Highlighting that the protection of plant genetic resources, which are vulnerable due to habitat destruction and climate change, is a shared responsibility of humanity, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar has said traditional knowledge can help in their preservation.

“We must use all modern technologies as well as traditional knowledge to preserve and use them in a sustainable manner,” Tomar said on Monday, addressing the 9th governing body meeting of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). India is hosting the ninth session. The treaty has been ratified by 149 countries.

Member countries must stress on conservation and utilisation of minor millets, under-utilised potential crops as well as crop wild relatives before it is too late, Tomar said. “Our fight for climate-resilient agriculture and nutritional security leans heavily on your decisions and actions. No negotiations are possible at the cost of food security,” he said and added that the global forum must not forget that food is the most fundamental right. Developing countries will be driven by the necessity to ensure “rights of farmers producing food” are never compromised.

Tomar pointed out that ITPGRFA is grappling to find consensus on issues like digital sequence information, multi-purpose plant species, benefit sharing rates, etc. He requested member countries to “revive, reset and recover” to find the best ways forward as the plant genetic resources are the source of solutions to challenges on breeding.

Balancing commercial interests

He said India stands firm in its belief and actions on its commitments to the multilateral agreement. “However, unless we eliminate the divide between North and South, and convergence of the aspirations of the treaty founders, we will fail to make any headway,” Tomar said. The minister also noted that genetic information mined using advanced genomic and bioinformatic tools has the potential to become the subject of intellectual property rights. On the other hand, traditional knowledge maintained and enriched over generations becomes common knowledge.

“Multilateral forums like ITPGRFA have the responsibility of balancing commercial interests and heritage values to ensure continuity of plant genetic resource conservation on earth,” he said. Tomar said people around the world have conserved priceless genetic resources and the treaty must support access and exchange of all crop genetic resources.

Asserting that plant genetic resources must be made available for research and sustainable use, he said it is vital that every dollar of commerce arising out of the plant genetic resources accessed from the system must be shared equitably for the purpose of conservation of plant genetic resources.

Stressing that global agricultural research should shift from few major crops to minor millets, minor pulses and and minor fruits and leafy vegetables, Tomar said these are best weapons against irregular climate and malnutrition and there is need to build special programmes to document, research, exchange and use genetic resources of these groups of crops.