In agriculture, plant and animal genetic resources are used by farmers and breeders to improve the productivity and quality of crops and farm animals. By continuously modifying the genetic material ― through selection and cross breeding, for example ― humankind has always been able to adapt agricultural production to varying environments and climates.

The productivity of national agriculture largely depends on genetic resources from other regions. Continuous access to a great variety of these resources is key for crop and breed improvement.

The ABS Initiative works with partners like the Secretariat of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) and Bioversity International to bring forward the mutually supportive implementation of the Nagoya Protocol and the ITPGRFA.


The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA or Plant Treaty) underscores the importance of plant genetic resources for food security. In its Multilateral Access and Benefit-sharing System (MLS), the Treaty facilitates access to 35 major food and 29 forage crops if used for food and agriculture. This system is aimed to provide for fair and equitable benefit sharing arising from the utilization of these resources if the resulting products are not freely available for further improvement and research.

The Plant Treaty reiterates the principle of national sovereignty over plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. The Nagoya Protocol on ABS recognizes the Plant Treaty as a special international ABS instrument. Crops listed in annex 1 of the ITPGRFA are covered by the multilateral system. In countries that are Parties to both the Plant Treaty and the Nagoya Protocol, all crops that are not covered by the MLS are usually dealt with under the legislation implementing the Nagoya Protocol. Ideally, the scope of national regulatory frameworks implementing the Nagoya Protocol need to provide sufficient clarity on the interface to the framework implementing the Plant Treaty.

Nevertheless, Parties to the ITPGRFA are free to apply the Nagoya Protocol on ABS to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture that are not covered by the Plant Treaty's multilateral system.

Faced with this special constellation, in a number of countries, uncertainties about how to address the interface between the Nagoya Protocol and the Treaty result in delayed national processes. The ABS Initiative’s long-established partnership with Bioversity International, the SCBD, the Secretariat of the ITPGRFA at FAO and the African Union Commission is aiming to support consistent and mutually supportive implementation of both international frameworks – through on the ground support as well as internationally via workshops.

Both the Secretariat of the CBD and the ITPGRFA have repeatedly recognized the relevance of the ABS Initiative’s and Bioversity’s contributions to tapping the potential of a harmonized implementation of the two ABS instruments for agricultural development and climate change adaptation.

Animal Genetic Resources

The differing biology of plants and animals requires different approaches for conservation, use and breeding. Compared to plants, farm animal fecundity and reproductive capacity are extremely low, despite substantial differences between animal species. Plant collection, storage and seed distribution is also easier.

While commercial plant breeders are interested in uniform plant varieties, individual animals or populations are the focus of farm animal breeders. Maintaining genetic variation within populations and minimizing inbreeding is much more relevant in farm animals than for plants.

The exchange of farm animal genetic resources (FAnGR) has been minimally influenced by the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). At present, FAnGR fall under the ABS rules of the CBD and the Nagoya Protocol. Therefore, whether the exchange and utilisation of FAnGR are submitted to ABS principles depends on national implementation.

The status of the international policy discussion is well reflected in a research paper of our partner Fridtjof Nansen Institute and a National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCR) Working Paper.

Joining forces with the League for Pastoral and Endogenous Livestock Development, the ABS Initiative conducted a study about the significance of the Nagoya Protocol for the conservation and sustainable use of animal genetic resources. This study was to inform the ongoing discussions under the Intergovernmental Technical Working Group on Animal Genetic Resources (ITWG-AnGR) under the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) and on how ABS could be implemented for AnGR.

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