The International Plant Exchange Network (IPEN): An instrument of botanic gardens to fulfil the ABS provisions

Description of IPEN

The idea behind the International Plant Exchange Network was to develop a model for the acquisition and the exchange of living plant material within the botanic gardens community in respect of the ABS requirements of the CBD. IPEN is a voluntary registration system intending to facilitate the botanic gardens plant exchange in accordance with the CBD provisions. IPEN is characterized by the following aspects:

Definition of a botanic garden:

"Botanic gardens are institutions holding documented collections of living plants for the purposes of scientific research, conservation, display, and education" (BGCI 1999)

The backbone of the network is the IPEN Code of Conduct, a three-page document stating the unified policy of the IPEN member gardens (see IPEN Code of Conduct and It covers acquisition, maintenance and supply of living plant material by the gardens as well as benefit-sharing. One key element is the above mentioned documentation system with the so-called IPEN-numbers (see "Documentation and IPEN numbers"). The Code further provides a Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) to be used for exchanges with institutions that are not member of the IPEN network.

Only botanic gardens that commit themselves to act according to the Code of Conduct can become member of the IPEN network. This commitment is expressed with the signature of the IPEN Code of Conduct.

Main principles of the IPEN Code of Conduct are the following:

Examples of non-monetary benefit-sharing of botanic gardens

The following list includes examples of non-monetary benefit-sharing which are already in practice among botanic gardens and are based on co-operation with partner institutions:

Documentation and IPEN numbers

If a botanic garden has become IPEN member, the most important thing to do is establishing a computer based documentation system that allows to introduce the IPEN numbers or to modulate the existing system. The system must allow the introduction of IPEN numbers for all plants that shall be distributed.

All plant material supplied within IPEN by an IPEN member needs to be accompanied by an IPEN-number that remains connected with that material and its derivatives through all generations to come. With the aid of this number it is possible to trace back where and under which conditions the plant material entered IPEN. So, the first IPEN member garden that supplies a specific plant sample within IPEN has to provide this material with an IPEN-number (see IPEN number).

IPEN number

The IPEN number consists of four elements:

  1. Country of origin (two positions, abbreviation according to ISO 3166-1-alpha-2 (, "XX" for unknown origin).
  2. Restrictions of transfer (one position, "1" if there exist a restriction, "0" if none).
  3. Garden code, which can be found on the website of BGCI under "Garden Search".
  4. Identification number (accession number of the specific garden. Example: 2004-149 or 03214, whatever the specific recording system of the gardens generates).

Within IPEN the supply of plant material is very easy, as all member gardens share the same policy on access and benefit-sharing and through the IPEN-number one can always easily trace back the origin of the material. If the recipient is not member of IPEN, he will have to sign the IPEN Material Transfer agreement, which will bind him to the same terms and conditions.

If at one point an IPEN garden wants to start a commercial use with a given plant material, this material will leave IPEN. Therefore the garden will first have to get the Prior Informed Consent of the country of origin (found in the IPEN number) and find a bilateral agreement with that country on the terms of benefit-sharing. Only then the commercial use may be started.

Material can only be provided to an institution for commercial purposes, if this institution has the Prior Informed Consent of the country of origin and has negotiated a bilateral agreement regarding access and benefit-sharing.

Thus, IPEN is a closed network of botanic gardens committed to respect and enforce the provisions of the CBD. As all member gardens follow the same policy of the IPEN Code of Conduct, plant material can be exchanged freely between them, but of course only for non-commercial use.

[Next: Criteria for IPEN membership and registration]