Article 17 – The Global Information System on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

An effective global information system on PGRFA, their conservation both in situ and ex situ, and ways in which they can be sustainably utilized, is an essential supporting component for the Treaty. At present, many of the world's PGRFA are insufficiently and/or poorly documented in relation to what should be known about them for optimal conservation, access and use. Documentation of wild relatives of crops and on-farm genetic resources located in situ is particularly poor. Information is also poorly distributed among countries. Proper documentation of plant genetic resources and exchange of information on those resources can not only be used to assist conservation efforts, but also to guide and assist utilization of PGRFA and in adding value to them. The most effective way of gathering and exchanging of information is through networking cooperation among countries.

Building on Article 13.2(a), which stated that the benefits arising from the use of PGRFA shall be shared fairly and equitably through an exchange of information mechanism, Article 17 provides for the creation of a Global Information System on PGRFA.

Article 17.1 requires Contracting Parties to develop and strengthen a Global Information System to facilitate the exchange of information on scientific, technical and environmental matters related to PGRFA, with the expectation that such exchange of information will contribute to the sharing of benefits.

While little substantive content is mandated by the Treaty, Article 13.2(a) states that the Global Information System will include information about the PGRFA under the multilateral system, including “catalogues and inventories, information on technologies, results of technical, scientific and socio-economic research, including characterization, evaluation and utilization”.

The Global Information System to be “developed and strengthened” is to build on existing information systems. One such existing system is the World Information and Early Warning System on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (WIEWS), established by the FAO. Other databases on PGRFA are operated by other international, regional and national institutions, such as the CGIAR System- wide Information Network for Genetic Resources (SINGER) (see Box 19).

The Article also makes an explicit link to the Clearing House Mechanism established by Article 18 of the CBD to ensure that all governments have access to the information and technologies they need for their work on biodiversity. The Clearing House has as its mission the promotion and facilitation of technical and scientific cooperation, within and between countries; the development of a global mechanism for exchanging and integrating information on biodiversity; and the development of the necessary human and technological network.

Article 17.2 states that the Global Information System should also provide for early warning, based on notification by the Contracting Parties, to warn against threats against the efficient maintenance of PGRFA.

The existing WIEWS established by the FAO already contains a preliminary Early Warning System on Genetic Erosion. The scope of the information covered by WIEWS is currently being expanded to include the Seed Information System developed by FAO in the 1970's and an Early Warning System for Monitoring Plant Genetic Erosion (presently in a design phase) (see Box 19).

The first Report on the State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources (see Box 15) was prepared by an international secretariat located in FAO, through a participatory, country-driven process. The Report assessed the state of plant genetic diversity, and capacities at the local and global levels for in situ and ex situ management, conservation and utilization of plant genetic resources. It was presented to the Fourth International Technical Conference held in Leipzig, Germany, in June 1996. The Report was the scientific and technical baseline for the preparation of the GPA endorsed by the Leipzig Conference. This paragraph indicates that a similar process should be followed for future updating of the rolling GPA.

The rolling GPA itself forms an essential supporting component for the Treaty. It provides an agreed technical framework for both national and international action. The GPA was a cooperative effort of all countries, put together from the inputs of all countries in a highly participatory manner. Article 17.3 seeks to ensure the continuation of this cooperative effort. As the GPA is a supporting component for the Treaty, rather than one of its intrinsic components, responsibility for the preparation of updates lies not with the Governing Body, but with the FAO CGRFA. The Contracting Parties are required to cooperate with the Commission to ensure that the updating process remains well coordinated with the Treaty's Governing Body..

Box 19. World Information and Early Warning System (WIEWS)

Article 17 of the Treaty requires Contracting Parties to cooperate to develop and strengthen a global information system and provides that early warning should be provided about hazards that threaten the efficient maintenance of PGRFA, as one of the supporting components for the Treaty. WIEWS was established by FAO as a world-wide dynamic mechanism to foster information exchange among Member Countries, by gathering and disseminating information on PGRFA, and as an instrument to assist in the periodic assessment of the state of the world's PGRFA. The system was set up in conformity with Articles 7.1(e) and (f) of the International Undertaking, and in accordance with the recommendations of the Commission on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (now the CGRFA).

WIEWS presently consists of:

The scope of the information covered by the System is currently being expanded to include the Seed Information System developed by FAO in the 1970's and an Early Warning System for Monitoring Plant Genetic Erosion (presently in a design phase).

Other databases on PGRFA are operated by other international, regional and national institutions, such as the CGIAR System-wide Information Network for Genetic Resources (SINGER). There are plans to enhance the linkages among such existing databases.

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