The Treaty has implemented a Multilateral System (MLS) of access and benefit sharing, among those countries that ratify the treaty, for a list of 64 of the most important food and forage crops essential for food security and interdependence. (The genera and species are listed in Annex 1 to the Treaty).
The Treaty includes, as one of its funding mechanisms, mandatory sharing of benefits arising from the commercial utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture covered by the MLS.
The Treaty was nurtured by the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA), which formed its Interim Governing Body. It now has its own Governing Body under the aegis of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations(FAO). The Governing Body met for the first time in Madrid in June 2006 The second meeting of the Governing Body was held in Rome in October/November 2007 This meeting discussed the implementation of Farmers' Rights, financial rules; the funding strategy, relationship with the Global Crop Diversity Trust; implementation of the Multilateral System (MLS) for access and benefit-sharing, among other issues.
Some believe the Treaty could be an example of responsible global governance for ensuring that plant genetic resources essential for present and future food security can be kept accessible to all farmers and in the public domain. See, for example Others are more sceptical about its utility. See, for example
The Treaty was under negotiation for 7 years. A previous voluntary agreement, the IU or International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, was adopted in 1983. However, the IU was reliant on the principle of genetic resources being the common heritage of humanity. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (1993) brought genetic resources under the jurisdiction and sovereignty of national governments. However, the CBD recognised the special and distinctive nature of agricultural genetic resources: they were international - crossing countries and continents - their conservation and sustainable use requires distinctive solutions and they were important internationally for food security. Subsequently the IU was renegotiated, to bring it in harmony with the CBD, and was renamed as a Treaty. An account of the long process to achieve the Treaty called Negotiating the Seed Treaty can be found at
The Treaty was approved during the FAO Conference (31st Session resolution 3/2001) on 3 November 2001, with 116 votes and 2 abstentions (USA and Japan). In accordance with its Article 25, it was opened for signatures until 4 November 2002 by all members of FAO or any state member of the United Nations or of the International Atomic Energy Agency. It was subject to ratification, acceptance or approval (Article 26), by all members.
The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture was open to accession a year after adoption and once closed to signatures (Article 27), i.e., on 4 November 2002. 77 countries and the European Union had signed the treaty by that date.
In accordance with Article 28, the Treaty entered into force on the ninetieth day after the deposit of the fortieth instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession, provided that at least twenty instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession have been deposited by Members of FAO. Having reached the required number of instruments in order for the Treaty to enter into force (40) on 31 March 2004, on which date 13 instruments (including the European Community) were deposited with the Director-General of FAO, the date of entry into force was on 29 June 2004.
The Treaty's interim Governing Body - the FAO's CGRFA - took some decisions on the implementation of the Treaty. For example, on compliance, the Material Transfer Agreement, Financial arrangements and so on. However, the Governing Body has now taken over these responsibilities.
Plant genetic resources are essential to a sustainable agriculture and food security. FAO estimates humans have used some 10 000 species for food throughout history. However, only about 120 cultivated species provide around 90% of food requirements and 4 species (Maize, Wheat, Rice and Potatoes) provide about 60% of human dietary energy for the world's population. Of the myriad of varieties of these crops developed by farmers over millennia, which form an important part of agricultural biodiversity, more than 75% have been lost in the past 100 years.
Some fear that corporate financial interests might prevent safeguarding of livelihoods, promotion of food security, biodiversity-rich farming under control of local communities, and implementation of Farmers' Rights.
Critics say many of the central issues are unresolved or open to interpretation. Some of the points raised are:
Parties: Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Benin, Bhutan, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Djibouti*, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, European Community, Finland, France, Gabon, Ghana, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati*, Kuwait, Lao Peoples Democratic Republic*, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Myanmar, Namibia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Niger, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saint Lucia, Samoa, São Tomé and Príncipe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Syrian Arab Republic, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe. [TOTAL 116]
Additional Signatories to the Treaty: Argentina, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Malta, Marshall Islands*, Nigeria, Serbia and Montenegro, Swaziland, Thailand, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, United States of America. [TOTAL 14]
Other Countries that are Members of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) but have neither Signed nor are Parties to the International Seed Treaty (IT PGRFA): Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, China, Croatia, Comoros, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Fiji, Gambia, Georgia, Grenada, Guyana, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nepal, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Seychelles, Slovak Republic, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Suriname, Tonga, Ukraine, Vanuatu, Viet Nam. [TOTAL 45]