New Online Course Dives into Genetic Resource Policies for CGIAR Scientists

The CGIAR Genebank Platform Policy Module has developed a new online course for CGIAR researchers and other CGIAR staff to dive deeply into the evolving international laws and policies that govern the sharing of plant genetic material.

The new course, offered freely through the UK’s Open University, will help participants understand how these legal and policy frameworks apply to their day-to-day work.

“We want to make sure that all the [CGIAR] Centers understand what they have to do to comply with their legal obligations under the Plant Treaty, Nagoya Protocol, and CGIAR’s own policies,” says Michael Halewood, who co-coordinates the Genebank Platform Policy Module.

“The Centers risk a lot if they are not fully compliant with all of these international policies and laws and national rules,” adds Isabel López Noriega, co-coordinator of the Policy Module. “Failing to comply could not only put a Center’s reputation at risk but also their ability to conduct research on plant genetic materials with national partners,” she says.

Halewood and Noriega developed the online version of the course based on materials they typically would have delivered during in-person training sessions, which have not been possible recently because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Split into seven modules, the course is delivered through a blended format with a mix of readings, videos, group work, online discussions, and quizzes—and includes a weekly live session as well.

The course offers not only an overview and history of the key policies and laws governing the collection, conservation, use, and transfer of plant genetic materials but also some of the different issues CGIAR Research Centers may face when trying to access plant genetic material as well as the resources available to help Centers address challenges as they arise.

Alongside Halewood and Noriega, participants can expect to hear from a variety of different experts, including policymakers, plant breeders, genebank managers, representatives of the Plant Treaty Secretariat, farmers, and civil activists, such as Alejandro Argumedo, a Quechua activist, and agronomist from Peru. In the second-to-last module, participants will learn from Argumedo about the importance of working with Indigenous peoples and incorporating traditional knowledge into the management of biodiversity.

Approximately 30 staff—mainly from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the International Potato Center (CIP)—are currently taking the course as part of a test cohort.

The course, which runs over 7 weeks, will be offered again later this year to other CGIAR researchers. The organizers also intend to offer the course to the staff at other agricultural research organizations within the next 1 to 2 years.

“It’s important that the CGIAR staff involved in researching or sharing plant genetic resources are fully versed in the relevant international policies,” says Charlotte Lusty, Genebank Platform Coordinator. “Scientists tend to shy away from policy and yet without it we don’t get 148 countries and more together in one room all working together to address global problems.”

CGIAR researchers and other CGIAR staff interested in taking the online course should contact the Policy Module at: