International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

Published on 22nd November 2011

International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture: Where does South Africa stand?

By Phindile Lukhele-Olorunju

A policy is typically described as a principle or rule to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes. Policies will contain the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ and are generally adopted by the board or senior governance body within an organisation.

They can be considered as ‘statements of intent or commitment’, and may be adopted by governments, private sector organisations and groups or individuals. Policies are developed to guide our actions towards achieving desired outcomes. They also refer to the process of making important organisational decisions, including identifying different alternatives such as programmes or spending priorities, and choosing between them on the basis of the impact they will have. Policies can be understood as political, managerial, financial, and administrative mechanisms devised to reach explicit goals.

The Business dictionary simply defines policy as ‘the declared objectives that a government seeks to achieve and preserve in the interest of national community.’

The Department of Agriculture in South Africa has developed a number of policies that have guided it in reaching explicit goals. Good examples would include the policy on minimum wage for farm labourers, policies on farm evictions and farm killings and the policy preventing maize from being produced for biofuel or purposes other than for human consumption. South Africa, being a signatory to a number of international laws, has also developed policies that assist the nation to conform to some of these laws.

For example, restriction of smoking to specified areas to protect citizens from health hazards, and the use and production of genetically modified organisms are guided by the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) Act 15 of 1997. The exchange of germplasm is also a very important aspect of agriculture that requires government intervention.

South Africa is a member of the UN and therefore subscribes to UN bodies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) which, among other things, concentrates on global food security issues for the survival and sustainability of life.

This responsibility may involve the drawing up of treaties such as the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture What is the ITPGRFA ?

For clearer understanding of what the Treaty is about, it is important for this brief to present available information on the ITPGRFA ‘After seven years of negotiations, the FAO Conference (through Resolution 3/2001) adopted the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in November 2001. This legally-binding Treaty covers all plant genetic resources relevant for food and agriculture. It is in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).’

The Treaty defines plant genetic resources as ‘any genetic material of plant origin of actual or potential value for food and agriculture that needs to be conserved for future generations.’

The Treaty’s objectives are therefore conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from their use, in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity, for sustainable agriculture and food security.

The 127 member countries had to agree on an efficient, effective and transparent multilateral system to facilitate access to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, and to share the benefits in a fair and equitable way. This system would apply to over 64 major crops and forages, and the access and sharing would be managed through a governing body of the treaty through a ‘Material Transfer Agreement.’

The Treaty addresses issues of concern such as access and benefit sharing, conditions of access, protection of farmers’ rights and Treaty beneficiaries.

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