In 1983 the first permanent intergovernmental forum on plant genetic resources was established. It comprises the Commission on Plant Genetic Resources and the first legal framework, which is the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources.
The Commission is a neutral forum through which donors and users of germplasm, information, technologies and funds can work towards consensus and cooperation on the issues related to germplasm conservation and development.
The International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources assures that resource species of present or potential economic or social importance are explored, conserved, evaluated, utilized and made available for plant breeding and other research purposes. It is being revised in order to adapt the Undertaking in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity, to agree terms to plant genetic resources and to realize Farmers' Rights. It is expected that the revised Undertaking will become a legally binding agreement and perhaps a protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Although not yet established, the International Fund for Plant Genetic Resources intends to provide a means for countries, organizations and private industry and individuals to support conservation and promote sustainable use of plant genetic resources. This fund is vital both to the effective implementation of the Global System and to the realization of Farmers' Rights.
The concept of Farmers' Rights was developed to recognize and reward the contribution of farmers and indigenous peoples to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and genetic resources through their own informal knowledge system of plants and animals used for food and agriculture production. It recognizes the contribution of generations of rural people to domestication of wild species and their subsequent improvement through on-farm breeding. They have thus conserved germplasm and made it available to societies. While it would be utopian for them to claim individual compensation, their collective rights to share the benefits derived from genetic resources have been unanimously recognized by FAO's Member Countries and adopted by FAO's Conference.
The International Code of Conduct for Germplasm Collecting and Transfer proposes procedures to request and/or to issue licences for collecting missions, provides guidelines for collectors themselves, and extends responsibilities and obligations to the sponsors of missions, the curators of gene banks, and the users of genetic material. It calls for the participation of farmers and local institutions in collecting missions and proposes that users of germplasm share the benefits from the use of plant genetic resources within the host country and its farmers.
A Code of Conduct for Biotechnology for Germplasm Collecting and Transfer is being negotiated and is designed to prevent the erosion of genetic resources, assist access to them, and protect the rights of countries and local communities.
The International Network of Ex Situ Collections, under the Auspices and/or Jurisdiction of FAO and with technical assistance of the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), was established with collections of 12 International Agricultural Research Centres in 1994. A Network of In Situ Conservation Areas, with special emphasis on wild relatives of crops and on farm conservation and utilization of land races, is still under development.
The World Information and Early Warning System on Plant Genetic Resources collects and disseminates data and facilitates the exchange of information on plant genetic resources and related technologies. The objective is to draw international attention to hazards threatening the operation of gene banks and the loss of genetic diversity throughout the world. The Information System is already established and include records of ex situ collections in 130 countries. The Early Warning System is still at planning stage.
The State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources is a periodic report to cover all aspects of the conservation and utilization of plant genetic resources, as well as activities and programmes being carried out nationally and internationally, aiming at identifying gaps, constraints and situations requiring immediate action. A Global Plan of Action on Plant Genetic Resources is being prepared based on this information. This Plan is designed to rationalize and coordinate efforts in plant genetic resources and provide estimates for funding needs. It is expected to be adopted in 1996. The Fourth International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources is scheduled to be organized by FAO in 1996. This Conference will include the first report on the State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources. An Action Programme on Plant Genetic Resources will also be presented for discussion. Currently there are proposals to broaden the mandate of the Commission to include animal and fish genetic resources as it is the case for crops and forest biological diversity and genetic resources.