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 Bogotá Meeting on Plant Genetic Resources
By
José Luis Solleiro
 
Keywords:  Latin America/Carribean; Access to genetic resources; Germplasm conservation; Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
Correct citation: Solleiro J.L. (1996), "Bogotá Meeting on Plant Genetic Resources." Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 28, p. 6-7.

To prepare for the Fourth International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources, the FAO scheduled several sub-regional and regional meetings worldwide. For Latin America and the Caribbean, two sub-regional meetings were organized in 1995 as a preparation for the Regional Meeting for Latin America and the Caribbean held in Santafé de Bogotá, Colombia on March 18-22, 1996.

The Americas and the Caribbean are the site of five of the twelve centres of origin and diversity for crops of major socio-economic importance. Latin America is characterized by a high tropical forest density of 56 per cent, which contains nearly 90 per cent of the earth’s biodiversity. The region possesses around 700,000 accessions in germplasm banks. It is for that reason that Latin American and Caribbean countries have identified the need to formulate policies and establish legal frameworks at the national and regional levels aimed at the sustainable use of plant genetic resources (PGRs).
The objective of the Bogotá meeting was to create a regional consensus for the Leipzig Conference. The outcome of this meeting is the Bogotá Declaration, a series of principles reflecting the areas of consensus to be considered in Leipzig. The fact that the Southern Cone countries do not possess diversity of tropical species did not lead to enormous differences in opinion.

Consensus
It is clear that differences exist in the technological capabilities and the availability of PGRs among the different countries in Latin American and the Caribbean. Apart from that, views on the best path for the development of the region, terms of expertise and the level of information differed among the participants of the Bogotá meeting. It was, however, considered by these participants to be essential for the region to present a common position at the Leipzig Conference.
During the regional meeting, the importance of biotechnology applications for the conservation and sustainable use of PGRs was discussed. Regional capabilities in biotechnology are rather weak. Internationally growing protection of intellectual property rights for biotechnological inventions establishes entry barriers for most Latin American and Caribbean countries. Biodiversity should play a key role for the region to negotiate better conditions to get access to these technologies, bearing in mind that advances and applications of genetic engineering depend upon the availability of genes.
However, it became clear that institutional development is a necessity to create a demand for biotechnologies and to build capacities to negotiate and assimilate biotechnology applications. The consensus reached at the end of the meeting stipulates the need to undertake a number of activities that contribute to sustainable development and adequate management of PGRs, such as surveying and collection, improvement of legal frameworks.

Who pays?
A strong preoccupation remains as to the amount of resources needed to undertake these activities. However, it is not only a matter of a lack of financial resources, but also of a lack of qualified staff and institutional capacities. Therefore, a call for international commitment to secure the financial resources to implement activities under the Global Plan of Action (GPA) was made.
During the regional meeting other sources were identified, such as raising money from private seed industry sales. However, the amount likely to be collected is rather discouraging. In my opinion,  this amount could be increased if not only the agricultural, but also the pharmaceutical value of PGRs were taken into account. In that case, pharmaceutical companies could make substantial contributions to some of the activities of the Plan. Nevertheless, the basis for executing the Plan’s activities is the real commitment of nations translated into national programmes, while these national efforts should be underpinned by international cooperation. If this does not happen, very little value will be realized from PGRs, very little benefit will be shared, and under-conservation and under-utilization will continue.

Ex situ conservation
Another issue that worried many participants relates to the priority activities of ex situ conservation. While everybody understands that most countries still lack long-term storage facilities, there are serious doubts about the proposed solution of using the storage space available in individual genebanks, mostly located in industrialized countries. Countries of the region perceive that this could represent a great loss of control over their PGRs. Little experience exists to deal with the necessary agreements to transfer biological material to be stored in secure facilities outside the country. Apart from a legal model as proposed in the GPA, Latin American and Caribbean countries require enhanced capabilities and skills to negotiate all types of deals regarding transfer of biological materials and technologies for different purposes.

Bogotá Declaration
The first statement of the Bogotá Declaration declares that states’ sovereign rights over PGRs "must be exercised in such a way as to contribute to the economic, social and cultural development of the people of the region and the entire world". In this way, PGRs are being seen as development instruments. Appeals are also made for a commitment of the international community to share equitably the enormous efforts needed for the conservation and sustainable utilization of PGRs.
Another plea is made to establish a regional alliance in order to develop a solid regional position before international fora. The Declaration also calls for a system that shares benefits, and rewards the efforts and contributions of farmers and indigenous populations of the region in improving and conserving PGRs. However, an adequate operative mechanism to materialize such compensation still needs to be developed.
José Luis Solleiro

Centro para la Innovación Tecnológica, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, P.O. Box 20-103, 01000 México City, México. E-mail solleiro@servidor.unam.mx

Sources
E. Alarcón and A.P. Galvao (1996), Support for the Conservation and Use of Plant Genetic Resources through International Cooperation: The role of the IICA. Costa Rica: Inter-American Institute for Co-operation in Agriculture( unpublished paper).

FAO (1996), Bogota Declaration, Approved by the Regional Meeting for Latin America and the Caribbean. W/W1079/c. Santafé de Bogotá, Colombia: FAO.

J.L. Solleiro (1995), "Ownership of Biodiversity: A developing country’s perspective on an open international debate". In: J.F. MacDonald (ed.), Genes for the Future: Discovery, ownership, access. NABC Reports 7. Ithaca, New York: National Agricultural Biotechnology Council, pp. 109-116.



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