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The 2019 Access to Seeds Index for Global Seed Companies is made up of 13 leading global companies in field crop and vegetable seeds as well as regional leaders with a global presence. The insights below are based on publicly available information and information disclosed by the companies on engagement.
Almost all global seed companies are involved in discussions around improving access and benefit-sharing (ABS). The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), under the auspices of the FAO and signed by member countries, includes a system to facilitate ABS for plant genetic resources for food and agriculture – the so-called multilateral system. Under this system, those wanting to access genetic material from (public) gene banks, including seed companies, are obliged to use a standard contract to receive and provide the material, and to pay for the benefits arising from the use of this material. As such, it facilitates access to the genetic materials of the 64 so-called ‘Annex 1’ crops for research, breeding and training for food and agriculture.
In 2017, the industry proposed an additional ‘subscription-only model’ whereby instead of making one-off payments for each use of a genetic resource, companies contribute a percentage of their annual seed sales for Annex 1 crops as listed under the ITPGRFA, ensuring an ongoing and consistent contribution to the treaty’s Benefit-sharing Fund. Limagrain is one of the companies that led the way in developing and ensuring buy-in from the seed industry for a more workable ABS model. In August 2017, under the company’s leadership as president of the International Seed Federation, the industry signed a ‘Declaration of Commitment’ referencing this proposal. The declaration was signed by 20 seed companies, including index companies Bayer, Limagrain, East-West Seed, Enza Zaden, KWS, Rijk Zwaan, Bejo, Takii and Sakata. The subscription-only model is currently being discussed and negotiated by the ITPGRFA’s Working Group to Enhance the Functioning of the Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing.
Although negotiations on subscription payments to the ITPGRFA’s Benefit-sharing Fund are still ongoing, Bayer made the first-ever monetary contribution to the fund. Its payment equaled 0.77% of seed sales of ten varieties of vegetables the company had commercialized.
These varieties were developed with material from public gene banks, namely the Centre for Genetic Resources (CGN) in the Netherlands and the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research in Germany.
In addition to conserving their own germplasm and making ABS-related contributions, companies work with various actors, such as gene banks, to support crop diversity conservation. This support can take the form of a bilateral collaboration, such as East-West Seed working closely with national gene banks in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, or a multi-party agreement, such as Syngenta, Enza Zaden, Bejo, Rijk Zwaan and Bayer providing financial and in-kind support to the CGN to expand its collections. Similarly, KWS, Corteva Agriscience and Syngenta report having made financial donations to the international endowment fund of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which supports the CGIAR and other public gene banks in conserving crop diversity.
Syngenta and Corteva Agriscience made the largest monetary contributions to the trust. Supporting the trust financially with core funding gives it the flexibility to allocate resources that benefit agrobiodiversity research and conservation.
While companies are making significant efforts to work with gene banks and international organizations and treaties on arrangements around genetic resources, none disclose activities to support local community gene bank activities. As companies extend their presence and activities in all index regions, they are well positioned to explore collaborations with community gene banks that can play a key role in building resilient local agricultural ecosystems.