The International Treaty in the classroom

“Now, after the course, I feel like I know a lot about agricultural policies and laws. That will be very useful for me in my work back home.” (A course participant during the evaluation session on May 3, 2013)

Photo: Ronnie Vernooy

Photo: Ronnie Vernooy

From April 15-May 3, 2013, 27 professionals from 21 countries took part in the international course Contemporary approaches to genetic resources conservation and use organized by the Centre for Development Innovation of Wageningen University and Research Centre. During three weeks, they learned about and debated the merits of in situ and ex situ conservation strategies, conventional and participatory plant breeding approaches, practices of sustainable use and, notably, the relevance and impact of policies on conservation and use of plant genetic resources.

For the first time in the course history, one module consisting of several sessions dealt with the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (the Treaty). The topics covered, included: Genetic resources as a common heritage: from the International Undertaking to the International Treaty (guest speaker: José T. Esquinas-Alcázar); the history of the Treaty, the Funding Strategy, the moving scope of Annex 1 (all three by course co-coordinator: Bert Visser); Farmers’ Rights (guest speaker: Bella Batta Torheim); Conservation and Sustainable Use, and the Multi-lateral System (MLS) of access and benefit sharing (both by course facilitator Ronnie Vernooy). A special seminar was dedicated to the Bioversity International coordinated project Strengthening capacities to implement the International Treaty on PGRFA (presentation by Ronnie Vernooy) to illustrate the activities required for and challenges encountered in Treaty implementation.

Photo: Ronnie Vernooy

Photo: Ronnie Vernooy

Following each of the plenary sessions, participants worked in small groups on practical assignments, using tools such as mindmap (see photo below) and visioning. Tasks included identifying which collections at national level can be included in the MLS, recommending practical suggestions to implement farmers’ rights at national level, and designing action plans for awareness raising about and implementation of the Treaty through a multi-stakeholder approach. Results of the group work were then presented in plenary followed by comments. Group interactions were lively and at times heated. In the discussions it became clear that country contexts vary widely and that this diversity does not always make it easy to come to shared understanding and development of a joint plan or project idea. In a way, as one of the course facilitators observed, the class dynamics reflected the sometimes tough negotiation processes that led to the creation of the Treaty.

Photo: Ronnie Vernooy

Photo: Ronnie Vernooy

Participants evaluated the course including the Treaty sessions on the last day. Overall, they expressed satisfaction about both course content and methodology. They appreciated all the Treaty sessions and made a few suggestions for improvement, such as the use of visuals in all sessions and more time for discussion of some topics.

Next year’s course will take place from April 7-26, 2014. For more information, including about fellowships, please contact: Abishkar Subedi, overall course coordinator,, or visit: http:///


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