What Kind of Goods Are Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture? Towards the Identification and Development of a New Global Commons

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"Over the course of the last forty years, under the auspices of the United Nations Food and Agricultural organization, the international community has been developing a system to support the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture that shares many of the characteristics of what scholars are calling new commons. The pinnacle of these efforts was the adoption (2001) and coming into force (2004) of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). Interestingly, neither the reports of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, the body responsible for the negotiation of the ITPGRFA, nor the information papers it generated to support its efforts, explicitly mention commons, much less identify the creation of (or support for) a plant genetic resources commons as the commissions objective. The more recent sessions of the governing body overseeing implementation of the ITPGRFA are similarly characterized by the absence of commons-focused discourse. This paper seeks to achieve the double effect David Bollier refers to in the epigram above. The paper identifies a new commons (or at least a potential, emerging commons) in the multilateral system of access and benefit sharing created by the ITPGRFA, and suggests ways in which it can be further developed or strengthened, drawing on lessons learned in the commons literature."



sustainability, commons, agriculture