International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture Page: 2 of 28
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International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
Plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) serve as the raw material used by plant
breeders and farmers to create new crop varieties. As such, they are viewed by many as the
foundation for modern agriculture and as essential for achieving global food security. The United
Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that more than three-quarters of the
increased crop productivity of the past 30 years is the result of plant breeding, and that future
global food security depends to a large extent on the continued improvement of food crops-for
example, developing new varieties that are higher-yielding, resistant to pests and diseases,
resistant to extreme weather events such as drought or flood, and/or regionally adapted to
different environments and growing conditions. All countries of the world are interdependent
when it comes to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; each relies on others for the
genetic basis of its major food crops and for its food security. Interdependence for major food
crops-the measure of reliance on nonindigenous staple crop germplasm that comes from other
parts of the world-is over 50% for most regions, and ranges from 67% to 84% for countries in
central Africa and from 85% to 100% for countries in south Asia. The high degree of
interdependence argues for free access by countries to a wide range of plant genetic resources
from other regions, in order to ensure future crop improvement and continued gains in
agricultural productivity globally.
The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (the Treaty on
PGRFA) provides a general framework for conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic
resources. The treaty sets up a multilateral system of access and benefit sharing, where all
members, in exercise of their sovereignty, provide free (or nearly free) access to each other's
plant genetic resources for research, breeding, conservation, and training. The multilateral
approach allows members access to germplasm to promote food security and improve crop
productivity, lowers transaction costs, and redistributes back to the governing body financial
benefits derived from the commercial exploitation of the genetic resources.
Currently, 120 countries are parties to the treaty. The United States signed the treaty on November
1, 2002 (Treaty Doc. 110-19), and it was submitted by the Bush Administration to the Senate for
advice and ratification on July 7, 2008. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard testimony
in support of ratification on November 10, 2009, but to date no further action has been taken.
Congress could assess several issues related to ratification of the Treaty on PGRFA, including the
implications for the United States' position on the Convention for Biological Diversity; the
implications for the United States' position on intellectual property rights; the expectations for
future financial commitments under the treaty, especially for capacity-building in developing
countries; and the potential implications, if any, for congressional proposals related to
international agricultural research and development.
Congressional Research Service
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International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, report, March 1, 2010; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc811244/m1/2/: accessed April 22, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.