First session of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture Ad Hoc Technical Working Group on Access and Benefit-sharing for Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
Report by Ronnie Vernooy
From 11-13 September 2012, about 60 delegates and observers came together in the town of Longyearbyen, Norway – better known as the location of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault – to review and discuss appropriate access and benefit sharing modalities and measures for genetic resources for food and agriculture in a number of sub-sectors (forest, animal, aquatic, micro-organisms and invertebrates).
The first major subject reviewed was the distinctive features of genetic resources for food and agriculture (working document CGRFA/WG-ABS-1/12/3 prepared by the CGRFA Secretariat) based on which appropriate sub-sectoral approaches are to be developed. The Working Group reached agreement without major debate on a set of 21 distinctive features grouped under seven categories (See Appendix B of the report). There was, however, no discussion on the distinctive features by sub-sector, a crucial task for the elaboration of specific measures.
The second major subject concerned access and benefit sharing modalities and measures. The group did not easily come to an agreement, debating the wording of the two other working documents provided by the Secretariat (CGRFA/WG-ABS-1/12/4 and CGRFA/WG-ABS-1/12/5). In fact, one could easily have mistaken the interactions as negotiations of an international agreement. They were not! As paragraph 16 of the final report states (page 3): “The Working Group agreed that it was premature to consider recommending to negotiate an international agreement or agreements on access and benefit sharing for genetic resources for food and agriculture.”
After three days of debate, the Working Group agreed upon 10 recommendations which together basically outline a set of awareness raising, capacity building and reporting activities concerning ongoing and future access and benefit sharing initiatives, practices and instruments (See, section V of the report). In other words: an ambitious agenda for much more (research) work to be done.
The final report will be reviewed at the CGRFA’s forthcoming meetings of the Intergovernmental Technical Working Groups on: Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (October 2012); Forest Genetic Resources (February 2013); Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (November 2012); and at the CGRFA’s 14th Regular Session (April 2013).The meeting was hosted and supported by the Government of Norway and included a side visit to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The vault now hosts almost 750,000 accessions with another 30,000 to arrive in October 2012 (see the Seed Portal). The visit offered some fresh close-to-the North pole air and a glimpse of the impressive “safe and peaceful home” of humankind’s largest single repository of seeds.