The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, popularly known as the International Seed Treaty, is a comprehensive international agreement in harmony with Convention on Biological Diversity, which aims at guaranteeing food security through the conservation, exchange and sustainable use of the world's plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, as well as the fair and equitable benefit sharing arising from its use. It also recognises farmers' rights: to freely access genetic resources, unrestricted by intellectual property rights; to be involved in relevant policy discussions and decision making; and to use, save, sell and exchange seeds, subject to national laws.
However, as Regine Anderson argues, the interpretation of farmers' rights is not the same across the board, and without a consistent, strong focus on farmers and their right to use landraces, genetic variety of crops will suffer. India, for example, includes strong farmers' rights in its Plant Variety Protection and Farmers' Rights Act, allowing farmers the right to save and sell seed as they always have, even if it is of a protected variety.
The treaty has implemented a Multilateral System (MLS) of access and benefit sharing, among those countries that ratify the treaty, for a list of 64 of the most important food and forage crops essential for food security and interdependence. The genera and species are listed in Annex 1 to the treaty.
The treaty was negotiated by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA)and since 2006 has its own Governing Body under the aegis of the FAO. The Governing Body is the highest organ of the Treaty as established in Article 19. Composed of representatives of all Contracting Parties, its basic function is to promote the full implementation of the Treaty, including the provision of policy guidance on the implementation of the Treaty. The Governing Body elects its Chairperson and Vice-Chairpersons, in conformity with its Rules of Procedure. They are collectively referred to as "the Bureau".
Some believe the treaty could be an example of responsible global governance for ensuring that plant genetic resources essential for present and future food security can be kept accessible to all farmers and in the public domain. Chapter 7 of the Second Report on the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (SoWPGR-2) entitled "Access to Plant Genetic Resources, the sharing of benefits arising out of their utilization and the realization of Farmers’ Rights" is mainly dedicated to the International Treaty.
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