The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries are going to set up a regional seed bank. Why?
…the proposed seed bank will particularly be useful in addressing seed shortages caused by natural calamities. The setting up of the seed bank … will ensure greater availability of quality seeds and spread of high yielding improved crop varieties, exchange of seeds and plant genetic resources and sharing of practices, technologies and techniques.
After the seed bank comes into existence, SAARC countries can share and grow common varieties of seeds. Currently, each country has its particular variety of seeds and some of them are not grown in other territories, while some are restricted by intellectual property rights.
A bit garbled to say the least, so I tried to go back to the source, and duly found the recommendations of the 16th SAARC summit in 2010. On page 6 a number of initiatives are listed under the heading of “Climate Change, Trade, Agriculture and Biodiversity.” These include the following:
SAARC Regional Food Bank and the need to supplement it with SAARC seed bank — SACEPS presented a comprehensive set of recommendations to the 15th SAARC Summit in Colombo, among others, on how to make the SRFB more effective since its early operationalization in view of climate change is crucial. In addition, it is also important for SAARC to consider the need to establish a SAARC seed bank in the region in order to negate the adverse effect of climate change. Community seed banks already exist in a number of countries in South Asia, but on their own they are not viable options to face the adverse effect of climate change. There is therefore a need to link these community seed banks at the national level and then link those national level seed banks at the regional level.
Eh? Most of these countries have national genebanks, some of them quite active. It is indeed important that these national genebanks collaborate with community seed banks and with each other, but this text seems to suggest there are no national level crop diversity conservation activities at all. It also ignores the fact that the international collections maintained by the CGIAR Centres are at the disposal of national breeding programmes striving to adapt crops to climate change. Maybe the proposed regional seed bank will focus on crops not covered by such international collections? Or on vegetatively propagated crops such as taro, banana and sweet potato which are particularly difficult to move around?
There’s also this in the recommendations:
Create a regional database of genetic resources and traditional knowledge — It is also important for SAARC to create a regional database of genetic resources and traditional knowledge and establish a regional access and benefit sharing regime with specific guidelines. The objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), of which every SAARC country is a member, is the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources. In South Asia, India and Bhutan already have national legislations in place, while Nepal has a draft in place and other countries have yet to develop such legal measures. There is need to bring the national legislations at par with the CBD and at the same time develop a regional framework for co-operation in bio-diversity conservation and to define areas of benefit sharing that arise out of the use of bio-diversity. Additionally, it is also important for South Asia to develop a common position for negotiation on the international regime at the CBD level on access and benefit sharing.
Again, many of these countries are Parties to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. One hopes someone has informed the relevant ministers since 2010.