Looking back at key achievements from the Ninth Session of the Treaty’s Governing Body (GB 9)

November 24, 2022

The future food security of our planet rests upon our capacity to conserve and sustainably harness crop genetic diversity. Scientists and policy-makers around the world are tasked with developing the knowledge infrastructure and governance systems that ensure plant genetic resources (PGR) are well managed for future generations.

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA or Treaty) holds a central place in the global governance of plant genetic resources associated with food and agriculture. The Treaty’s Governing Body typically meets every two years, with representatives from all 149 signatory countries coming together to support the implementation of the Treaty.

During these sessions, the Governing Body may provide policy direction and guidance; adopt new plans and programmes; establish subsidiary bodies to address specific issues; or consider and adopt amendments to the Treaty.

This year, the Ninth Session of the Governing Body (GB 9) was held in New Delhi, India in October. DivSeek board member Yasmina El Bahloul, who chaired the session, regarded GB 9 as a success.

“One of the key outcomes from the session was re-establishing the Working Group dedicated to the Multilateral System,” explains El Bahloul. “Besides this, there was a strong focus on promoting the use of DOIs, building capacity for use of DOIs in developing countries, and continuing to promote and disseminate capacity development workshops on farmers’ rights.”

A Working Group for the Multilateral System

Many regarded the main achievement of GB 9 to be the re-establishment of a Working Group to enhance the functioning of the Treaty’s Multilateral System (MLS) of access and benefit-sharing (ABS).

Under the Treaty’s MLS, signatory countries agree to make their genetic diversity and related information about the crops stored in their public gene banks available to other signatory countries. In 2018, the MLS comprised a pool of genetic resources for 64 of the world’s most important crops, with 2.5 million accessions.

Three years ago, GB 8 was unable to reach consensus on measures to enhance the functioning of the MLS, nor agree on a formal intersessional process to continue deliberations. GB 9 managed to re-establish an open-ended Working Group, and agreed on its aims and terms of reference.

Focus on farmers’ rights

Another major focal point was addressing issues relating to farmers’ rights. This fell in line with the session’s theme: ‘Celebrating the Guardians of Crop Diversity’, which sought to recognize the contribution of smallholder farmers to the conservation of plant genetic diversity.

An ad-hoc Technical Expert Group on farmers’ rights was formed during previous sessions. At GB 9, The Group presented an updated inventory of national measures and best practices, drawing attention to a set of options for encouraging, guiding, and promoting the realization of farmers’ rights. Notably, the Governing Body agreed to convene a global symposium to explicitly address these rights. The symposium will be hosted in India.

Linkages with the Convention on Biological Diversity

GB 9 explicitly considered the close linkages between the Treaty and another major international agreement: the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). This was particularly timely, since the second phase of the Fifteenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the CBD (COP15, due to take place in Montreal in December) is expected to adopt a post-2020 global biodiversity framework (GBF).

Delegates discussed how the Treaty and its community could contribute to the GBF, noting that the first draft includes targets, goals, and indicators of direct relevance to the Treaty. They also addressed issues relating to cooperation with the CBD broadly, and on the Nagoya Protocol in particular. This included the thorny issue of digital sequence information (DSI) and benefit-sharing mechanisms related to its use.

Opportunities for DivSeek

As a knowledge broker for the plant genetic resources community, DivSeek has an important role to play in disseminating information and developing best practices that are consistent with the Treaty and CBD.

In May this year, DivSeek signed an MOU with the Treaty that sees both parties working towards a common goal of enhancing the global exchange of germplasm information and promoting benefit-sharing.

“DivSeek and the Treaty work towards the same ends to ultimately guarantee the conservation and sustainable use of PGR,” says El Bahloul. “DivSeek’s role in this context is to disseminate information and encourage development of technical standards within the international regulatory framework for food and agriculture.”

The next session, GB 10, will take place in Nov 2023 in Rome, Italy. “One of the main challenges to be addressed will be reducing the gap between developed and developing countries,” says El Bahloul. “I expect there will also be a strong focus on enhancement of the MLS, farmers’ rights, and DSI.”