Access and benefit-sharing (ABS) agreements, whether through a multilateral system established by the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (IT) or bilateral systems envisioned by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) or a mixed system that may arise under the Nagoya Protocol (NP), are based on a transactional approach to facilitating the exchange of genetic resources and funding their conservation.
This paper argues that ABS regimes are, and will continue to be, insufficient for generating the benefit necessary to support the innovative activities of small-scale farmers in conserving, managing and actively developing the majority of the world’s plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA). Access is critical, but linking it to benefit-sharing creates false hopes as to the monetary benefits that will be generated and shared.
Recognizing only increased awareness will overcome any political, economic and social barriers to action beyond ABS, the paper first investigates why small-scale farmers and PGRFA on-farm and in situ are critical to food and nutrition security and to the resilience and sustainability of agricultural systems. Because the transactional orientation of ABS inherently limits what can be achieved, the paper maintains that a rights-based approach supported by governments nationally and internationally opens broader possibilities of predictable, stable support.
The paper also observes the opportunity presented by the globally adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to provide a framework to consider not only how ABS can be made more effective, but other means to support farmers and the sustainable use of PGRFA as required by Articles 6 and 9 of the International Treaty. After briefly exploring possible means for more stable support, the paper concludes by noting that increased private sector (industry) interest in agriculture and food systems is reason for equally vibrant governments acting in the public interest. Small-scale farming depends on appropriate government interventions at the national and global level for its structure, its support and its development.