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Working Of Multilateral Benefit Sharing Mechanism Under ITPGRFA

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), often referred to as the "Seed Treaty," is a crucial international agreement aimed at conserving and facilitating the sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food security. Adopted in 2001, the treaty is a response to the growing concern over the erosion of agricultural biodiversity and the need to ensure food security in a changing world.

The ITPGRFA seeks to promote the conservation of plant genetic resources, particularly those of crops that are essential for food and agriculture. It emphasizes the importance of maintaining diversity to enhance resilience in the face of changing climatic conditions and emerging pests and diseases. A central tenet of the treaty is the equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of plant genetic resources.

It recognizes the contributions of local communities, farmers, and indigenous people to the development of agricultural biodiversity. The treaty facilitates access to plant genetic resources and promotes international cooperation in their exchange. It establishes a Multilateral System (MLS) for sharing germplasm of key crops, ensuring that these resources are available for research and breeding programs worldwide.

The ITPGRFA recognizes the rights of farmers to save, use, exchange, and sell farm-saved seeds and propagating material, which is critical for maintaining agricultural diversity at the grassroots level. Member countries of the ITPGRFA commit to implementing its provisions at the national level. They are encouraged to develop policies and legislation that align with the treaty's objectives.

Additionally, the treaty establishes the Governing Body, which oversees its implementation and decision-making processes. The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is a critical instrument in the effort to safeguard agricultural biodiversity and enhance global food security. By promoting cooperation, conservation, and equitable benefit sharing, the treaty addresses the pressing challenges of our time and underscores the importance of collaboration in the realm of food and agriculture.

Multilateral Agreement:
Global efforts to conserve and sustainably use plant genetic resources for food and agriculture to ensure food security and promote sustainable agriculture worldwide depend on the continued open exchange of these resources. There is a need for crop accessions to be available in a clearly defined yet unbureaucratic manner, so that farmers, plant breeders and researchers can continue to contribute to global food security. Providing easy or routine access to crops has thus become one of the core elements of the Multilateral System of the International Treaty as an effective, efficient and transparent system for exchanging plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA).

The Multilateral System is the International Treaty's truly innovative solution to access and benefit-sharing. It includes 64 of the world's most important crops. These are crops that together account for 80 percent of all human consumption derived from plants. On joining the International Treaty, countries agree to make their genetic diversity and related information about the crops stored in their public gene banks available to all through the Multilateral System (MLS). Other holders have declared additional materials available. In 2018, this comprised a pool of genetic resources of 2.5 million accessions accessible to all users.

This mechanism offers scientific institutions, farmers, plant breeders and the private sector the opportunity to work with, and potentially improve, the materials stored in gene banks or used in breeding programmes. By facilitating research, innovation and the exchange of information without restrictions through its Global Information System, the International Treaty cuts down on the costly and time-consuming need for breeders to negotiate contracts with individual gene banks. By September 2021, users of the Multilateral System had received more than 6,1 million materials for research, training and breeding.

The Multilateral System provides opportunities for both developing and developed countries that share technical know-how to use their materials and laboratories to build on what farmers have accomplished in their fields. Facilitated access to genetic material available in gene banks or as part of a research programme is made available through a standard contract, the Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA). The material may include collections of local seeds kept in small refrigeration units of research laboratories, national seed collections housed in government ministries, or research centre collections that contain all known varieties of a crop from around the world.

Under the International Treaty's MLS, 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 facilitated access for the established purposes, and with the exclusion of industrial or pharmaceutical applications. The System includes the vast collections of CGIAR.

The Multilateral System Of Access And Benefit Sharing:
The Contracting Parties of the ITPGRFA have created what is known as a "Multilateral System" which grants each member facilitated access to important food and forage crops covered by the Treaty. The Multilateral System is basically a global gene pool of plant genetic resources which can be shared cooperatively by all members.

The mechanism for obtaining specific genetic resources is through a standardized contract referred to as a "Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA). This document regulates transfers and exchanges of plant genetic material, prevents their misuse, and ensures that any commercial benefits that arise are fairly and equally shared.

The SMTA is a binding private bilateral contract between the provider and recipient which states the terms and conditions for use of the genetic resource. Agricultural researchers, breeders (private and public), farmers, and gene banks, all benefit from facilitated access to plant genetic resources using SMTA's. In fact, daily, between 600-800 samples of plant genetic resources are exchanged under the ITPGRFA.

The SMTA facilitates this exchange of genetic resources by providing a framework of legal certainty and transparency when material is exchanged. In other words, both parties to an SMTA understand and agree upon what can and cannot be done with the genetic resource being exchanged.
  • Article 10 - Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-Sharing:
    The provisions under this act says about the recognition of the sovereign rights of nations over their plant genetic resources and their authority to determine access conditions.

    This article says about the establishment of the Multilateral System, which includes a list of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) that are considered to be part of the global commons and subject to facilitated access.

    The requirement for countries to make these designated plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) available to other members under the Multilateral System. The principle that access to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) under the Multilateral System should be provided on fair and equitable terms, with an emphasis on benefit-sharing and promoting food security.

    The obligation for countries to cooperate and share benefits arising from the use of these resources, including monetary benefits and technology transfer, especially with regard to developing countries and farmers in all countries.
  • Article 11- Coverage of Multilateral System:
    The main provisions under the Article 11 covers:
    The establishment of Global Information System (GLIS) as a comprehensive information system that provides access to information on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Global Information System is tasked with functions such as collecting, storing, and disseminating information on plant genetic resources, as well as tracking the availability and use of these resources.

    This article emphasizes the importance of ensuring access to information by all stakeholders, including farmers, researchers, and plant breeders.

    This provision eencourages cooperation among countries and international organizations to support the development and maintenance of Global Information System. Global Information System is intended to promote transparency in the management and use of plant genetic resources, which is crucial for achieving the treaty's objectives of conservation and sustainable use.
  • Article 12 - Facilitated access to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture within the Multilateral System:
    According to Article 12 of the Treaty, the Contracting Parties are committed to taking the necessary legal or other appropriate steps to facilitate access to the Multilateral System for other Contracting Parties as well as for legal and natural persons under their jurisdiction.

    The terms and conditions that will be used for such facilitated access are also outlined in the Article. Among them is the crucial stipulation that access will only be granted for utilization and conservation for research, breeding, and training related to food and agriculture. The multilateral system includes 64 major food crops and forages (Annex 1). It includes genetic resources located in the global ex situ collections of CGIAR research centers. The recipient shall use the material solely for the purpose of research, breeding and training for food and agriculture. The recipient shall not claim intellectual property rights to the genetic resources in the form received.
  • Article 13: Benefit-Sharing in the Multilateral System:
    The International Treaty outlines several different options for benefit-sharing that may arise from the commercialization of plant genetic resources resulting from SMTA transactions under the Multilateral System. The Contracting Parties agree under the Treaty that the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources should flow primarily to farmers in developing countries. The benefits can be both non-monetary and monetary in nature.
  1. Non-Monetary Mechanisms of Benefit-sharing:
    1. Access to Genetic Resources:
      The Treaty facilitates access to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) for research, breeding, and conservation purposes. This access is often provided under mutually agreed terms, which can include non-monetary conditions, such as sharing research results, technology, or germplasm.
    2. Farmers' Rights:
      One of the key components of the ITPGRFA is the recognition and protection of the rights of farmers to save, use, exchange, and sell seeds and propagating material, particularly those of traditional varieties. This promotes non-monetary benefit-sharing with farming communities.
    3. Benefit-Sharing Through Research Collaboration:
      The Treaty encourages international cooperation in research and development related to PGRFA. Collaborative research can result in non-monetary benefits, such as knowledge sharing, technology transfer, and capacity-building among participating countries.
    4. Information Sharing:
      Parties to the Treaty are encouraged to share information on the conservation and sustainable use of PGRFA. This information exchange can lead to non-monetary benefits, such as improved agricultural practices and enhanced crop diversity.
    5. Capacity Building:
      The Treaty promotes capacity-building activities to strengthen the capacity of developing countries in conserving and utilizing PGRFA. Training, technical assistance, and knowledge transfer are non-monetary benefits that can result from these capacity-building efforts.
    6. Technical and Scientific Cooperation:
      Parties to the Treaty are encouraged to engage in technical and scientific cooperation related to PGRFA. This can include collaborative breeding programs, joint research projects, and the sharing of expertise and technologies.
    7. Participation in Decision-Making:
      The ITPGRFA provides opportunities for countries and stakeholders to participate in decision- making processes related to the Treaty's implementation. Participatory involvement is a non- monetary form of benefit-sharing that allows countries to influence policies and activities.
    8. Access to Information Systems:
      The Treaty establishes a Global Information System on PGRFA (GLIS) to facilitate access to information about plant genetic resources. Access to this system can provide non-monetary benefits in the form of data and knowledge.
    9. Traditional Knowledge Protection:
      The Treaty recognizes the contributions of indigenous and local communities to the conservation and development of PGRFA. Protecting their traditional knowledge and practices is a form of non-monetary benefit-sharing.
    10. Conservation and Sustainable Use Measures:
      Implementing conservation and sustainable use measures for PGRFA can indirectly benefit communities and countries by ensuring the availability of these resources for future generations.
    These non-monetary benefit-sharing mechanisms within the ITPGRFA aim to foster cooperation, enhance food security, and promote equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. They reflect the treaty's commitment to balancing the interests of various stakeholders, including farmers, indigenous communities, researchers, and governments.

  2. Monetary Mechanisms of Benefit-sharing in ITPGRFA:
    1. Standard Material Transfer Agreements (SMTAs):
      The ITPGRFA established a standard contractual framework known as the Standard Material Transfer Agreement. When countries provide access to plant genetic resources, users are required to sign SMTAs. Under these agreements, monetary benefit-sharing mechanisms can be specified, including the payment of royalties or fees.
    2. Monetary Payments and Royalties:
      Countries providing access to plant genetic resources can negotiate agreements with users, such as plant breeders or biotechnology companies, to receive monetary payments or royalties in exchange for the use of these resources. The terms and conditions for such payments are typically determined through bilateral negotiations.
    3. Benefit-sharing Funds:
      Some countries have established national or regional benefit-sharing funds as part of their implementation of the ITPGRFA. These funds collect monetary contributions from users of genetic resources and distribute the proceeds to the providers of those resources. The funds are used to support conservation and sustainable use activities related to plant genetic resources.
    4. Gene Fund:
      The ITPGRFA established a Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing (MLS), which includes a facilitated access mechanism called the Gene Fund. Users of genetic resources under the MLS are required to make financial contributions to the Gene Fund, which is then used to support conservation and sustainable use activities related to these resources. The Gene Fund operates as a multilateral monetary benefit-sharing mechanism.
    5. Payments for Commercialization
      When plant varieties developed using genetic resources from the MLS are commercialized, users may be required to make monetary payments to the providers of the genetic resources. These payments are meant to reflect the commercial value derived from the use of those resources.
    6. Bilateral Agreements:
      Countries can enter into bilateral agreements to negotiate specific monetary benefit-sharing arrangements for the exchange of plant genetic resources. These agreements can vary widely in their terms, including the type and amount of monetary benefits to be shared.
The ITPGRFA emphasizes both monetary and non-monetary benefit-sharing mechanisms and promotes a combination of approaches to ensure the fair and equitable sharing of benefits. The specific arrangements for benefit-sharing can vary depending on the genetic resource, the nature of its use, and the preferences of the countries and stakeholders involved. The treaty seeks to strike a balance between promoting access to genetic resources for research and breeding while ensuring that the benefits are fairly distributed and contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of these resources.

  • "Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-Sharing: | International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture - Passel.", Accessed 3 Oct. 2023.
  • "Benefits of the Multilateral System | International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.", Accessed 3 Oct. 2023.
  • "Overview | International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.", Accessed 1 Oct. 2023.
  • Moore, Gerald, and Witold Tymowski. IUCN Environmental Law Programme Explanatory Guide to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. 2005. Accessed 2 Oct. 2023.
  • The International Treaty On Plant Genetic Resoruces For Food And Agriculture the Vital Role of Securing the World's Food Production through theTreaty'sInternationalSystem. Accessed 1 Oct. 2023.
  • International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture Accessed 1 Oct. 2023.

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