Crop Genebank Knowledge Base

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Policies and legal arrangements

Contact person for Policies and legal arrangements: Michael Halewood, Bioversity International, Italy

Contributors to this page: Bioversity International (Michael Halewood, Evelyn Clancy, Marleni Ramirez, Jojo Baidu-Forson, Leocadio Sebastian, Percy Sajise, Isabel Lopez Noriega, Gabrielle Gagné, Isabel Lapeña, Lim Eng Siang, Selim Louafi); ILRI, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Jean Hanson); KARI, Kenya (Zachary Muthamia, Peterson Wambugu); University of Los Baños, Philippines (Teresita Borromeo, Nestor Altoveros); Hassan II Institute of Agronomy and Veterinary Medicine, Morocco (Mohammed Sadiki); Instituto Nacional de Innovación Agraria, Peru (Manuel Sigueñas); Estudio Grau, Peru (Pamela Ferro); Group for the Analysis of Development (GRADE), Peru (Manuel Glave); IRRI, Philippines (Ruaraidh Sackville Hamilton); ICARDA, Syria (Ahmed Amri); ICRISAT, India (Hari D Upadhyaya); CIP, Peru (David Tay); Global Crop Diversity Trust (Godfrey Mwila); ILRI, Nairobi, Kenya (Linda Opati).

Developments in international and national law and policy over the past 20 years have significantly changed the policy environment and legal framework that governs the management and control of genetic resources. Policies on issues such as access, ownership, intellectual property rights, variety registration and marketing, the use of research results (particularly research involving formal and informal sector partners), and the equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources govern many of the activities involved in the management of genetic resources. How such policies and laws are developed, interpreted and implemented directly influences how genebanks design and carry out their genetic resources activities.

The major policies which influence the management of genetic resources in genebanks include:

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (the Treaty)

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture [ITPGRFA (the Treaty)] is the framework within the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) that deals with crops and recognizes the importance of crop genetic resources for food security and the interdependence of countries in conserving their biodiversity. It defines an innovative management system that meets the specific needs of agriculture. It recognizes the contribution of farmers to maintaining the diversity of crops that feed the world and establishes a global system to provide farmers, plant breeders and scientists with no-cost, facilitated access to plant genetic materials and ensures that users share any benefits they derive from genetic materials used in plant breeding or biotechnology with the regions where they originated.

The Treaty came into force in 2004 and the 11 CGIAR Centres holding international plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) collections signed Agreements with the Governing Body (click here to download the model of the 11 Agreements) of the Treaty on World Food Day, 16 October 2006, placing those collections under the Treaty's framework. Upon signing their agreements, the Centres issued a statement clarifying interpretations of the Agreements.

The Treaty recognizes a set of crops in Annex 1 with mutual dependence among countries and establishes a multilateral system for their conservation and use, using a Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA) setting out the terms of access and benefit sharing. The Centres use the SMTA when distributing both Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 materials. The System-wide Genetic Resources Programme (SGRP) of the CGIAR has developed a Guide to the Centres’ Use of the SMTA which is updated periodically. Incorporating frequently asked questions (FAQs) ( from the Treaty’s website, the Centres have further developed additional FAQs specific to their needs (for example from CIMMYT and these FAQs are included in the Guide to the Centres’ Use of the SMTA.

The Centres have made reports to the second and third sessions of the Governing Body of the Treaty providing details of their experiences in implementing their agreements with the Governing Body. These reports ( ( include details about the materials the Centres acquired and distributed using the SMTA.

A learning module about the ITPGRFA is available in English, French and Spanish. It aims to explain the Treaty in the context of other international agreements and how to use its Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA) to exchange crop diversity. The module was developed by Bioversity International and sponsored by the CGIAR System-wide Genetic Resources Programme and the CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was inspired by the world community's growing commitment to sustainable development and entered into force at the end of 1993. It provides the global framework to conserve and sustainably use biological diversity for the benefit of present and future generations. The CBD recognizes the value of diversity and the common concern for its conservation in the face of global threats, while reaffirming that States have sovereign rights over their own biological resources. It has three main objectives:

  • To conserve biological diversity.
  • The use biological diversity in a sustainable way.
  • To share the benefits of biological diversity fairly and equitably.

The articles of the CBD provide the legal and policy framework for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and related information, research and training to better manage and use that biodiversity and the conditions of access to and benefit sharing from use of all biodiversity.

Ensuring the consistency and transparency of implementation of these policies will continue to be a matter of the highest priority for all genebank staff. The SGRP has compiled all policies on genetic resources currently in use in the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Centres into a booklet that is a useful resource for genebanks to see how international genebanks are handling policies and their model agreements. In addition, the CGIAR established the Genetic Resources Policy Committee (GRPC) to assist the Chair of the CGIAR to exercise leadership in genetic resources policy and to enhance the openness and transparency of discussions on policy issues surrounding genetic resources among members of the CGIAR community. When appropriate, the Committee makes specific recommendations to Centres and CGIAR members on policies and legal arrangements.

Supporting and monitoring the development and implementation of a crop-based global system and the CGIAR performance therein: Analysis of the elements and functions and promotion of an integrated system.

One of the activities of the Global Public Goods project - Phase II (GPG2), was to carry out baseline studies in four countries: Kenya, Morocco, Peru and the Philippines to identify incentives and disincentives to participate in the multilateral system (MLS) of access and benefit sharing of the Treaty (as a proxy for their participation in the global system). A workshop entitled “National programmes’ and CGIAR Centres' cooperation to implement the International Treaty's multilateral system of access and benefit sharing” was held at Bioversity International, Rome, 15-16 February 2010, with the participation of the country partners, CGIAR staff and other experts. The workshop identified:

a) Common themes and distinguishing factors of the four case studies.

b) Ways in which the CGIAR and national programmes could cooperate better to address challenges.

Main common incentives for countries to participate in the global system were:

Facilitated access to germplasm of a wide genetic base.

Reduced germplasm exchange transaction costs.

Strengthening of national breeding and ex situ conservation capacities.

Consolidation of national systems for the research and management of PGRFA.

Enhanced coordination and exchange of information at national, regional and international levels (avoiding duplication of collections and providing for more efficient conservation standards).

Common disincentives for national implementation of the Treaty's MLS were:

Lack of appreciation of national dependence on foreign and CGIAR germplasm.

Perception of the Treaty as a tool designed to help developed countries access germplasm from biodiversity-rich nations and uncertainty on access and benefit sharing mechanisms.

Concerns were also:

Lack of awareness of decision makers.

Weakness of national breeding capacities to benefit from facilitated access.

Weak information systems (information on conserved germplasm not publicly available; limited viability of materials); burdensome phytosanitary measures.

Defensive or inexistent national access and benefit sharing regulations that lead to concerns over “biopiracy” and misappropriation.

In addition to the four country case studies, the project is supporting two papers addressing: a) interesting themes across the four country case studies; and b) ways in which the CGIAR Centres can cooperate with national programmes implementing the Treaty. A set of recommendations from the Workshop is being fed-back to the Centres.

References and further reading

Genetic Resources Policy Committee (GRPC). More information.

Halewood M, Nnadozie K. 2008. Giving Priority to the Commons: The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources (ITPGRFA). In: Tansey G, Rajotte T, editors. The Future Control of Food. A guide to international negotiations and rules on intellectual property, biodiversity and food security. Earthscan, IDRC and QUIAP, Ottawa and London. ISBN:978-1-84407-429-7.  pp.115-141. Available from: Date accessed: 3 March 2010.

Lapeña I, López I, Sigueñas M, Ramirez M, 2010. Incentivos y Desincentivos para la Participación del Perú en el Sistema Multilateral del Tratado Internacional sobre Recursos Fitogenéticos para la Alimentación y la Agricultura. Bioversity International, Roma, Italia. Available here (4.5 MB).

López NI, Halewood M, O’Keeffe E, editors. 2008. Recursos Naturales y Ambiente, No. 53. El Sistema Multilateral de Acceso y Distribución de Beneficios del Tratado Internacional sobre Recursos Fitogenéticos para la Alimentación y la Agricultura, su Importancia para Latinoamérica (The multilateral system of access and benefit sharing of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture). pp.178. CATIE, Costa Rica. [online] Available from:  Date accessed: 3 November 2010.

Moore G, Goldberg E, editors. 2010. International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture: Learning Module. Produced by the CGIAR System-wide Genetic Resources Programme (SGRP), Bioversity International and the Generation Challenge Programme. Bioversity International, Rome, Italy. Available from: Date accessed: 21 December 2010.

Moore G, Tymowski W. 2005. Explanatory Guide to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. IUCN Environmental Law Programme. [online] Available from Date accessed: 01 April 2010.

Training module about the implementation of the International Treaty for PGRFA. Available here.

Training module on Law and Policy of Relevance to the Management of Plant Genetic Resources. Available here.

Training module on Transfer of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Available here.

Leave your comments

Post comment as a guest

terms and condition.
  • No comments found

International Agricultural Research Centres who worked together to make this site possible:
Africa Rice Center | Bioversity International | CIAT | CIMMYT | CIP | ICARDA | ICRISAT | IFPRI | IITA | ILRI | IRRI |