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.
The International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR).
World Beta Network.
Coconut Genetic Resources Network (COGENT).
International Barley Genetic Resources Network.
International Rice Genetic Resources Network.
Asian Network for Sweet Potato Genetic Resources (ANSWER).
Forest Seed Research Network on Handling and Storage of Recalcitrant and Intermediate Tropical Tree Seed.
Global experiment on in vitro slow growth of sweet potatoes.
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.
European Cooperative Programme for Crop Genetic Resources Networks (ECP/GR). Established in 1980, this network is fully funded by its members.
West Asia and North Africa Plant Genetic Resources Network (WANANET).
South Asia PGR Coordinators Network (SAC); East-Asia PGR Network (EANET).
European Forest Genetic Resources Programme (EUFORGEN).
Banana Research Network for Eastern and Southern Africa (BARNESA).
Genetic Resources Network for Western and Central Africa (GRENEWECA).
Meso-American Network on Plant Genetic Resources (REMERFI).
The Andean Network on Plant Genetic resources (REDARFIT).
The Amazonian Network on Plant Genetic Resources (TROPIGEN).
The North American Network on Plant Genetic Resources (NORGEN).
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.
16.1 Existing cooperation in international plant genetic resources for food and agriculture networks will be encouraged or developed on the basis of existing arrangements and consistent with the terms of this Treaty, so as to achieve as complete coverage as possible of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.
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:
Financing – Networks are often funded as projects, receiving support for 3-4 year periods, which may be difficult to renew. This can sometimes lead to networks becoming inactive at the end of the project. A chronic problem remains the difficulty of ensuring resources over time. Networks funded by donors within a project may choose to utilize the project cycle to consciously “phase” its evolution. Networks “evolve” constantly, and the need for periodic internal reassessment can be worked into a cycle of 3-4 years. The Asian Vegetable Research and Development Centre (AVRDC) networks are planned in this way, enabling the networks to provide evidence of impacts at the appropriate time. In this situation it is important for supporters to indicate whether networks will receive funding, under which conditions, for which objectives, and potentially for how long. Other models of financing include self-financing (for example, the European Cooperative Programme for Crop Genetic Resources Networks (ECP/GR)). Self-financing may only be possible in mature networks, and in most developing countries the potential for complete selffinancing is limited.
Balance of interests – Problems such as domination of a network by donors, or over centralization of the network, can mean that the intended participants have less say in the network activities. Care must be taken to identify stakeholders and beneficiaries of the network in line with clear objectives, and ensure that they have a voice in the direction of the network and a role in monitoring and/or evaluation. The trend for those providing financial input to have the greatest voice in the direction of the network should be balanced by the understanding of the importance of member ownership. Networks with a strong feeling of ownership among members often survive in the face of financial limitations, through the contributions of members in time and resources. Likewise the balance of public, private and civil sector involvement should be kept in line with the objectives of the network.
Management – Whether formal or informal, the management of a network is critical to its effectiveness. The existence of a lead country or lead institution with clear comparative advantages can provide a network with good management. Collective decisions on major issues, such as future strategy, workplans and budget, are also important: for example, frequent steering committee meetings, involving all network members, may be needed to take collective decisions on network activities and resource allocation. Frequent technical coordination meetings can also be important in developing workplans and budgets for approval.
Clarity of focus and planning – Some networks are started with a good deal of promise but lacking a clear definition of what they hope to achieve. If objectives are not clearly defined, it is impossible to ensure that participants are included who wish to further these objectives. Networks need specific goals in order to develop dynamic, monitorable programmes, with distinct targets that can be met, ensuring that participants can work towards the same ends and thereby increasing the potential for good participation and a feeling of ownership.
Awareness of mutual interests – It is essential that members of networks recognize their mutual interest, and that the benefits are realized by all members, to support complementary efforts by the totality of stakeholders: it needs to be apparent to all members that their collective efforts will result in a more efficient use of their limited human and physical resources.
Ownership – Ownership in a network is often determined through participation in important decisions, particularly those relating to the distribution of funds. The question of ownership is also closely linked to important questions of clarity of objectives and level of participation in the networks, factors for which in depth analysis would require further communication with people involved in the networks.
Adaptability – Network organization evolves in response to diverse factors. Networks need to be adaptable to be sustainable. Networks need to plan for change and evolution, monitor their activities and reassess their goals.
The following steps are sometimes recommended in order to strengthen networks and their role in the implementation of the Treaty:
Encourage countries to complete the inventory of networks, including relevant thematic and in situ-oriented networks;
Endorse further assessment of the contribution of existing networks to the implementation of the GPA and the Treaty, including their effectiveness, possibly through enhanced sub-regional-level examination of network issues, their functions, and the communication and synergies they provide, or could potentially provide, among different groups working toward the conservation and sustainable use of PGRFA, and further examination of the linkages and synergies among the different kinds of relevant networks, both within and between countries and regions;
Agree to the further development of the framework for internal evaluation of networks, in collaboration with networks including identification of “model” networks and production of case studies illustrating different types of networks; and
Endorse formal collaboration with the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere programme.
16.2 The Contracting Parties will encourage, as appropriate, all relevant institutions, including governmental, private, non-governmental, research, breeding and other institutions, to participate in the international networks.
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.
< previous section < index > next section >