Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

  • Genebank threat jeopardises crop diversity


Genebank at the
International Rice Research Institute
in Los Banos, the Philippines.
Urgent action is needed to save the world's genebanks from falling into disrepair, according to the world's leading agricultural scientists.

A report released today by Imperial College London shows that a decline in funding is threatening the world's 1,470 genebanks, which preserve records of genetic diversity vital for crop improvement both through conventional plant breeding and genetic engineering.

In response to the funding shortfall, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), together with Future Harvest — a global network of food and environmental research centres — announced today plans to create a US$260-million fund to protect the world's crop diversity.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg was told that the money, to be sought from a variety of public and private donors, would be used to create a Global Conservation Trust to safeguard crop diversity. The idea, which was mooted at the World Food Summit in Rome earlier this year (see Global effort pushes for gene bank fund), is to provide a perpetual source of funding for genebanks.

"Until now, the world community has dealt with the genebank crises in an ad hoc manner, stomping out fires, one by one," says the report Crop Diversity at Risk: The Case for Sustaining Crop Collections. "Such an approach cannot work indefinitely"

Based on FAO data, the report shows that while the number of collections in the world's genebanks grew in two thirds of countries from 1996 to 2000, only a third of countries increased their genebank budgets accordingly.

The initiative's proponents say that increasing funding for genebanks is critical because, to ensure that plant samples remain healthy and capable of reproduction, seeds must periodically be grown out and new seed harvested (known as regeneration). Sufficient resources and staffing is essential for this process to be carried out effectively.

"Repositories for so-called 'minor' or 'unexploited' crops are often very valuable in developing countries," says Mike Jeger of Imperial College London. "But if the viability and effectiveness of use [of seeds] in the future is compromised, a unique resource will be lost."

© SciDev.Net 2002

Link to report Crop Diversity at Risk: The Case for Sustaining Crop Collections

Photo credit: IRRI
We encourage you to republish this article online and in print, it’s free under our creative commons attribution license, but please follow some simple guidelines:
  1. You have to credit our authors.
  2. You have to credit SciDev.Net — where possible include our logo with a link back to the original article.
  3. You can simply run the first few lines of the article and then add: “Read the full article on SciDev.Net” containing a link back to the original article.
  4. If you want to also take images published in this story you will need to confirm with the original source if you're licensed to use them.
  5. The easiest way to get the article on your site is to embed the code below.
For more information view our media page and republishing guidelines.