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International Agreements

Access to plant material present in situ (in-nature, on-farm or in-garden


There are two important international agreements governing the exchange of Plant Genetic Resources (PGR), namely
• the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and
• the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA).

The CBD focuses on all biodiversity which is present in a country, whereas the IT focuses on the biodiversity which is of importance or can be of importance for agriculture, and thus PGR.

Furthermore the IT is limited to the species indicated on the annex I of the Treaty and also to the organizations and land which are controlled by the government. The CBD entered into force in 1993 whereas the IT in 2004. The development of a separate regulation for agriculture was, because:

• newly developed cultivars have pedigrees with multiple PGR sources, which all need to have an underlying material transfer agreement (MTA) that have to be negotiated with all countries where the material has been collected, which represents an administrative burden and

• the difference in profit margin on agricultural products is far less compared to pharma products; if benefit sharing has to take place with many countries then the profits will probably become very low in case of agricultural products. As a rule of thumb most biodiversity found in situ are covered by the CBD agreement. 

Exchange within EU

In the EU in regulation 511/2014 the compliance measures for users are described concerning the exchange of biodiversity within the EU. This regulation is an elaboration by the EU Commission concerning the Nagoya protocol on access and benefit sharing (ABS) which is part of the CBD.

In the sector guidelines of this directive, which are not yet official, it is mentioned that the directive does not apply in case the seed/plant material acquired from a nature reserve or from a farmer/gardener is used for sowing and harvesting (= maintenance). Of course the owner of the land on which collecting is taking place has to be asked for permission to collect the material. However if one wants to use seed/plant material for breeding or other commercial activities one needs to contact the National Focal Point (NFP; contact details on the CBD website), which will eventually result in the signing of a MTA and a prior informed consent (PIC) document by the competent national authority on access and benefit sharing (CNA-ABS; whose contact details one can find also on the CBD website) and the collector.

Furthermore it is advised to check the access and benefit sharing clearinghouse website (ABSCH) for specific regulations on biodiversity exchange as different EU countries may have additional rules to the EU directive. In case one obtains material from a genebank (or botanical garden) most often one has to sign a MTA, and depending upon its content it has to be signed if transferred to the next party.

In case the material acquired is placed by the government in the multi-lateral system (MLS) which is part of the IT, then regulation 511/2014 does not apply because the IT prevails for this specific material over the CBD. A complete overview of all material placed by the various member countries in the MLS on a website created by the IT-PGRFA.

According to the Ad Hoc Technical Advisory Committee on the MLS and SMTA, in the case that the material is only used for sowing and harvesting it should be transferred with a letter in which the following statement is included: 'This material can be used by the recipient directly for cultivation, and passed on to others for direct cultivation'. In case the material is going to be used for breeding and research it needs to be accompanied by the Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA) which is part of the IT. This SMTA needs to be signed by provider and recipient and subsequently needs to be signed again when the material is transferred to another party. This SMTA includes the MAT (mutually agreed terms like an MTA) and PIC requirements for material exchange in one document.

In many EU countries no access rules apply. This information can also be found on the access and benefit sharing clearing house website. Therefore in these countries it is enough to contact the provider and ask for permission to collect material on his/her premises. EU countries where currently (September 2020) access rules do not apply: United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Romania. 

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