Over the past half a century, enormous advances have been made in the disciplines of life sciences and plant genetic resources for use in research and breeding have become a source of high value. Access to plant genetic resources – a key input for agricultural research – and sharing of the benefits from its utilization are now being regulated through international conventions and treaties.
Global biodiversity is protected by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), adopted in 1992. The CBD entailed a paradigm shift away from the concept of genetic resources as a heritage of mankind to the concept of national sovereignty, while at the same time encouraging the access to these resources for environmentally sound uses. The CBD also declares that any benefits arising from the use of genetic resources should be shared with the country providing these resources. This is the principle of “access and benefit sharing”, or ABS. The protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from Their Utilization (the Nagoya Protocol) to the CBD entered into force in 2014, further establishing a clear, legally binding framework determining the access to the genetic resources of a country and to the traditional knowledge associated with these resources, and how the benefits arising from using them will be shared.
The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA, or the Treaty) is a legally binding instrument that aims to operate in harmony with the CBD/Nagoya protocol but specifically focusing on genetic material of plant origin of actual or potential value for food and agriculture. The fundamental purpose of the Treaty, which entered into force in 2004, is to preserve farmers´ privilege and develop a Multilateral System of Access and Benefit Sharing (MLS). The MLS was created to ease access to genetic resources of major food and feed crop species and to share the benefits arising from the exploitation of these materials, in accordance with multilaterally agreed terms and conditions.