Biological resources were widely regarded as a common heritage of humanity and freely accessible to all. In 1993 the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) came into force and reaffirmed the sovereign right of States over their biological resources under the principles of international law. The entire development of agriculture has always been based on the domestication and breeding of useful plants and animals. An unhindered exchange of genetic resources - even across continents - made it possible for agriculture to spread and become successful in almost all regions of the world over the course of thousands of years.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, it has been recognised that the diversity of landraces of cultivated plants, which have been cultivated for thousands of years, threatened to disappear worldwide and would thus no longer be available as a genetic reservoir for plant breeding. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) made this clear at its 10th Conference in 1959 in the "Resolution on the Importance and Threat of Plant Genetic Resources". Numerous gene banks were established worldwide to collect and store seed samples from crops from all over the world. The International Committee on Plant Genetic Resources (now called "Bioversity International"), established in 1974, supported these conservation activities. In 1983, the international community agreed on the "International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture". The aim of this commitment was to preserve the worldwide diversity of plant genetic resources as the common heritage of mankind, to use them sustainably and to make them freely available for research and breeding.
A paradigm shift took place in the 1990s of the 20th century: with the adoption of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1992, in contrast to the concept of the common heritage of mankind, the nation states were attributed the right to dispose of their biological resources. In the so-called "Nairobi Final Act" of 1992, which laid down the text of the Convention, the FAO was simultaneously mandated to clarify the status of existing collections of plant genetic resources and the rights of farmers, as well as to bring the 1983 International Undertaking into line with the new provisions of the CBD. This mandate resulted in the “The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture” which was adopted in 2001 and entered into force in 2004.
Marliese von den Driesch
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Federal Office for Agriculture
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