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4th International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources (ITCPGR-4)

The Fourth International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources (ITCPGR-4),will meet in Leipzig, Germany from 17-23 June 1996, to agree on an internationalprogramme of activities for the conservation and utilization of plant genetic resources(PGR). To this end, the meeting is expected to consider a progress report on the revisionof the International Undertaking (IU) on PGR, a key component of the FAO GlobalSystem for the Conservation and Utilization for Plant Genetic Resources. Governmentswill also be presented with the first comprehensive Report on the State of the World’sPlant Genetic Resources and will consider for adoption the Leipzig Declaration.Governments will endeavor to complete the negotiation of the Global Plan of Action(GPA) on PGR as well as review possibilities for its implementation and financing. Thisdocument is expected to be the major substantive output of the Conference.


While PGR have been sought after, collected, used and improved for centuries, it has onlybeen since the 1930s that concern has been voiced over the need for conservation.Concerted international efforts to promote conservation, exchange and utilization aresomewhat more recent.

The FAO established an intergovernmental Commission on Plant Genetic Resources in1983, and adopted a non-binding International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources,which is now being revised in light of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity(CBD). In 1995, the Commission was renamed the Commission on Genetic Resources forFood and Agriculture (CGRFA), a body which is currently comprised of the 143 memberStates of the FAO. The Commission and the International Undertaking constitute the maininstitutional components of the Global System for the Conservation and Utilization ofPlant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which also includes other internationalinstruments and technical mechanisms being developed by the FAO.

A series of international technical conferences on PGR have been convened by the FAO,in cooperation with other organizations, in order to facilitate technical discussions amongscientists and to create awareness about PGR issues among policy-makers at the nationaland international levels. The first significant meeting was held in 1961 and focused onplant exploration and introduction. The 1967 Conference formulated a number ofimportant resolutions that were subsequently adopted by the 1972 UN Conference on theHuman Environment. The most recent international technical conference, which tookplace in 1981, catalyzed the development of the FAO Global System.

By the early 1990s, it was becoming evident that another international conference wasneeded to assess progress, identify problems and opportunities, and give direction tofuture activities for the conservation and utilization of PGR. At its fourth session in 1991,the Commission proposed the convening of ITCPGR-4. The FAO established a multi-donor trust-fund project to coordinate the preparatory process for the ITCPGR-4.

In April 1993, the fifth session of the Commission noted that the Conference processwould “transform the relevant parts of the UNCED process (including Agenda 21 and theCBD) into a costed GPA based on the first FAO Report on the State of the World’s PlantGenetic Resources.” The Commission also noted that the process would “make the GlobalSystem fully operational.”

At its most recent regular session, held in June 1995, the Commission concentrated onnegotiations for the revision of the IU (the focus of the First Extraordinary Session of theCommission in November 1994) and preparations for the Leipzig conference.


The Second Extraordinary Session of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources forFood and Agriculture (CGRFA-EX2) was held at FAO Headquarters in Rome from 22-27April 1996. During the week-long meeting, delegates addressed several issues inpreparation for ITCPGR-4. These included: the first comprehensive Report on the State ofthe World’s PGR, which will be forwarded to the Conference; and a heavily bracketedGPA, which was further consolidated by a three-day working group meeting held from10-12 June in Rome. The draft text of the Leipzig Declaration, which is expected to beone the Conference’s key outputs, remains subject to substantial negotiation. Delegatesalso agreed to hold the Commission’s third extraordinary session on the IU in earlyDecember 1996, immediately preceded by a meeting of a working group that will preparea simplified text to serve as a basis for the Commission’s negotiations.

STATE OF THE WORLD REPORT: The Commission’s discussion of thisagenda item was based upon document CGRFA-EX2/96/2, the first Report on the State ofthe World’s PGR. This document, the first world-wide assessment of the state ofconservation and utilization of PGR, is based upon information gathered through acountry-driven process, including 150 Country Reports and 11 regional and sub-regionalmeetings.

Additional information was provided by the FAO World Information and Early WarningSystem, international institutions, NGOs and the private sector. In discussing the Report,delegates commended the “bottom-up” and cooperative approach between countries andinstitutions that was utilized in its preparation.

The Report’s content and its status were the two foci of discussion. In addressing content,delegates made general comments in the Plenary on the Report as a whole, rather thanreviewing it paragraph-by-paragraph. Debate regarding its status centered around whetherit should be endorsed by the Commission, or serve as an informative background paper.

It was finally decided not to endorse the Report formally, but to recognize it as abackground document, which would be periodically updated and revised, in order toserve as a comprehensive source of information. Delegates also requested the Secretariatto forward a revised version of the Report to Leipzig, based upon written submissions bygovernments.

GLOBAL PLAN OF ACTION: The Commission used the draft GPA (documentCGRFA-EX2/96/3) as the basis of negotiations. Since Plenary discussion on the GPAproceeded slowly, the Chair established a parallel open-ended drafting group to considerwritten submissions and oral comments put forward during the plenary. Under thedirection of the Rapporteur, F.J. Marroni de Abreu (Brazil) , the drafting group met ninetimes but completed only a partial reading. As a result, the drafting group was unable tosubmit successive sections to the Plenary for a second reading, as originally planned.Further discussion on the heavily bracketed text was referred to a working group to beconvened just prior to the Leipzig Conference.

Financing of the GPA was a major point of debate. The Plenary was temporarilysuspended to allow for informal consultations among delegations on this issue. Heads ofregional groups were requested to keep the Bureau informed of deliberations and on thisbasis, a Chair’s text was presented to the Friday afternoon plenary as follows: “Werecognize the need for financial resources in order to implement the GPA and we commitourselves to discuss this matter during the Leipzig Conference.”

There was considerable discussion as to whether or not the IU should be referred to withinthe GPA. The issue of forest genetic resources was a further point of debate, as somecountries stated that they did not believe that forest genetic resources fell within themandate of the Commission. It was finally agreed that all reference to forests be deletedfrom the GPA.

The reference to Farmers’ Rights within the context of in situ conservation of PGRwas an area of debate, as were the linkage between ex situ collections, the need torespect national sovereignty over genetic resources and the ongoing transfer of geneticresources.

LEIPZIG DECLARATION: The Commission’s discussion of this agenda itemwas based upon document CGRFA-EX2/96/4, which contained a preliminary draft of “adeclaration that might be adopted during the Fourth International Technical Conference”.Following a brief discussion in the Plenary of this document, the AFRICAN GROUP,GRULAC and the EU each tabled their own written versions of the Leipzig Declaration(LD). These regional drafts were consolidated into a new draft declaration. Following thePlenary’s discussions, countries made general comments and then worked through the LDparagraph-by-paragraph. By the end of the meeting, however, large sections of the LDremain bracketed and open to further negotiation in Leipzig.

INTERNATIONAL UNDERTAKING: The Commission addressed the revisionof the IU (document CGRFA-EX2/96/6) in preparation for substantive negotiations to beheld at the Third Extraordinary Session of the Commission in early December 1996. Inorder to focus further negotiations, a working group will meet immediately prior to thismeeting to prepare a simplified draft text on the three main issues of scope, access andequitable benefit-sharing. This text will draw on further comments made by governmentsand technical information contained in agreements made at the Leipzig Conference.


A working group of the Commission consisting of two representatives from each of theseven FAO regions, met from 10-12 June in Rome in order to resolve the substantiallybracketed text in the GPA. Completing its work at 1:00 a.m. on 13 June, the meetingmade substantial progress in resolving a large number of issues. The final text of theWorking Group deliberations will be presented to the Leipzig Conference, not as aformally negotiated text, but as a guide to help the deliberations.

The major unresolved issues relate to costing of the GPA and sources of funding. Anumber of G-77 countries are keen to see finances directed towards developing nationalcapacities for ex situ collections rather than consolidating international gene banks.Some countries want more financial resources for in situ conservation.

The brief reference to Farmers’ Rights in the GPA remains unresolved. Some countriesbelieve that Farmers’ Rights is better left to the renegotiation of the IU, and should not bean integral part of the GPA.


OPENING PLENARY: FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf will open theConference, followed by presentations from three German officials: the Federal Ministerfor Food, Agriculture and Forestry, the Minister of Agriculture for the Federal State ofSaxony, and the Lord Mayor of Leipzig. Diouf will then deliver the keynote address andwill announce the results of the Bureau elections. It is expected that the Chair will be arepresentative from the host country and that the Vice-Chairs will be drawn from theremaining six FAO regions.

After an acceptance speech, it is expected that the Chair will seek approval of theproposed agenda and will open discussion on the organization of work.

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