17 October 2006

Global bank of plant and food samples now available to all under UN-sponsored treaty

UN News Centre

16 October 2006 Gene bank collections of the world’s key food and forage crops came under the control today of an international treaty established by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

About 600,000 samples of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, housed at international agricultural research centres, will now be available for use to plant breeders, farmers and researchers from around the world.

The agreement ensuring open access comes amid increasing debate about the sharp decline in agricultural biodiversity, thanks to the effects of modern agriculture, environmental changes and increasing population density. Today just four crops – rice, wheat, maize and potato – provide more than 60 per cent of humans’ total dietary energy from plants.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said countries can draw on the collections to help deal with such problems as climate change and pest diseases and to tackle challenges such as feeding a rapidly expanding population.

“These genes are the building blocks for the development of new plant varieties that are better suited to our needs and to the constraints of our ecosystems,” Dr. Diouf said.

The new system follows a deal signed by the agricultural research centres and the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which was approved by the FAO membership in 2001 and entered into force in June 2004.

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