Access to genetic resources and genebanks - where are we in the process?

New report shows that genebank managers are struggling to access new germplasm. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)
(view original)
Sep 24, 2012


Ronnie Vernooy, Bioversity International

Genebanks appear to be at a crossroads. Thanks to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), the scene has been set for an unprecedented level of global co-operation for the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. In practice, however, the situation is largely static and many actors are unwilling to assume more proactive roles.

The survey on genebank managers, Availability of plant genetic resources in times of climate and policy change, revealed that a number of priorities have been identified that linked to recent climate change. Most notably, there is increasing interest in collecting and characterizing the wild relatives of some crops, in the hope of finding useful traits of particular interest, such as tolerance to extreme heat or cold.

Despite their desire to collect and characterize wild relatives, CGIAR genebank managers also report that it is becoming more difficult for most of them to access new germplasm, with the exception of materials from well-established genebanks in Europe and North America.

Some genebanks reported that on occasion they had received materials they asked with legal conditions attached that were too restrictive to allow the material to be accepted. For example, some countries will deposit new materials only if the CGIAR genebank agrees not to redistribute the material, or to do so only to requesters in countries party to the ITPGRFA.

In addition, new joint collecting missions with national agricultural research organisations have become a rarity. Some national institutions are co-ordinating their own fairly extensive collecting missions, but so far very little (perhaps none) of the collected material appears to be available to recipients outside the countries concerned, including CGIAR genebanks.

For these and other reasons, the total number of new acquisitions by the CGIAR genebanks has experienced a downward trend over the past 15 years. The distribution of samples from CGIAR genebanks has also trended gradually down.

Managers see this as a reflection of more targeted requests from recipients and of their improved ability to identify sample sets relevant to specific needs. Some CGIAR Centres are also experimenting with new approaches to directly link CGIAR and national genebanks with farmers, who often evaluate the germplasm under their own conditions and return the results to the genebanks.

A final challenge is the scarcity of resources. While some organizations and countries are willing to assume responsibility for activities such as internationally co-ordinated regeneration, characterization and multi-site evaluations, they do not have the resources to take on these roles. In the absence of globally co-ordinated and supported programmes to contribute support for such activities, new actors are not emerging to volunteer for such responsibilities in co-operation with the CGIAR genebanks.

Read the report:

Flows under stress: Availability of plant genetic resources in times of climate and policy change, by Lopez-Noriega, I.; Galluzzi, G.; Halewood, M.; Vernooy, R.; Bertacchini, E.; Gauchan, D.; Welch, E. (2012).

This blog post was written by Ronnie Vernooy, one of the authors to the study, prepared by Bioversity International, for CCAFS. Ronnie Vernooy has in this blog post summarized part of the report, on the status of CGIAR genebanks, and invites comments. Read the other related blog posts to the above mentioned report.

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