Green leafed seedlings on black plastic pots

Highlights and images for 17 April 2024

Headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), Rome, Italy

Working Group Co-Chairs: Sunil Archak, and Michael Ryan; and Álvaro Toledo, ITPGRFA Secretariat

Working Group Co-Chairs Sunil Archak and Michael Ryan; and Álvaro Toledo, ITPGRFA Secretariat

Since the Treaty’s entry into force, the Multilateral System (MLS) of access and benefit-sharing (ABS) has facilitated millions of exchanges of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) for research, breeding, and training purposes. While access to genetic material is necessary for continued agricultural innovation, fair and equitable benefit-sharing and due respect for farmers’ rights have been lacking. As many participants highlighted during the day, the negotiations to enhance the MLS provide the opportunity to stimulate benefit flows while protecting farmers’ rights and ensuring the Treaty remains relevant in the face of technological innovation.

Discussions began with a presentation on seed market profitability, delivered by Jonathan Shoham, S&P Global. Delegates heard that seeds are one of the most intensive areas of research and development (R&D), noting high market-consolidation trends and lack of data on farmers’ R&D expenditure.

Deliberations then focused on the Co-Chairs’ options paper on the three hotspots: expansion of the list of crops in Annex I (the crops covered by the MLS); digital sequence information/genetic sequence data (DSI/GSD); and payment structure and rates.

Working Group Co-chair Sunil Archak discussing with delegates of Farmers' Organizations

Working Group Co-Chair Sunil Archak speaking with representatives of Farmers' Organizations

Regarding the crops covered by the MLS, delegates expressed their preferences for proceeding with full or partial expansion, as well as immediate or progressive implementation. Co-Chair Michael Ryan (Australia) shared the Co-Chairs’ assessment that the most promising option is the full expansion to all PGRFA in ex situ conditions, under the management and control of parties and in the public domain, as agreed in the June 2019 package, coupled with national or regional lists of exemptions.

As discussions demonstrated, user countries aim to expand the scope of the MLS  to ensure legal certainty and facilitated access for users under standardized terms. Provider countries, on the other hand, wish to retain certain native crops of cultural or strategic importance outside the MLS, aiming to negotiate benefit-sharing bilaterally under the terms of the Nagoya Protocol on ABS. Others expressed concerns regarding potential consequences of expansion on farmers’ rights, highlighting the need to address the impact of intellectual property rights and ensure conservation of agricultural biodiversity on-farm.

Deliberations on DSI/GSD focused on: its application to PGRFA and the payment structures to be defined in the enhanced MLS; non-monetary benefit-sharing and capacity-building needs; and ensuring mutual supportiveness with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Co-Chair Ryan noted overwhelming support for developing a specialized approach regarding DSI/GSD that facilitates mutual supportiveness with the CBD, with several regions suggesting working initially on the basis of a subscription system.

Between Sessions

Delegates from Europe and the Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC) consulting during a break

On the payment structure and rates, delegates addressed whether the revised SMTA should include only a subscription option involving upfront benefit-sharing payments, or a dual system, allowing users to choose between subscription and a single-access option operating along the lines of the current SMTA. Many expressed preference for subscription only, pointing to the need for simplicity and sustainable generation of monetary benefits. Others called for retaining the single access option, noting that a dual system would be more attractive to users and highlighting the need for further discussion on thresholds and exemptions from payments under the subscription system.

All ENB photos are free to use with attribution. For the 11th Meeting of the Ad Hoc Open ended Working Group to Enhance the Functioning of the ITPGRFA Multilateral System, please use: Photo by IISD/ENB | Anastasia Rodopoulou.

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