Feeding tomorrow’s hungry livestock

In January 2008 ILRI shipped 4000 samples of tropical fodders and forages to Norway’s Svalbard Global Seed Vault for its offical opening today (26th February). This ‘natural freezer’ will help conserve future feed supplies.

Dramatic losses of plant diversity, including fodders and forages that feed livestock, are one of the greatest challenges facing sustainable development today. Soaring human populations are eroding the world’s plant genetic diversity and other natural resources. Increasing demands for human food, along with urbanization, pollution and land degradation, are squeezing out hardy fodder and forage plants that allow half a billion poor people to keep livestock. These fodders and forages are vital today. In future, they may become the only way poor livestock keepers are able to adapt to climate and other changes.

A genebank maintained by ILRI, in Ethiopia, is part of a global effort to help save food and feed plant diversity before it is too late. ILRI is conserving and studying animal feed crops to help ensure future food supplies.

ILRI and other members of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) are storing their vast seed collections in the new Svalbard global seed vault in Norway as a safety backup. This natural freezer, located in the Arctic Circle, will preserve seeds of these plant varieties for many years. This effort is part of a global commitment under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The benefits are universal.
ILRI’s forage diversity project leader, Jean Hanson, says, ‘The 18,000 seed and plant samples held in trust in the ILRI genebank are tested to help scientists deliver appropriate fodders and forages for millions of poor milk and meat producers.

‘In January 2008 ILRI shipped 4000 samples of tropical fodders and forages to Norway’s Svalbard Global Seed Vault. These samples duplicate specimens from ILRI’s vast collection of African forages, the largest and most diverse in the world.’

ILRI genebank: A global public good

ILRI maintains both an active and base genebank in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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.

ILRI’s director general, Carlos Seré summarizes, ‘We know that weather is set to become more extreme, increasing flooding, soil erosion and salinity, droughts and other causes of land degradation.

‘Climate change will also spread diseases among livestock feed plants as well as crop plants. These changes are already increasing world food prices and threatening lives of the poor.

‘The options scientists are generating through plant genetic diversity research will help small farmers adapt quickly to their changing local environments and markets.’

‘In future, the genes scientists are investigating may provide resistance to drought, disease or salinity, not only in fodder plants but also in maize, rice and other important cereal crops’ concludes Sere.

View film on conserving forage genetic resources


 Feeding tomorrow’s hungry livestock: ILRI 3 minute film

Request DVD

Cover image of ILRI’s ‘Managing fodder and forage genetic resources’ DVD

Emai: g.ndungu@cgiar.org to request a copy of this 10 minute film.

Further Information:

ILRI’s forage diversity project leader, Jean Hanson, has been invited to join the International Advisory Council for the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The council is being established to provide guidance and advice, and will include representatives from FAO, the CGIAR, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources (ITPGR) and other institutions. 

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

Forage diversity as a global public good

For research-related enquiries contact:

Jean Hanson
Forage diversity project leader
International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
Addis Ababa, ETHIOPIA
Telephone: +251 11 617 2000

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