Sharing rice genetic diversity responsibly

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  • The International Rice Genebank

  • International Treaty on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

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The diversity of rice is a resource that must be shared responsibly. Genetic diversity is a key ingredient to developing new and improved rice varieties. Conserving and sharing this genetic diversity helps rice breeders from all over the world breed rice varieties suited to local conditions and needs, and work to overcome emerging threats such as new pests and diseases or climate change.

However, this diversity should be used for the benefit of humanity, and not be misappropriated for the benefit of a few. That’s the basis upon which the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) accepts and shares the genetic diversity of rice in the International Rice Genebank.

The International Rice Genebank

IRRI is the custodian of the International Rice Genebank, which contains more than 113,000 different types of rice. It is the most comprehensive collection of rice genetic diversity in the world and it includes species of wild rice, the ancestors of rice, traditional and heirloom varieties, and modern varieties. The International Rice Genebank conserves rice for the public good.

Countries from all over the world have sent their rice to the International Rice Genebank for safe keeping and to share for the common public good. Following extensive negotiation among all the contributing countries, IRRI now manages the collection under theInternational Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

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Under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, a system has been established and agreed upon by most countries of the world that facilitates access to genetic diversity while ensuring appropriate sharing of the benefits that arise from its use. IRRI has signed an agreement with the Governing Body of the Treaty, under which IRRI provides rice genetic resources to anyone who accepts the terms and conditions set out in the Treaty’s Standard Material Transfer Agreement.

The Treaty recognizes the enormous contribution of farmers to the diversity of crops that feed the world and seeks to ensure that benefits flow primarily to farmers, especially in developing countries, who conserve and sustainably use this diversity.
How sharing genetic diversity and its benefits works in practice
The Treaty recognizes and promotes five ways in which benefits are to be shared:

  1. Sharing diversity. By sharing your diversity, you have access to others' diversity.
  2. Sharing information needed to make best use of the available diversity.
  3. Sharing technology generated from the diversity with developing countries so they can use it too.
  4. Building the capacity of developing countries so they can take advantage of technologies developed from the shared diversity.
  5. Sharing monetary benefits of commercialization.

IRRI facilitates the sharing of the genetic diversity of rice through the International Rice Genebank. Also, IRRI uses this diversity to develop new rice varieties, which in turn are distributed to others – one way to share the technology developed from the diversity.

IRRI also shares information and technology, and builds capacity in a number of ways. The Rice Knowledge Bank and the International Rice Information System are tools to help this process that are used to transfer more effective rice technologies and train farmers and scientists in many developing countries.

Monetary and other benefits of commercialization are shared via a central fund set up in the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Mandatory and voluntary contributions are made to the fund by the primary beneficiaries, and disbursements from the fund are made as the Governing Body deems appropriate. To date, 11 grants have been awarded under the financial benefit-sharing mechanism to applicants from developing countries. Decisions on a further $10m of grants are expected in June-July 2011. The grants are used for the conservation and use of diverse crop varieties on farms.

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Rice's diversity helped scientists breed better rice, which help increase farmers productivity and income

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