UN agency says new plant diversity treaty will improve food choices

Farmers have developed about 10,000 plant species for use in food and fodder production since agriculture began, but today only 150 crops feed most of the world. Four crops – rice, wheat, maize and potato – provide 60 per cent of total human dietary energy from plants.In a statement released at its headquarters in Rome, FAO noted that the variety of crops and plant species continues to narrow because of modernization, increasing population density and changing diets.Many plant species are under threat from diseases, pests and climate change, threatening to reduce even further the pool of different crops.The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture allows plant breeders, farmers and researchers to easily access the genetic resources of more than 60 food or forage crops, including many from other countries, without facing the often high costs of the past.FAO said it hopes this will ultimately benefit consumers by giving them a bigger range of food products to choose from and by preventing the most powerful corporations from monopolizing the markets.The pact is also designed to allow countries to conserve plant genetic material – supported partly by a gene bank funded through the treaty – and to exchange information about the use of plant species.FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf hailed the treaty – which has been ratified by 55 countries – as “the start of a new era.””The treaty brings countries, farmers and plant breeders together and offers a multilateral approach for accessing genetic resources and sharing their benefits. Humankind needs to safeguard and further develop the precious crop gene pool that is essential for agriculture,” Dr. Diouf said. read more