International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources (ITPGRFA)
The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture which entered into force in 2004 is a comprehensive treaty whose objectives are the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from their use, in harmony with the CBD, for sustainable agriculture and food security.
The centrepiece of the Treaty is a ‘multilateral system for access and benefit-sharing’ which for certain categories of PGRFA guarantees facilitated access in return for benefit-sharing. However, in respect of traditional knowledge, the key provision of the Treaty is its recognition of ‘farmers’ rights’ .
Article 9 of the Treaty states that:
1. The Contracting Parties recognize the enormous contribution that the local and indigenous communities and farmers of all regions of the world, particularly those in the centres of origin and crop diversity, have made and will continue to make for the conservation and development of plant genetic resources which constitute the basis of food and agriculture production throughout the world.
2. The Contracting Parties agree that the responsibility for realizing Farmers’ Rights, as they relate to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, rests with national governments. In accordance with their needs and priorities, each Contracting Party should, as appropriate, and subject to its national legislation, take measures to protect and promote Farmers’ Rights, including: (a) protection of traditional knowledge relevant to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; (b) the right to equitably participate in sharing benefits arising from the utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; and (c) the right to participate in making decisions, at the national level, on matters related to the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.
These are important substantive provisions that potentially go further than Article 8(j) of the CBD in respect of PGRFA, particularly by establishing the right to participate in national decision-making on PGRFA.
Additionally, Article 14 recognizes the importance to the Treaty of the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and requires Parties to promote its effective implementation including through national actions and, as appropriate, international cooperation to provide a coherent framework, inter alia, for capacity building, technology transfer and exchange of information.
As one of the long-term objectives of the Global Plan of Action is to realize farmers’ rights at the international, regional and national levels, the obligation under the Treaty to undertake capacity building, technology transfer and exchange of information activities includes addressing these activities in respect of traditional knowledge.
As the Treaty has only recently entered into force and the first meeting of the Governing Body of the Treaty will take place in 2005 or 2006, its programme of work has still to be established. It is however clear that the future work of the Treaty and its implementation at national, regional and global levels will generate considerable demands for research, training and capacity building services relating to traditional knowledge.
These overlapping instruments and processes addressing aspects of ownership of and access to genetic resources, equitable benefit-sharing, intellectual property rights and traditional knowledge constitute a cluster of forums at the forefront of the global environmental and sustainable development debate. All have recognised the need for support to research, training, capacity-building, participation, networking and information activities; all have called upon international organizations with mandates and expertise in these areas to contribute.
A second major area where traditional knowledge is recognised as important is human health. As previously noted, both UNCED and WSSD stressed the need for the protection of traditional knowledge relating to health and medicines and its wider application.
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