Background The uniqueness of PGRFA

In the long negotiating process to develop and agree on the ITPGRFA, a key consideration was the fact that PGRFA differs substantially from other plant genetic resources and, therefore, specific solutions were needed for their conservation and development and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits derived from their use, which would not necessarily be similar to those required for other kinds of biodiversity. Unique features of PGRFA include:

(i) They are essentially man-made, that is, biological diversity devel-oped and consciously selected by farmers since the origins of agriculture, who have guided the evolution and development of these plants for over 10,000 years. In recent times, scientific plant breeders have built upon this rich inheritance. Much of the genetic diversity of cultivated plants can only survive through continued human conservation and maintenance.

(ii) They are not randomly distributed over the world, but rather concentrated in the so-called "centers of origin and diversity" of cultivated plants and their wild relatives, which are largely located in the tropical and sub-tropical areas (see Appendix 1).

(iii) Because of the diffusion of agriculture all over the world, over the last 10,000 years, and because of the association of major crops with the spread of civilizations, many crop genes, genotypes, and populations have spread, and continue to develop, all over the planet. Moreover, PGRFA have been systematically and freely collected and exchanged for over two hundred years, and a large proportion have been incorporated in ex situ collections.2 (iv) There is much greater inter-dependence among countries for PGRFA than for any other kind of biodiversity (see Appendixes 1 and 2).3 Continued agricultural progress implies the need for continued access to the global stock of PGRFA. No region can afford to be isolated, or isolate itself, from the germplasm of other parts of the world.

For such reasons, the second session of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD, in 1995, adopted decision 11/15, "recognizing the special nature of agricultural biodiversity, its distinctive features and problems needing distinctive solutions." The Conference of the Parties also supported the negotiations for the ITPGRFA, in order to provide such solutions.

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