Twelve European countries and the European Community have ratified the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, triggering the 90-day countdown to the treaty’s entry into force, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) announced today.

The latest ratifications bring to 48 the number of countries worldwide that have ratified the agreement, which will therefore enter into force on 29 June 2004.

The treaty aims to ensure that plant genetic resources for food and agriculture are conserved and sustainably used and that benefits from their use are equitably and fairly distributed.

“This is a legally binding treaty that will be crucial for the sustainability of agriculture,” said FAO director-general Dr Jacques Diouf. “The treaty is an important contribution to the achievement of the World Food Summit’s major objective of halving the number of hungry people by 2015.”

The FAO says that over time there has been a dramatic reduction of biodiversity. Since the beginning of agriculture, around 10,000 species have been used in food and fodder production. Today just 150 crops feed most human beings and just 12 crops provide 80% of food energy (wheat, rice, maize and potato alone provide 60%).