligible for support by the endowment. We are working on finding the means to speed up the process of getting the work going.
With national collections identified, the main parts of the puzzle to develop a cost effective, rational global system for ex situ conservation and use, will be in place: The Plant Treaty is our policy framework, the Article 15 collections and additional national collections constitute the daily operations of the system, and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault serves as the back-up facility.
As easy – and complicated – as that.
Since we last met at Governing Body Meeting 5 in Oman, cooperation between the Plant Treaty and the Crop Trust has much improved. GB5 wisely agreed to a joint liaison position for the two organizations. The post was established, and we at the Crop Trust have been very satisfied with what it has achieved. We are now comfortable recommending that we find less resource-intensive mechanisms to continue to ensure close cooperation between ourselves and the Treaty Secretariat.
As you are aware, the Treaty Secretary is an observer to our Board with full access to our Board papers. We have also recently invited the GB Chair to our Board meetings on the same terms as the Secretary, and will continue to do so. We are committed to full transparency and we trust that the Bureau of the Treaty will be open to full reciprocity.
The Treaty Secretariat is also involved in all our projects and policy guidance is given on a continuous basis. Treaty and Crop Trust staff are in more or less daily contact and the Treaty Secretary and I speak regularly.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let us celebrate that we have very valuable language in the SDGs related to plant genetic resources. But it is still a way to go until the PGRFA area gets the attention its importance should imply. Having been in the political arena for many years, it is my firm belief that one reason why the plant genetic resources in particular and agricultural science in general don’t get the political attention that they should, is the high organizational fragmentation in a relatively limited field. We need to help each other communicate clarity to political leaders.
Let us speak more to each other and less about each other. Let us work together and support each others’ work. Our business is too important not to – and there is plenty of work for all of us. Let us jointly celebrate each other’s success.
– And in terms of resources – which often is a sticky point – it is not a zero sum game between the Plant Treaty, the CGIAR and the Crop Trust – we can make the pie bigger as long as we deliver in a coordinated fashion and prove that we, as a system, deliver strong value for money.