How US sorghum seed distributions undermine the FAO Plant Treaty’s MLS

In his paper, Edward Hammond looks at the overlap and use of the CGIAR and US sorghum genebank collections.

New data from ICRISAT and the US Department of Agriculture and a comparison of genebank records indicates that half of more of ICRISAT’s sorghum genebank collection is also being distributed outside of the Multilateral System. This yawning gap creates an economic incentive for the Multilateral System and its benefit sharing requirements to be avoided. USDA’s sorghum germplasm customers, who are primarily corporate and commercially oriented academic breeders, are taking advantage of this perverse incentive. In the past six years, they have ordered four times more ICRISAT genebank seeds from USDA than from ICRISAT itself. Globally, it is likely that more distributions of Multilateral System sorghum take place without an SMTA than occur with one.

Recipients of large USDA distributions of sorghum are not obligated to share benefits and do not comply with the restrictions of the SMTA on patenting parts of the material. Under present circumstances, the promise of the Multilateral System cannot be fulfilled for sorghum, a crop of global food security importance, particularly in Africa. Further, even if the US ratifies the ITPGRFA, a vexing problem has been created by USDA’s recent massive distributions of Multilateral System sorghum germplasm to institutions potentially not bound by the Treaty’s provisions, such as Texas A&M University.