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Plant genetic resources (PGR) constitute perhaps the most important part of biodiversity: the variation between and among food crops; the trees that supply timber, fuel, food and fodder; and the plants that provide oil, rubber, fiber, medicinal plants, etc. PGR encompass the plants that have been carefully managed and nurtured by humans in farms, fields and forests throughout the world, as well as wild relatives of these plants. PGR provide plants with their particular characteristics including chemical composition, nutritional value, resistance to pests and diseases, and adaptation to particular environments.

No country is self-sufficient in PGR. For instance, North America is completely dependent upon other regions of the world for its supply of genetic diversity for its major food crops; sub-Saharan Africa is approximately 87 percent dependent on other parts of the world. Despite this interdependence, there is asymmetry in the availability of PGR, on the one hand, and the means to conserve them and benefit from them, on the other. It is the relatively “gene poor” countries that possess the financial and technical resources necessary to benefit from the use of PGR, most of which originate in developing countries. It is this North-South imbalance that has been both the driving force behind and the main obstacles to efforts to secure international access agreements.