Article 16 – International Plant Genetic Resources Networks

Networks are important platforms for scientific exchange, information sharing, technology transfer, research collaboration, and for determining and sharing responsibilities for such activities as collecting, conservation, distribution, evaluation, and genetic enhancement. By establishing links among those involved in the conservation, management, development and utilization of PGRFA, networks can promote exchange of materials on the basis of mutually agreed terms and enhance the utilization of germplasm. In addition, they can serve to help set priorities for action, develop policy, and provide means whereby crop-specific and regional views can be conveyed to various organizations and institutions. Both the GPA (see Priority Activity Area 16) and the Treaty recognize the importance of networks as mechanisms for implementation of their objectives. It is important to note that this refers to all PGRFA, and not only those listed in Annex I.

For the purpose of this Guide, emphasis has been placed on three types of networks identified in the GPA: crop-based networks, regional networks, and thematic networks.

Crop Networks – As an early category of plant genetic resources networks, crop-based networks are often strongly user oriented. Breeders and researchers may play a central role along with plant genetic resources managers, and the conservation of germplasm is achieved in conjunction with its utilization, as plant genetic resources are often instrumental in increasing productivity. These networks tend to focus less on policy aspects, although the exchange of germplasm may be an important activity. For the purpose of the current study, seed networks are also described within this category, although they could also be considered thematic networks.

Regional Networks – Regional plant genetic resource networks play a major role in the conservation and to some extent in the utilization of plant genetic resources, as is apparent from their objectives. They tend to focus primarily on conservation; genebanks and plant genetic resources collection holders take a central position. Within the framework of conservation, these networks often address many issues featuring in the GPA and their agenda may involve a wide array of activities concerning collecting, regeneration, characterization, evaluation and documentation of genetic resources, as well as research, training, policy support to governments, and public awareness-raising. Many of the networks refer explicitly to the GPA in their documentation.

Thematic Networks – This type of network includes a wide range of arrangements to address specific themes, which could potentially be classified into numerous sub categories. Some thematic networks, such as the West African Farming Systems Research Network and the Consortium for the Sustainable Development of Andean Ecoregion (CONDESAN), are heavily focused on sustainability of ecosystems, and often take an integrated approach, combining conservation and development goals, and paying attention to all components and integration levels of agro-ecosystems and interactions between these components. In some cases, the focus of the network may be on development and transfer of a particular technology, such as the Technical Cooperation Network on Plant Biotechnology in Latin America and the Caribbean (REDBIO) or networks concerned with sharing information. Others are directly focused on aspects of biodiversity and plant genetic resources, for example the Southern African Botanical Diversity Network and the African Ethnobotany Network. Thematic networks are sometimes characterised by a strong field orientation or regional linkages (e.g. CONDESAN). Policy aspects and public awareness raising play an important role. The background of these networks can be very diverse, however civil organisations (e.g. NGOs) are often strongly represented.

The wording of this paragraph indicates a policy decision of the Treaty negotiators to focus on the building up of existing networks rather than trying to set up a whole new set of networks. This is of course not to rule out the possibility of setting up new networks as and when they may be required.

Not all networks are as successful as others. Some factors that may have a bearing on the efficiency and effectiveness of networks include:

The following steps are sometimes recommended in order to strengthen networks and their role in the implementation of the Treaty:

Box 18. International Networks for Plant Genetic Resources

The term “network” can refer to many different arrangements between people, institutions and countries, both formal and informal, and a wide range of definitions have been applied to agricultural research networks. However, several common principles emerge from these definitions:

However, aside from these common characteristics, networks that contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of PGRFA vary considerably in many ways, for example in their membership, objectives, modus operandi, funding and organizational structure. An important aspect to take into consideration is the level of formality at which a network operates. This may depend not only on the network's age and stage of organizational development, but also on its function. The international network of ex situ collections under the auspices of FAO, for example, is necessarily a highly formal network, whereas a working group of scientists on a targeted technical subject may be able to network effectively for many years without a formal status.

Networks have the capacity to contribute to the implementation of the Treaty in the following ways:

As stated in Article 16.1, the goal of this provision is to achieve as complete coverage as possible of PGRFA. This requires the participation of a large variety of actors as listed.

While no set obligations are imposed, leaving the Contracting Parties with a wide scope to determine what constitutes “encouragement”, this article nevertheless acknowledges the role that parties to the Treaty have in building strong and comprehensive networks.

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