Ismail Serageldin, Chairman of the CGIAR, reaffirmed the consortium's commitment to work with the world scientific community to ensure that genetic resources are conserved, to guarantee their sustainable use, and to promote an equitable sharing of benefits.
In a statement to the Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, Serageldin said the undertaking is consistent with the record of the CGIAR in the conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources through the impact of plant breeding technologies and of programs that specifically protect biodiversity.
"One of the most challenging tasks facing the global systems is the standardization of methods for integrating ethics, equity and gender concerns in genetic resources conservation and use", he said.
"The CGIAR is ensuring that its research takes full account of these concerns through adherence to national and international standards on biosafety, and through it work on the development of genetic material transfer systems so results of its research remain in the realm of public good and confer benefits to poor farm families," Serageldin explained.
He emphasized that the future of global food security will depend largely on the success of such efforts, noting that the CGIAR centers stand ready to assist the Conference of Parties and other bodies of the Convention.
"The strongest contribution the CGIAR can make to translate the Convention's aims to realities," Serageldin stated, "is in the area of science and technology. CGIAR institutes are centers of scientific excellence and their collective expertise can help bring about innovations that the complexities of the challenges ahead of us demand."
Because of their non-governmental status, CGIAR centers are not signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity. "That does not dilute their adherence to the spirit and provisions of the Convention relating to the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from their research and from the commercial and other use of genetic resources," Serageldin pointed out.
The agreements signed between the CGIAR centers and FAO reiterated the long-standing policy that centers "shall not claim legal ownership over the designated germplasm, nor shall they seek any intellectual property rights over that germplasm or related information."
In addition, Serageldin said, the CGIAR is further developing its guiding principles in intellectual property protection related to the distribution and use of enhanced germplasm and biotechnological products. "These guiding principles are being designed to ensure that the benefits of breeding and biotechnological research accrue to low income farm families working under diverse agroecological conditions," he said.
Earlier this year to protect their germplasm collections, CGIAR centers placed their plant genetic resources under the intergovernmental auspices of the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Commission on Plant Genetic Resources Half a million designated germplasm accessions maintained by the CGIAR centers now form the backbone of the FAO international network of genebank collections. "These collections represent humankind's most precious asset for research directed towards international public good and for providing sustainable food security," Serageldin explained.
In a discussion of the CGIAR's role in the conservation and sustainable management of genetic resources, Serageldin said the group recently created a system-wide program on genetic resources, and established a policy committee to provide it with support and advice on all aspects of plant genetic resources policy.
The CGIAR has strengthened its activities in genetic resources and is developing a System-wide Information Network on Genetic Resources. When the system comes on line late in 1996 or early 1997, data and information on all centers, as well as other CGIAR genetic resource databases, will become fully available to the world community, Serageldin said.
Through the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), the CGIAR is playing an important role in aiding FAO prepare reports on the State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources and a Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
At the request of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources, the IPGRI has also begun a technical study to find options for resolving issues related to access of genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their use. Multilateral and bilateral options are being investigated in an attempt to find possible systems that are compatible with the Convention on Biodiversity, Serageldin said.
The CGIAR, through its network of international agricultural research centers, maintains the world's largest international ex situ, or genebank, collections of agrobiodiversity, comprising about 500,000 accessions.
These collections not only aim to ensure safe conservation, but also have great added value in that the materials within them have been well characterized, evaluated, and documented. They are also the basis of the CGIAR's plant improvement activities.
The centers distribute each year more than 120,000 samples from the collections as well as over a half million samples of genetically enhanced material resulting from their breeding efforts. These samples are sent primarily to scientists and institutions in developing countries where they serve as the major source of plant diversity for many national crop improvement programs.
The CGIAR, through the IPGRI, has also assisted over 100 countries to develop their national genebanks.