Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Entry into Force of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

29 June 2014 marked the 10-year Anniversary of the entry-into-force of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). To celebrate the event, the Secretariat of the International Treaty and the FAO Office in Geneva organized a high-level celebration on 3 July 2014, in the United Nations Office in Geneva. This meeting was attended by Ministers, Ambassadors, international institutions, as well as civil society and private sector representatives. The celebration focused on the Treaty as an instrument to assist low-income food-deficient countries through the support of their farming and local communities, reviewing the political and technical results achieved, and designing a future trajectory for the Treaty’s work.

The event was organized around an interactive panel discussion, featuring several high-level speakers. These included:

·         Dr Graziano da Silva, Director-General of FAO (video), reiterated FAO's support to the International Treaty, including as host of its Secretariat.

·         HE Mr Abdullah Nasser Al-Rahbi, Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva and Consul General (Oman), reminded us of the importance of the Muscat Ministerial Declaration, highlighted the need to work together to help meet the challenges of water scarcity and drought, find ways to increase food security, alleviate extreme poverty and counter the effects of climate change on the production of key food crops in the Near East and North Africa (NENA) Region.

·        Dr Shakeel Bhatti, Secretary of the International Treaty, reminded us of the important role of plant genetic resources for adapting agriculture to changing climatic conditions and for food security, including as material for breeding, biotechnologies, etc.

·         Mr Matthew Worrell, Chairperson of the Governing Body of the International Treaty, highlighted some of the important achievements of the International Treaty, including of its Multilateral System (MLS), Standard Material Transfer Agreements,  and the projects funded under the Benefit Sharing Fund.

·         Dr Agung Hendriadi, Director of the Indonesian Center for Agricultural Technology Assessment, proudly reminded us that Indonesia was the first developing country to provide funding to the International Treaty, and he hopes that this will serve to set the example to other developing countries as well, considering that the MLS requires strong commitment and support

·         Mr Oliver Allen, the First Counselor of the Delegation of the European Union to the UN and other international organizations in Geneva, highlighted that the EU was the major funder of the International Treaty, together with Norway, having contributed EUR 5 million. The EU considers the work of the International Treaty as fundamental for development, and in particular for smallholder farmers who are most dependent on agro-biodiversity.

·         Dr Silvana Maselli, Researcher and Professor of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, presented the results achieved in Guatemala through a project under the Benefit Sharing Fund, where 1340 families from poor marginal communities in Guatemala were supported in establishing community seed banks and capacity building - on a range of themes including farmers' rights, seed management and storage, group formation, climate change adaptation, etc.

·         Dr Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary of the CBD, highlighted the collaboration between the Secretariats of the International Treaty and the CBD, guided by a framework for collaboration. He reminded us of the importance of the Aichi targets and the Nagoya Protocol .

·         Mr Gagan Khurana, Head of Country Operations and Partnerships, Grow Africa Partnership of the World Economic Forum, emphasised the importance of involving the private sector - specifically referring to Public Private People Partnership (PPPP) - to ensure that innovative technologies developed benefit smallholder farmers

·        Ms Rima Alcadi, Grants Portfolio Adviser IFAD, highlighted the relevance of biodiversity to rural poverty reduction, IFAD's experience in managing projects/programmes related to the sustainable utilisation and conservation of biodiversity and the advantages of working with International Treaty.

·         Dr Pedro Braga Arcuri, representative of EMBRAPA in Europe, reminded us that the Treaty requires reliable, regular flow of funds. He highlighted the important role of neglected and underutilised species (NUS) for food and nutrition security and climate change adaptation and told us that EMBRAPA is intending to propose to the UN an International Year on NUS.

·         Mr Guy Kastler, smallholder farmer representing La via Campesina, told us that smallholder farmers like him are fond of the International Treaty, as it recognises farmers' rights and because they are aware that these resources are increasingly important for climate change adaptation. He also highlighted that local landraces have a higher capacity to adapt to climate change, compared to PGR stored ex situ. He would like the International Treaty to further work on and develop Access and Benefit Sharing mechanisms.

·         Ms Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD (video), declared that the UNCCD Secretariat wishes to further strengthen the partnership with the International Treaty - especially as there are significant areas of overlap between productive land and biodiversity.

·         Ms Marie Haga, Executive Director at The Global Crop Diversity Trust, underscored that no country is self-sufficient when it comes to plant genetic resources. For example, cassava is vital to the economy of Nigeria as it is the world's largest producer of the commodity. However Nigeria, has barely 12% of the cassava PGR, whereas Brazil, that ranks the commodity 18th in terms of importance to its economy, has 25% of the PGR, as it is the centre of origin of cassava.  She also underlined the various ways in which The Global Crop Diversity Trust and the Secretariat of the International Treaty, including via a new initiative (to be launched soon!) called DivSeek - child of a 10 year project on crop wild relatives.

·         Mr Garlich von Essen, Secretary General of the European Seed Association, gave some suggestions on how to improve the financial sustainability of the International Treaty and its MLS. He said that the private sector, and breeders in especially, are very grateful to the work of the International Treaty - particularly as a tremendous effort was made to ensure that all major stakeholders were involved in negotiating the text and that it focuses on PGR for food and agriculture. This has improved mutual understanding and relevance of the Treaty.

The text of the statement delivered by IFAD is copied below.

Respected colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to be here on behalf of IFAD, the International Fund for Agricultural Development. I thank you for the invitation to celebrate this important event with you. We, at IFAD, attach great importance to biodiversity as a key development resource and to the work of the International Treaty.
IFAD is a specialized agency of the United Nations dedicated to alleviating rural poverty in developing countries. Our starting point, therefore, is to ask ourselves: “What is the nexus between rural poverty reduction and biodiversity?
As we celebrate this 10th Anniversary of the coming into force of the International Treaty, let us recognise that a decade ago, this question would not have been so obvious to answer. Now, also thanks to the work of the International Treaty, the connection between biodiversity and rural poverty reduction is very clear. Globally, there are 1.2 billion people who live on less than US$1.25 a day, and 70 % of them are in rural areas and rely directly on ecosystems for food, water, fiber and fuel. Any change in biodiversity patterns will first and foremost affect the viability of rural survival.
Let me now turn to “What IFAD has done in this area.”
We did an analysis to identify the degree of involvement of IFAD in addressing the nexus between rural poverty and biodiversity. The analysis was based on IFAD-funded grants and loans.
We found that 54 grants, for a total value of over USD 50 million, referred explicitly to biodiversity. Prominent partners included: Governments, CGIAR centres such as Bioversity International, ICRAF and CIAT, FAO, Oxfam, icipe, CSOs, and others.
In terms of loans, 48 IFAD-funded investment projects, representing cumulatively over half a billion dollars, relate to biodiversity. Recently, we have supported government-led investment projects in Bolivia, China, Djibouti, Ecuador, Kenya, Laos and The Philippines.
What did we learn?
We learnt that farmers care about their biodiversity. Farmers are already voluntarily maintaining biodiversity on their farms. There are good reasons for doing so, including: (1) for risk management, to maximise stability against drought or pests and diseases; (2) for diversity of uses, including for different recipes; (3) in order to optimise factors of production, for example to balance labour, water or other input requirements such as fuel wood necessary for cooking; and (4) to smooth out irregular cash flow and food availability and access to cover the hunger season and address nutritional needs, for example by growing varieties with different maturities and nutritional values.
We have noted the important role of cultural biodiversity too – for example, knowledge of medicinal plants or indigenous crops suited to the local climate - and we found that local knowledge about biodiversity differs between women and men.
IFAD firmly believes in conservation through sustainable utilization. We appreciate the value of biodiversity most when we can use it. We have also long recognized that poor rural people are important custodians of biodiversity and have found ingenious ways of conserving and utilizing it – for instance through sacred groves and community seed fairs. IFAD was the first UN agency to promote Neglected and Underutilized Species – also known as promising crops for the future. These crops are produced and consumed locally and are therefore easily accessible to people in rural areas, where the largest proportion of malnourished people live. The promotion and commercialization of these products have important positive effects on incomes, food security, nutrition, health, local cultural identity and self-esteem – as well as conserving agro-biodiversity.
At IFAD, we firmly believe in the importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships to improve the adaptability and adoptability of technologies co-generated by researchers, civil society and farmers alike. That is why we invest in participatory technology development.
This brings me to our partnership with the Benefit-Sharing Fund of the International Treaty. As you know, the Benefit-sharing Fund is a mechanism to prioritize the conservation and use of biodiversity in addressing poverty reduction. IFAD supported the Benefit Sharing Fund, through the initiative “Leading the Field.” In identifying which of the projects IFAD would support, an important criterion was relevance to poverty reduction within the IFAD country programmes. This criterion was applied not only to help strengthen the ongoing IFAD-funded projects in the country, but also to enhance the potential for scaling up and broadening our national partnership base.
Besides the funding provided to the projects under the Benefit Sharing Fund, we found that the International Treaty plays a fundamental role in influencing policy-makers at the international level. We believe that from a practical stance, inviting CSOs and NGOs to the discussions helps ensure that what is ratified at the international level, is then implemented locally – especially with regard to farmers’ rights.
Through the various high-level events organized by the Secretariat of the International Treaty, the latter has played the role of a knowledge broker. Henry Ford once said “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” It is reassuring to note how effective the Secretariat has been in establishing a broad base of strong partners who are effectively working together. Moreover, we in IFAD were pleased to note that the International Treaty is increasingly ensuring that farmers will be directly involved in almost all aspects of the work.
To conclude, let us recognise that people who live below the poverty line are wealthy when it comes to biodiversity and culture. We must support initiatives that celebrate and reward these rural communities for conserving this enormous wealth for us all. IFAD is an IFI firmly dedicated to rural poverty reduction. Our support to the International Treaty is also meant to signal to you, distinguished delegates, that this is an important initiative when it comes to sustainable rural development. Our funding alone , however, is insufficient - but we hope it can serve to catalyse additional support from other donors.
At this point, on behalf of IFAD, I wish the International Treaty a happy 10 year anniversary. It is a young treaty, but as the saying goes, it's not the years in your life that count but the life in your years - and with its 131 contracting parties, there's certainly much life to celebrate.
Thank you!