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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."

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

Photo credit: IRRI

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