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[KATHMANDU] Nepal's newly inaugurated gene bank is expected to help conserve the Himalayan country's rich biodiversity and enhance food security.

Inaugurated last month (3 October), the gene bank, set up by the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) at Lalitpur, already has the capacity to store the seeds of about 50 plant species for up to 100 years. 
The gene bank has also taken over the preservation of the seeds of more than 10,700 species of plants that were lying with the agrobotany division of the NARC.
Eventually, the bank will be able to store genetic resources from animal, fish and microorganisms and also conduct research on them.
Efforts to establish the gene bank began some 25 years ago with Japanese aid. But the momentum picked up only three years ago as the need to conserve biodiversity and improve food security was felt, said the gene bank's chief Madhu Sudan Upadhyay.
Nepal’s biodiversity is seen to be under threat from the commercialisation and modernisation of agriculture and also from climate change.

A 1995 research paper estimated that Nepal has more than 6,500 species of flowering plants (2.33 per cent of the world's total) of which 370 are endemic to this country. The number of edible plant species is approximately 600.

There is growing realisation of the importance of conserving biodiversity in a manner consistent with the ecosystem approach as promoted by the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity and the 2001 International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources.
Nepal's laws on protecting the country’s rich biodiversity are also weak, according to a scientist who spoke at a meeting of TWAS, the Academy of Sciences of the Developing World in Hyderabad last month.

The gene bank is expected to benefit farmers also by helping them use traditional knowledge, skills and resources, said T. B. Nepali, professor of environment sciences at the Institute of Agriculture and Animal Sciences, Chitwan.