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[ABIDJAN] A national project to rebuild Côte-d'Ivoire's capacity to store crop seeds and safeguard agricultural genetic resources is getting back underway, after grinding to a halt in the wake of the 2010–11 political crisis.

The project was first launched in 2007 by the National Centre of Agronomic Research (NCAR), with a view to boosting food security. It had aimed to resurrect genetic resources that were largely destroyed over the previous decade of political upheaval, and in particular during the 2002 civil war.

But the endeavour was seriously disrupted by the military conflict that erupted after Laurent Gbagbo claimed victory in the 2010 presidential election.

Gbagbo was opposed by his main political rival, Alassane Ouattara and eventually ousted and imprisoned in November last year but not before widespread violence had engulfed much of the country, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.

"Côte-d'Ivoire is a country with an agricultural vocation whose annual food crop production before the crisis was estimated at ten million tonnes," Okoma Koffi, a researcher at the National Centre of Agronomic Research (NCAR), told SciDev.Net.

He said after anti-government rebels occupied the central, northern and western parts of the country, scientists fled research stations there, leaving the stored seeds to be washed away or consumed by people and animals.

Laboratory equipment also went missing, said Koffi.

Last month, researchers and other project stakeholders met in Abidjan (18 March) to evaluate progress in rebuilding food gene stocks.

So far, more than 3,000 seeds of various species have been collected from southern, central and western Côte-d'Ivoire.

They are kept in cold rooms in laboratories in the cities of Abidjan and Bouaké, or on farms, where farmers help collect the best seeds from crops that perform well.

Some of the centers that were looted and left in disarray by fighting, mainly in Bouaké and Abidjan, are getting new laboratory equipment funded by the Ivorian–Swiss Social Development Fund.

The project will allow improvement in planting and farming methods for different crops, including rice, maize and sorghum, according to NCAR general manager, M. Yo Diomandé.

"The seeds which have been conserved will be used as a basis for the creation of better-performing varieties," Diomandé said. 

Crops that reproduce without seeds such as cassava and yam are also maintained through the project, in fields at farms in Bouaké and Abidjan.

Yo Diomandé said that ultimately the conservation project aims to exchange materials and research equipment with other West African research centres.

The project also provides training of staff in collecting seeds and computerised management of the collections.

Christian Amani, a geneticist at the University of Abobo-Adjamé, said he hoped the project would help NCAR build up a strong scientific system to manage and protect genetic food resources.

This would allow Côte-d'Ivoire to "permanently have at its disposal seeds for its food production — even in a period following an armed conflict or a natural disaster," he told SciDev.Net.