World’s most diverse forage collection comes under new treaty

On Monday 16 October 2006, world leaders in agricultural research signed agreements that guarantee long-term access to some of the world's most important collections of agricultural biodiversity.

In a ceremony that took place on World Food Day, 11 centres belonging to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) placed all their ex-situ genebank collections under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, now ratified by 105 countries.

A livestock forage genebank maintained by one of these CGIAR centres, the Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), conserves more than 18 thousand accessions of forages from over 1000 species. This is one of the most diverse collections of forage grasses, legumes and fodder tree species held in any genebank in the world and includes the world’s major collection of African grasses and tropical highland forages. In 1994, the germplasm collection held by ILRI was placed in trust under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as part of their international network of ex situ collections. Now, 12 years later, this trust collection comes under the purview of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture following the 16 October 2006 landmark agreement between CGIAR Centers and the governing body of the treaty.

As part of its commitment to maintaining the collection as a global public good, ILRI claims no ownership nor seeks any intellectual property rights over the germplasm and related information. Rather, ILRI conserves its diverse forage collection to make it and relevant information freely available to scientists and the national agricultural research systems of developing and other countries.

ILRI maintains both an active and base genebank at its site in Addis Ababa.

Active and base genebanks

The active genebank is used for current research and distribution of seeds. Seeds are dried in a dehumidified drying room and packed in laminated aluminium foil bags for storage in the active genebank at 8°C. All seeds in the active collection are freely available in small quantities to bona-fide forage research workers and distributed both directly and through networks.

The base genebank is used for long-term security storage of original germplasm collections. The base genebank acts as a repository of materials that have been reasonably characterized and which may or may not have current interest or use by plant breeders. Collected materials are preserved until such time as there are enough resources available for them to be characterized and evaluated. Materials are stored in the base genebank at -20°C.

Forage diversity activities at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

Forage diversity as a global public good

ILRI and the other centres of the CGIAR hold more than 600,000 samples of crop-plant diversity. This includes wild relatives and more than half of the global total of farmer-created varieties, which are such a rich source of sought-after characteristics, for example to meet the challenge of climate change.
‘This really is an investment in food security,’ said Emile Frison, Director General of International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), which is responsible for the world’s banana collection. ‘The genetic diversity created in the past by farmers and researchers is the foundation of improvements to meet the challenges of the future.”’

’Unless we can meet those challenges,’ Frison added, ‘there will be no food security.’
Mahmoud Solh, Director General of the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), said that the new agreements would ‘allow breeders and other researchers to tap the collections for solutions to the most pressing problems, such as drought, desertification, and food and nutritional security.’

Centre directors ‘warmly welcome’ the agreements and ‘commit themselves to supporting and implementing the Treaty’. A statement issued by the Alliance of CGIAR Centres sets out the centres’ common understanding of certain provisions of the agreements and indicates some actions that the centres will be taking to implement them.

Click here to view the statement of the CGIAR centres regarding implementation of the agreements between the centres and the governing body of the international treaty on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

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