The scope of genera included in the RBC was broader
A major difference between the RBC and the multilateral system lies in the coverage of crop genera. The RBC had a much broader focus on crops, including industrial crops and neglected and underutilized crops. While a large part (77%) of the Annex 1 crops was also included in the RBC, the RBC included an additional 31 crops (see Table 2 and Online Resources 2 and 3).
The scope of the RBC was extremely broad and potentially unlimited with respect to all cultivated species. It initially included seed propagated cereals, food legumes, vegetables, forages, fibre crops (for example, jute, kenaf), industrial crops (for example, sugarcane, cacao), and, in many cases, some of their wild relatives. In the later 1980s, the RBC’s scope was expanded to also include field genebanks for Allium, banana, cacao, cassava, citrus, and sugarcane. Crop expert committees were involved in the selection of crops and genebanks. For the most part, practical and scientific considerations took precedence in deciding what genera should be included in the RBC.
The multilateral system includes a finite list of 64 crops and forage genera that are identified in Annex 1 of the ITPGRFA, including wild relatives if they are of the same genus/crop gene pool (unless they are explicitly excluded from the Annex 1 list). The criteria for including crops or forages in the multilateral system are ‘food security and interdependence’ (Article 11.1 of the ITPGRFA).Footnote 6 Thus, crops that are not used for human food or animal feed were not included, ab initio. In addition, crops that may be important locally, but that are not widely used around the world—so-called neglected and underutilized species—were also not included.Footnote 7
While the multilateral system, sensu strictu, is limited to 64 crops and forages, it is important to note that the Governing Body of the ITPGRFA confirmed in 2009 that those international organizations that signed Article 15 agreements (placing their collections under the ITPGRFA’s framework) should also distribute non-Annex 1 ‘in trust’ materials using the same SMTA, thus de facto expanding the multilateral system to include distinct ex situ materials of non-Annex 1 crops, held by international institutions. Furthermore, a number of countries—mainly in North America and Europe—have voluntarily adopted the policy to make a range of non-Annex 1 materials available using the SMTA, thereby exceeding their commitments under the ITPGRFA and de facto increasing the scope of crops and forages that can be accessed on the same terms and conditions as the multilateral system.
While the RBC was limited to ex situ collections, the multilateral system extends, at least in theory, to in situ PGRFA that are ‘under the management and control of Contracting Parties and in the public domain’ (Article 11.2 of the ITPGRFA). However, to date, there is very little information about how countries are interpreting and implementing the relevant sections of the ITPGRFA in this regard.
The hosts/managers of materials included in the RBC and the multilateral system are similar
The kinds of organizations playing key roles in the conservation, use and sharing of genetic resources under both the RBC and the multilateral system are quite similar. All of the 52 genebanks hosting RBC collections were operated by national public or by international agricultural research and development organizations. The multilateral system automatically includes PGRFA of the Annex 1 crops and forages that are ‘under the management and control of Contracting Parties and in the public domain’ (Article 11.2 of the ITPGRFA) as well as those crops and forages managed by the international centres and available in the multilateral system through Article 15. For the most part, this formula will be interpreted in most countries to not automatically include materials controlled and managed by private companies, non-governmental organizations, farmers’ organizations, farmers, and provincial or municipal governments (Halewood et al. 2013; ITPGRFA 2015). In contrast, the formula will be interpreted to include materials controlled and managed de jure by national public organizations (Moore and Tymowski 2005).The ITPGRFA also recognizes the importance of additional materials being included in the multilateral system by natural and legal persons (including companies, non-governmental organizations, private universities, and so on), but recognizes such inclusion will need to be voluntary. Whether PGRFA may be automatically included in the multilateral system by virtue of being ‘under the management and control’ of national governments and ‘in the public domain,’ or voluntarily included by natural and legal persons, they are not practically available to anyone if information about their existence, and characteristics, is not published. The ITPGRFA does not explicitly require Contracting Parties to publish this information. However, in light of this important gap, the Treaty’s Secretariat has circulated a request to all Contracting Parties to notify the Governing Body (through the Secretariat) about what collections are in the multilateral system. Interestingly, the model letter does not extend to information about in situ materials; perhaps that was considered too complex, given the long delays in getting responses from Contracting Parties about ex situ materials. To date, little information about the origin of the additional materials being voluntarily included in the multilateral system by natural and legal persons has been included in country reports to the Governing Body. The Governing Body of the ITPGRFA has repeatedly encouraged Contracting Parties to provide information about PGRFA that is available through the multilateral system.
Furthermore, the ITPGRFA also invites international institutions to sign agreements with the Governing Body of the Treaty, placing their materials under the ITPGRFA’s framework (Article 15 of the ITPGRFA). To date, 17 international organizations have signed these agreements, 10 of which also previously received RBC materials. Thus, almost all of the material currently explicitly recognized and listed as being in the multilateral system is ex situ and in collections hosted by national and international public agricultural research and development organizations.
New legally enforceable, reporting and benefit-sharing conditions under the ITPGRFA/multilateral system
The main commitment on the part of the collection holders is similar under the RBC and multilateral system—namely, to make the material available to anyone for agricultural research. The responsibilities under which material was supposed to be conserved and distributed were, however, much less concretely defined under the RBC. Each organization holding RBC material agreed, through an exchange of letters with the IBPGR, to the following conditions. Genebanks holding base collections had to guarantee the availability of the material to the international scientific community and store the materials under appropriate conditions to preserve viability for long periods. All of the materials in the base collections were duplicated for safety, using appropriate monitoring and regeneration regimes to safeguard the long-term maintenance of the collection. The genebanks were required to continue to provide adequate operating funds and personnel to maintain the collections, and if this would not be possible at some future point, the FAO/IBPGR would be alerted.
Very little else in terms of the definition of the rights or responsibilities of the collection hosts/holders under the RBC can be verified from the available records. It is important to note that no common instruments (for example, material transfer agreements) were developed for use by the collection holders in execution of their undertakings as part of the RBC. No benefit-sharing conditions were required for users, and there were no obligations to report on the status of the materials in the collections or on the transfers of samples of those materials to others.
Under the ITPGRFA, the terms and conditions are much more exhaustively defined and ‘legalized’ under the multilateral system, including mandatory benefit sharing and an international infrastructure for documenting of the collections and the distributions of materials. The Contracting Parties of the ITPGRFA have undertaken to provide facilitated access, ‘for the purpose of utilization and conservation for research, breeding and training for food and agriculture, provided that such purpose does not include chemical, pharmaceutical and/or other non-food/feed industrial uses’ (Article 12.3.a of the ITPGRFA). They agree that the transfer of all materials in the multilateral system will be subject to the SMTA that was adopted by the ITPGRFA’s Governing Body in 2006. Among other things, the SMTA includes obligations for recipients to share monetary benefits derived from the commercialization of new ‘PGRFA products’ that incorporate materials accessed from the multilateral system (Article 6.7 of the SMTA).
Status of RBC materials vis-à-vis the multilateral system
The RBC includes 41 national genebanks, of which 38 are located in countries that have ratified the ITPGRFA (see Table 3 and Online Resource 4). Of these 38 genebanks, 17 have been the subject of member states’ notification to the Secretariat/Governing Body, confirming they are included in the multilateral system. Furthermore, the RBC includes 11 genebanks hosted by 11 different international institutions. Ten of those institutions have signed Article 15 agreements with the ITPGRFA’s Governing Body to place their ex situ collections under the ITPGRFA’s framework. Eight of the 10 are CGIAR centres; the other two are the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE) and the Cocoa collection in Trinidad and Tobago (CRU). The eleventh organization is the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC, also known today as the World Vegetable Center) located in Taiwan, which cannot sign an Article 15 agreement given the political status of its hosting government. However, the AVRDC has adopted the policy followed by the CGIAR centres of making materials available using the SMTA (as though it had signed an Article 15 agreement).
Ultimately, assuming all of the materials distributed to the RBC genebanks still exist, our findings, in accordance with the probability levels mentioned earlier, are that:
- Level 0:
2517 accessions (1.75%) are conserved in genebanks located in countries that are not member states to the ITPGRFA
- Level 1:
20,330 accessions (14.1%) are non-Annex 1 materials conserved in genebanks in countries that have ratified the ITPGRFA
- Level 2:
3428 accessions (2.4%) are Annex 1 materials conserved in countries that have ratified the ITPGRFA but have not provided any notification to the Treaty Secretariat, confirming the materials are available in the multilateral system
- Level 3:
63,179 accessions (43.8%) are Annex 1 materials conserved in countries that have ratified the ITPGRFA, and the Contracting Parties have published notification that PGRFA of the same crops or forages held by the same RBC-recipient organizations are available in the multilateral system
- Level 4:
54,702 accessions (37.95%) are conserved in genebanks maintained by international institutions that have signed Article 15 agreements with the Governing Body of the ITPGRFA
For the 45,101 ‘linked’ samples/accessions that we were able to confirm are still being conserved (through the identification of accession numbers), most of them (82%) correspond to a probability Level 3 and 4. In total, 16% are non-Annex 1 material corresponding to Level 1.