Companies strictly adhere to national laws and/or international treaties but could do more to support the conservation and use of genetic diversity in the region. Many companies, both regional and global, make significant use of germplasm from national and international research institutes and gene banks. No company reports activities that aim to conserve the genetic diversity in local (informal) seed systems or support in situ conservation of crop diversity.
This 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.
Syngenta, Bayer and East-West Seed all have commitments regarding the conservation and use of genetic resources, based on international standards and treaties. 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. Syngenta publicly discloses its significant financial support for the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which is recognized as an essential component of the funding strategy of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). This treaty, which falls under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, aims to guarantee food security through the conservation, exchange and sustainable use of the world’s plant genetic resources for food and agriculture as well as the fair and equitable benefit-sharing arising from their use.
The company also commits to work toward a sustainable solution for the conservation and use of genetic resources of all crops. Similarly, East-West Seed and Bayer have formalized commitments regarding the conservation and use of genetic resources, tying this to crops in their portfolios.
Many companies have informal commitments relating to the sustainable use of genetic diversity. Global companies tend to link such commitments to international approaches to conservation and use, whereas regional companies have committed to comply with relevant regulations in the countries where they are present. Nuziveedu Seeds, for instance, states that it abides by the 2002 Biodiversity Act of India.
Companies benefit from germplasm developed by and maintained at research institutes. This is demonstrated through the industry’s linkage with the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research(CGIAR) network. Most companies collaborate with CGIAR centers and/or the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) to obtain genetic resources, often as consortia. Since many of these collaborations center around accessing improved germplasm, there is less focus on the conservation of genetic resources in the gene banks of these institutes. As members of consortia, however, companies indirectly support this work via membership fees.
Advanta is among a handful of companies that report being members of several consortia around crop germplasm set up by CGIAR centers, including the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Another example is Namdhari Seeds’ collaboration on the exchange of germplasm with CIMMYT and AVRDC as well as national research institutes in India, namely the Indian Institute of Horticultural Research (IIHR) and the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research (ICAR). Lal Teer Seed and Known-You Seed report that they collaborate with AVRDC, but the nature of these collaborations is unclear.
The ITPGRFA and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) set out a comprehensive operational framework against which companies can align their activities in relation to the use of genetic material. Track and trace systems are important for monitoring the flow of germplasm and recording the origin of, and way in which, the genetic resources used in companies’ breeding programs and commercial portfolios were obtained. Through this aligned form of record keeping, companies can demonstrate accountability to stakeholders and ensure compliance with access and benefit-sharing mechanisms.
Companies report using dedicated IT-based methods for track and trace, such as Agrobase and Phenomes. Regional companies, such as Acsen HyVeg, Metahelix, Known-You Seed and BRAC Seed and Agro Enterprise, emphasize track and trace systems from an R&D and/or marketing and sales perspective, whereby track and trace is utilized to monitor breeding lines and enhance product traceability. Global companies Bayer, East-West Seed, Limagrain and Syngenta also report using customized track and trace systems for their genetic resources in accordance with international requirements.
Only a few regional companies report on their contribution to access and benefit-sharing (ABS). 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. Acsen HyVeg, for example, reports that it participates in collective voluntary monetary contributions within the ABS framework in accordance with the 2001 Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act (PPVFR) of India.
Global companies report more extensively on ABS. Sakata has signed ABS contracts with signatories to the CBD, such as the Government of Indonesia, to acquire genetic resources. The company returns part of its profits to the countries that were the origin of the genetic resources. Syngenta and Corteva Agriscience make financial contributions to the Global Crop Diversity Trust, thereby demonstrating assistance to gene banks and projects aimed at conserving the genetic resources of crops grown in index countries. Global companies also demonstrate in-kind contributions related to ABS. East-West Seed supports regional gene banks, including gene banks in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. Monsanto provides technical support and germplasm for adaptability testing to the Philippines Partnership for Sustainable Agriculture. Bayer reportedly supports the introduction of a worldwide ‘subscription-only model’ for ABS, based on a company contribution of 0.01% of annual seed sales and licensing turnover for so-called ‘Annex 1’ crops as listed under the ITPGRFA, which include most of the major food crops traded by seed companies.
Companies in South and Southeast Asia largely tie commitments and activities related to the conservation and use of genetic resources to their own breeding programs and commercial activities. For example, BRAC Seed and Agro Enterprise’s Agriculture Research and Development Centre in Gazipur, Bangladesh reports maintaining 113 aromatic and 68 non-aromatic rice varieties for rice biodiversity conservation, demonstrating a strategy geared toward wider genetic resource conservation alongside conservation of its own breeding lines.
East-West Seed’s collaboration with the national gene bank of the Philippines is also worth noting. Less priority is given to the conservation and use of genetic resources of crops outside companies’ portfolios. Furthermore, no company reports activities that aim to conserve the genetic diversity in local (informal) seed systems or in situ conservation of crop diversity.
In each measurement areas activities or approaches are identified that stand out or can be considered innovative in the industry. They contribute to the score of a company through leadership indicators.
East-West Seed signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Plant Genetic Resources Laboratory (NPGRL), the Philippines’ national gene bank, with the goal of increasing the public availability of traits necessary to develop improved crop varieties that are tailored to regional needs.
The company aims to do this by helping the NPGRL to revive its old germplasm collection, characterize accessions that have not yet been documented and conduct conservation-related research and training.