You have found the material you would like to use, the next step is to request it!
Material Transfer Agreements
In some cases it is not easy to request material. A request can be made by sending an email or filling in a on-line form. For example, the National Plant Germplasm System of the USA still applies this simple 'you ask, we send' policy.
In 2006 the 'International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA)' adopted the 'Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA)', which is now increasingly used for transfer of PGR. The website of the ITPGRFA gives information about and the text of this agreement. To you, as a user of PGR, the most important part of this document is article 6, which spells out the rights and obligations of the recipient of material. The SMTA includes important provisions about commercialization and further distribution of the received material. If the site of the secretariat doesn't answer your questions, you can contact the focal person of your country, who's listed on the site of the secretariat, or visit the website of the National Focal Point on ABS of the Netherlands.
Since not all countries have signed the International Treaty yet, and because the Multilateral System of the Treaty does not cover all crops and all uses of these crops (chemical, pharmaceutical and/or other non-food/feed industrial uses are excluded), you might also be confronted with other MTAs, some based on the SMTA, others not. Some may limit the use to only research, others will allow other uses. These are legally binding documents, so make sure that you agree and live up to what you sign.
Much more can be said about access to PGR, but to you as a user this may not always be relevant. There is much information available on the web, such as the FAQ of the Netherlands CBD Focal Point for Access and Benefit Sharing. Just Google.
Most genebanks provide the material free of costs, since genebanks started in a time that genetic resources were thought to be a heritage of mankind - some people still think this is or should be the case. An additional argument for trying to keep genebank material free is the fact many genebanks consider it their task to promote the use of diversity, to diversify agriculture. Charging fees convey the opposite message.
Some genebanks, however do charge handling fees. An example is the AVRDC - The World Vegetable Centre, that differentiates between users and requests fees from $6 to $50. For a private sector breeder in the developed world, each genebank accession will cost here $30. Another genebank with handling charges is NIAS , the Japanese genebank, where the costs depend on type of material and number of requested samples, with a maximum of ¥6700 (± $80) for a single accession.
Obviously, if the PGR you would like to use consists of cultivars that are on the market, you can simply buy them from the company selling them.
A further potential barrier for requesting and receiving PGR may be formed by phytosanitary regulations. Genebanks spend a lot of efforts to monitor for diseases and to keep their material clean. Most genebanks are able to supply certificates issued by the official national plant protection organization stating that the material is free of quarantine diseases. But this will not always be the case and might not be sufficient for import in some countries. Be aware!
A good start for further reading about phytosanitary requirements is the web site of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), an international plant health agreement, established in 1952, that aims to protect cultivated and wild plants by preventing the introduction and spread of pests and diseases.
Who Can Request Material?
Some genebanks distribute to any user, irrespective of home country, institutional affiliation or purpose of use. Many genebanks however, faced with limited budgets and distributing material without asking for fees, try to limit their distributions to users who do not grow the material on their balcony, but use it in science, breeding or education. This policy is also reflected in article 12.3a from the ITPGRFA (see above), that states "Access shall be provided solely for the purpose of utilization and conservation for research, breeding and training for food and agriculture, provided that such purpose does not include chemical, pharmaceutical and/or other non-food/feed industrial uses. In the case of multiple-use crops (food and non-food), their importance for food security should be the determinant for their inclusion in the Multilateral System and availability for facilitated access."
When in doubt, get in touch with the genebank. They will be able to explain their policies, on all the above issues.
Do you have experience with requesting material?
We are very interested in your experiences, and particularly your successes, with requesting material of vegetable crops, and would highly appreciate your feedback!