UN conference on plant genetic resources

Issue 

Officials from the ministries of agriculture, foreign affairs and the environment of approximately 150 countries will gather for a major conference on plant genetic resources in Leipzig, Germany, in June 1996.

The intergovernmental conference, convened by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), will include both technical and policy components and will focus on domesticated plants used as food, fuel, fibre and medicine. It will be the largest and perhaps most significant meeting concerning biodiversity since the Earth Summit in 1992.

NGOs have an important role to play in preparations for the conference, which has been designed as part of the implementation of the Earth Summit's Agenda 21 sections dealing with plant genetic resources (PGR).

The conference will consider two major documents for adoption:

First Report on the State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources — a critical assessment of the status of PGR worldwide as well as the institutional capabilities to care for and develop these resources.

Global Plan of Action — a combination of recommended programs, priorities and projects to conserve and develop plant genetic resources. The plan is envisioned as a major component of FAO's contribution to implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and will address means of providing concrete benefits to developing countries for their genetic resources.

FAO and its member countries have agreed upon an unusually open process for development of both documents. The International Conference and Program for Plant Genetic Resources (ICPPGR) has been established to coordinate preparations for the conference, including activities at the country level (preparation of reports assessing national situations), subregional meetings, collaboration with a wide range of scientific institutions, and international computer bulletin boards.

The ICPPGR is now actively encouraging participation of NGOs and farmers' organisations in each step of the conference and document preparation process. In addition, governments have been asked to involve all segments of the genetic resources community, including NGOs, in preparation of country reports. Subregional meetings open to NGOs will be organised to review these reports and to discuss particular problems and opportunities in the subregion as well as its input into the global plan of action.

Historically, NGOs were the first to popularise concerns over plant genetic resources. NGOs have been instrumental in broadening the debate beyond purely conservationist concerns to include questions of ownership, equity, control and sharing of benefits. n
[From Pesticide Action Network North America Updates Service.]

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