Genebank Operation in the Arena of Access and Benefit-Sharing Policies

Martin Brink*, Theo van Hintum

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Since the 1990s, the exchange of genetic resources has been increasingly regulated. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) and the Nagoya Protocol recognize that countries have sovereign rights over their genetic resources and provide a framework for domestic legislations on Access and Benefit-Sharing (ABS). However, within the rules of these international agreements, countries can follow their own interpretations and establish their own rules and regulations, resulting in restricted access to genetic resources and limited benefit-sharing, effects that are contrary to the objectives of these agreements. Although the ITPGRFA’s Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-Sharing provides opportunities for easier access to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA), plant genebanks face increasing complexity in their operation. Adding material to genebank collections has become more difficult, not only because collecting missions need to be negotiated with national and local authorities, but also because acquiring material from other collections is only possible if the origin of the material is properly documented and is done in compliance with regulations. Genebanks may only provide access to their own collections if the material that is to be released is distributed in compliance with a) the conditions under which the material was received and b) the national laws of the country where the genebank is located. The only way genebanks can deal with this new complexity, apart from ceasing to add or distribute material, is by setting up proper procedures to document the origin of every accession and the conditions for their use and further distribution. To prevent a further decrease in access to PGRFA, complexity must be fought. Applying the ITPGRFA’s Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA) only, even for material that does not fall under the ITPGRFA, would simplify matters. The scope of the ITPGRFA could be expanded to include all crops. Furthermore, certain ambiguities (e.g. regarding in situ material and wild species) could be resolved. Finally, compliance with the ITPGRFA should be improved and better monitored.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1712
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jan 2020


  • Access and Benefit-Sharing (ABS)
  • conservation
  • Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
  • genebanks
  • genetic diversity
  • International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA)
  • Nagoya Protocol

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