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A bit more on what happened at GB8

I did suggest a couple of days ago that I’d have more to say about the Eighth Session of the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. And here it is, over at the work blog.

If you think I got anything wrong, or missed anything out, or you want further details or clarifications, you can leave comments here if you like, and I’ll try to reply, or get others to do so if I can’t.

Staving off the apocalypse

Multiplying the budget of CGIAR, the world’s largest global agricultural innovation network, would be a good start. And, in a time of great disruptions, we ought to prioritize Sustainable Development Goal 2.4, implementing resilient agricultural practices, with a greater focus on smallholder farmers in developing countries.

That’s from a post by Asaf Tzachor, research associate at the cheerfully named Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge, cheerfully entitled Down the Hunger Spiral: Pathways to the Disintegration of the Global Food System. Hard to argue with, except for maybe that SDG 2.5 may be even more important than 2.4

And it was soon backed up by a piece in The Economist which had agricultural R&D in the top 3 value-for-money development interventions for Africa, according to the Copenhagen Consensus.

So what’s the hold-up?

No deal

I should of course have pointed this out before, but there was a hashtag for the recently concluded Eighth Session of the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. I’ll have more to say about this somewhat frustrating meeting in due course, but for the moment you can do a lot worse than read the summary in Earth Negotiations Bulletin. Here’s the bottom line, though, if you’re in a hurry:

What exactly happened remains obscure, largely because once negotiations started, they were closed to observers. The facts are the following: a small, closed group of negotiators met day and night from Wednesday evening to the early hours of Saturday morning; according to reports, the group discussed the main controversial items, such as benefit-sharing from DSI1 use, and specific payment rates for benefit-sharing; and on Saturday afternoon, plenary was presented with a Chair’s proposed “package,” including a resolution, a revised SMTA text, text for the amendment of Annex I of the Treaty, and terms for intersessional work. Developing countries rejected it as unfair and unbalanced, particularly regarding DSI. In turn, developed countries opposed continuation of intersessional work on the item.

So, after years of negotiation, there was no agreement on enhancing the functioning2 of the ABS regime the Treaty has put in place, called the Multilateral System3. And no clear way forward to the next meeting, in India in 2021. There was some progress on other important issues, but it’s going to be a bumpy couple of years.

  1. That’s Digital Sequence Data. This report from La Via Campesina explains one side of the argument. []
  2. That is, getting more money into it, faster. Yes, I know money isn’t everything. But it’s important. []
  3. I’ve written for the work blog why having a system that’s multilateral is a good idea. []

Payne gains

Many congratulations to Dr Tom Payne, Head of CIMMYT Wheat Germplasm Bank on receiving the Frank N. Meyer Medal, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the conservation and use of crop diversity.

Tom Payne, head of CIMMYT’s Genetic Resources Center and wheat genetic resources, at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault for the official opening ceremonies held at the facility in Norway on 26 February 2008. The vault is designed to store duplicates of crop seeds from genetic resource collections from around the globe. Tom displays one of the sealed boxes used to store the nearly 50,000 unique maize and wheat seed collections contributed by CIMMYT. Photo credit: Thomas Lumpkin/CIMMYT.