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SEARICE warns of more inequitable benefit sharing from PGRFA in proposed changes to the Multilateral System and Benefit Sharing

The Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE) and other civil society organizations (CSOs) that participated in the 10th Session of the Governing Body (GB-10) of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) raised serious concerns about expanding the plant genetic resource coverage of the Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing (MLS), citing threats to States’ control over access to their plant genetic resources and the possibility of inequitable benefit sharing from the use of such PGRFA.

The MLS comprises the largest global mechanism for the global exchange of PGRFA.


SEARICE takes issue with proposals to amend Annex 1 of the ITPGRFA to enable “facilitated access through the MLS to all plant genetic resources, not just to those plant genetic resources that have direct value for food and agriculture.

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SEARICE executive director Normita Ignacio said, “Currently Annex 1 only lists Food and Forage crops. An expansion of the Annex to ‘ALL PGRFA’ will bring any plant genetic resource-- not just food and forage crops--that can be presumed to contribute to food or agriculture under the Multilateral System, including wild species where bioprospecting is prevalent. This could potentially undermine the sovereign rights of States over their plant genetic resources by transferring the genetic materials of their endemic species to gene banks situated in foreign jurisdictions.”

Already, the MLS is flawed and any changes made to it must first address its shortcomings.

SEARICE executive director Normita Ignacio called attention to current practices of public PGRFA database administrators that allow open access to DSI without accountability and transparency and thus undermine benefit sharing.

Ignacio pointed to another priority issue--the patenting and application of intellectual property rights on genetic parts and components originating from material in the multilateral system.

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She said, “The prohibition on patenting is a key article of the ITPGRFA and of the Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA), yet such prohibition has not been enforced to date despite our repeated calls for its enforcement. It would not make sense to improve access to genetic resources through a revised system if such access were restricted by way of patents.”

 

Moreover, the current system does not guarantee fair and equitable benefit sharing.


“Any expansion of Annex 1 can only be envisaged if benefit sharing is truly fair,“ Ignacio said.

Just as importantly, said Ignacio, the proposed amendment of Annex 1 would “alter the very basis of the ITPGRFA," which stipulates in its preamble that the creation of a multilateral system for facilitated access is for “a negotiated selection of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture”. Thus, an expansion of Annex 1 to “ALL PGRFA” would mean the very nature of the treaty would be altered by this amendment.

Ignacio explained that “any amendment to Annex 1 is a huge step that requires a new ratification of the treaty. This step only makes sense if significant progress is made in other aspects of the MLS, such as the patent issue, DSI and benefit sharing. With any change, very clear lines must be drawn to show what will remain in the multilateral system and what should be kept outside of it.

Finally, SEARICE and the CSOs proposed an amendment to Paragraph 2 of Resolution 7/2022 for the Implementation of Article 9 on Farmers’ Rights in the ITPGRFA to ensure that farmers’ rights are guaranteed in any proposed solutions for enhancing the MLS.

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The GB-10 carried the theme, “From Seeds to Innovative Solutions, Safeguarding Our Future: Contributing to the Implementation of the Global Biodiversity Framework for Sustainable Food Systems.” It was held in Rome from 20-24 November 2023, brought together delegates from 151 Contracting Parties (member countries and the European Union), including the Philippines, as well as experts, observers, non-governmental organizations, scientists, farmers’ representatives and other international organizations.

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