Companies lack strategies relating to their contribution to conserving and using genetic resources. While global companies demonstrate some activities beyond legal obligations, regional companies’ contributions to the conservation of regionally significant germplasm are sporadic.
The Genetic Resources measurement area seeks to clarify how companies support the conservation of genetic resources, ranging from in-company activities to sharing the benefits arising from company use of publicly available genetic material.
Regional companies are generally not linked to international mandates, nor do they demonstrate engagement in local activities to conserve genetic resources. As the growth of the formal seed sector can reduce local crop diversity conserved on farms and in communities, seed companies have a role to play in limiting the impact of this trend. This can be done in various ways, starting with corporate commitments and activities in this area.
Two treaties that are important for the conservation and use of genetic resources are the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) along with its supplementary agreement the Nagoya Protocol, and the ITPGRFA. The CBD governs all biological resources whereas the ITPGRFA is more specific in addressing food agrobiodiversity conservation and use, and hence is more directly related to the business of seed companies. Global companies such as East-West Seed and Syngenta have broad-based commitments to the conservation and use of genetic resources in accordance with global mandates. None of the regional companies have similar commitments, although Uganda’s NASECO, FICA Seeds and Victoria Seeds report having related policy statements under development.
Four companies report having activities related to the conservation of genetic resources. FICA Seeds is presently working on a system for establishing maintenance of different crop varieties, both for indigenous crops and varieties with historical importance. Ethiopian Agricultural Business Corporation collaborates with research centers and the Institute of Biodiversity and Conservation to conserve Ethiopian landraces alongside promoting the use of improved varieties. NASECO and Seed Co maintain landraces in their germplasm collections.
East African Seed is the only regional company to fully disclose its conservation strategies. The company has activities to conserve the genetic diversity in local seed systems by promoting and offering technical knowledge on how to produce unique indigenous food crops on a larger scale using modern farming techniques. Further, the company derives and conserves germplasm from international partners and public gene banks to expand the diversity of its offerings.
In the context of the ITPGRFA and CBD, access and benefit-sharing (ABS) refers to the way in which companies obtain genetic resources and how they share the benefits that result from their use, thereby contributing to international efforts to promote the conservation and use of genetic resources. Contributions can be either monetary or in kind
Fifteen index companies (68%), mainly regional ones, have neither made their genetic resources available to others for research purposes or otherwise, nor engaged in benefit-sharing activities. Programs or partnerships involving the conservation and used of genetic diversity in farmers’ field or informal seed systems are virtually absent.
To ensure compliance with ABS and disclose the source of germplasm used to develop proprietary varieties, companies must have track and trace systems for monitoring the flow of germplasm in their breeding programs. Global companies use customized track and trace systems for their genetic resources. East-West Seed and Syngenta use dedicated IT programs in accordance with the ITPGRFA. They describe in detail the systems they use, which include where they source accessions, and the methods by which they catalog and monitor their ABS agreements.
Seed Co, Klein Karoo Africa and FICA Seeds state that they track and trace the genetic material used in their breeding programs and commercial portfolios but do not disclose the design of the systems in place. Pop Vriend Seeds has a track and trace system that reportedly complies with the Nagoya Protocol and ITPGRFA and aims to facilitate future benefit-sharing. Capstone Seeds, Technisem and Ethiopian Agricultural Business Corporation use generic computer software to maintain breeding and/or accession records. East African Seed records the source of its germplasm in accordance with the standards of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV).