By Dan Leskien, Senior Liaison Officer, Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN
On 1 October 2021, the 18th biennial session of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (Commission) ended with the approval of the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation, Sustainable Use and Development of Aquatic Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture to be considered by the FAO Council for adoption before the end of this year. In response to the report on The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture, the Commission, which was convened virtually, also endorsed a Framework for Action on Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture.
Framework for Action on Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture
In view of the on-going negotiations of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, the Commission decided to consider the need for a Global Plan of Action on Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture or any other policy tools on biodiversity for food and agriculture (BFA) once the GBF has been approved. In the meantime, it endorsed the Framework for Action on Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture. The Framework addresses BFA as a whole and aims to promote coordinated action across all the sectors of food and agriculture – and more widely – to improve the sustainable use and conservation of BFA at genetic, species and ecosystem levels. It is not intended to replace, duplicate or change the Commission’s existing sectoral global plans of action for genetic resources for food and agriculture (GRFA), or other international agreements, but to strengthen their harmonious implementation.
The Commission also endorsed a draft Council resolution inviting the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity to take into account, in the development of the GBF, the Framework for Action for Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture as well as the Commission’s global action plans. The draft resolution also invites the private sector to support the implementation of the Commission’s actions plans and encourages donors to provide support to their implementation as part of the global effort to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Target 2.5.
Global action on genetic resources for food and agriculture
The Commission reviewed the implementation of its action plans on plant, livestock and forest genetic resources and while it took note of the progress made, it stressed the need to increase efforts to maintain the diversity of these crucial resources. It commended its intergovernmental technical working groups on their high level of expertise and took note of various practical guides the working groups had contributed to in the field of plant and animal genetic resources.
The Commission also paved the way for the adoption of another global action plan and invited the Council to adopt, in response to the findings of the first global assessment of aquatic genetic resources for food and agriculture, a global plan of action for aquatic genetic resources.
Under the auspices of the Commission, two country-driven global assessments are currently under preparation: the second report on forest genetic resources and the third report on plant genetic resources. The Commission encouraged countries and relevant international organizations to contribute to these assessments by providing the necessary data. The Commission will review first drafts of the assessments in 2023.
Upon review of the status and trends of the use and conservation of invertebrate pollinators, including honey bees, the Commission requested FAO to consider the need for, and modalities of, a global pollinator platform to address pollinators and pollination services at global level, and to report on this matter to the Commission at its next session.
The Commission considered in addition to the different sectors of animal, aquatic, forest, plant, micro-organism and invertebrate genetic resources multiple cross-sectoral matters. It considered the role of biotechnologies for the conservation and sustainable use of GRFA; access and benefit-sharing (ABS); digital sequence information (DSI); the role of GRFA in mitigation of and adaptation to climate change; and the nexus of biodiversity for food and agriculture (BFA), food security, nutrition and human health.
In reviewing recent developments in biotechnologies relevant to the characterization, sustainable use and conservation of GRFA, the Commission noted that a wide range of agricultural biotechnologies, agroecology and other innovative approaches should be seen as complementary and could contribute to the SDGs, sustainable agri-food systems and improving nutrition. It stressed the importance of capacity-building and awareness-raising.
Access and benefit-sharing and digital sequence information
The Commission has a longstanding history of dealing with access to GRFA and the sharing of benefits derived from their utilization. At this session, the Commission welcomed a Survey of access and benefit-sharing country measures and initiated further work that will deepen the empirical evidence needed to understand the effects of ABS measures on research and development related to GRFA. More specifically, it requested a compilation of specific examples of existing country ABS measures that directly or indirectly accommodate distinctive features of GRFA. To the extent ABS measures address DSI, they may be included in the compilation.
The Commission also initiated further intersessional work on DSI, including a study on how DSI is generated, stored, accessed and used for research and development related to GRFA. It also decided to consider, at its next session, the different policy options discussed under the CBD for DSI, including the option of ABS multilateral mechanisms, and their implications for the agri-food sector.
The Commission took note of the scoping study on The role of genetic resources for food and agriculture in adaptation to, and mitigation of, climate change and put in place a process through which Commission Members may report in the future on the use of GRFA in mitigating and adapting to climate change. The Commission also decided to review and revise at its next session its 2015 Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Integration of Genetic Diversity into National Climate Change Adaptation Planning, taking into account the need to address the vulnerabilities of GRFA to climate change.
Food security, nutrition and human health
Finally, the Commission stressed the important roles that GRFA and BFA may play in food system transformations and in addressing the challenge of providing safe, healthy and sustainable diets.
The Commission’s subsidiary bodies will meet in the course of 2022/23. The Commission’s next Session is tentatively scheduled for 24-28 July 2023.