This shift towards national sovereignty over biodiversity has important implications for agriculture and forestry given the reliance of countries on introduced crops, and the fact that no country in the world is completely self-sufficient in genetic resources. Although many nations contain significant genetic diversity in genebanks and on farmers' fields, they will still continue to require access to the diversity available elsewhere.
Advances in biotechnology and pressures to enact stricter intellectual property legislation have heightened the need to develop a new international regime relating to the management of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Of relevance is the adoption by governments of the [Leipzig Declaration] and a [Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilisation of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture], negotiated under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.
Many national and international institutions and agreements have been established to address the issues of access to genetic resources. Perhaps most significant was the establishment in 1983 of the intergovernmental Commission on Plant Genetic Resources (now the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture), and adoption of the [International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources] by member countries of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations. Underpinning the Undertaking is the principle that "plant genetic resources are a heritage of mankind and consequently should be available without restriction", although this principle has been subsequently subjected to "the sovereignty of States over their plant genetic resources".
2. South Africa's genetic resources provide valuable opportunities for the nation to enhance the benefits from its vast biological wealth. The present situation, whereby foreign organisations and individuals have enjoyed almost free access to these genetic resources with little gain to either the country or the people from whom knowledge is gleaned, is a matter of considerable concern.