Conserving precious seed

ICARDA safely dupplicated its globally-important seed collection in the Svalbard Seed Valut, with help from the Crop Trust

In 2016 ICARDA implemented a new decentralized genebank architecture, offering enhanced safety, improved access, and more efficient seed distribution.

After ICARDA became the first organization to withdraw seeds from the Svalbard Seed Vault in October 2015, it invested significant efforts in reconstituting its collection in new locations. Last year saw the Center make significant strides in its mission of conserving and distributing plant genetic resources after the upheavals of the past few years: developing and expanding new facilities and laboratories in Morocco and Lebanon, including a new genebank at Lebanon’s Terbol Research Station, part of a 30-year partnership with the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI).

A vital resource for global food security     

ICARDA holds in trust one of the world’s largest and most unique collections of landraces and wild relatives, with a total of 154,000 different samples of major winter-sown cereals, food legumes, forage, and rangeland species. Many were collected from the Fertile Crescent in West Asia, the Abyssinian Highlands in Ethiopia, and Central Asia where the earliest crop domestication and development practices were first recorded.

Many of these plants are now threatened and their conservation is a matter of crucial importance for humanity and global food security. After the threat of conflict in Aleppo and the subsequent duplication of the Center’s seed collection in Svalbard, a new genebank architecture provides additional safekeeping. In addition to samples in Svalbard and the genebanks of international partners, there are now some 35,000 stored in newly established genebanks in Morocco and Lebanon.

Enhanced seed delivery

The new infrastructure enhances access to these international public goods, providing the genetic material that national and international partners need to develop improved climate-resilient crop varieties, our best chance of dealing with the adverse impacts of climate change, including drought, extreme temperatures, and the emergence of new pests and disease.  

A decentralized approach also improves the efficiency of the Center’s seed distribution, potentially increasing the 25,000 samples that are already sent to requesters each year. It also complements ICARDA’s ongoing organizational restructure which followed its departure from Aleppo in 2012, involving the relocation of staff and resources to regional offices in North Africa, Central Asia, the wider Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

From adversity, opportunity   

While ICARDA’s decentralized strategy has posed many challenges, the progress made demonstrates that the Center’s seed conservation and distribution services are resilient and that this core activity is secure.

“ICARDA was the first organization to retrieve seed from the Svalbard Vault,” says the Center’s Director General, Mr. Aly Abousabaa. “But, we are also the first organization to demonstrate that material stored in the Vault can be returned and regenerated safely. This is a huge achievement and a model for other centers facing adverse circumstances.”