26) ICRISAT’s germplasm to strengthen the collection at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) joined the group of international organizations that will deposit seeds of germplasm of mandate crops at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, to be inaugurated on 26 February.

Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, is at Svalbard for the opening celebrations on 25 and 26 February for the global initiative to store the seeds of agricultural crops from across the world in a specially created seed vault. The Svalbard archipelago is half way between the northern coast of Norway and the North Pole.

Located in a remote, yet accessible location within a mountain under permafrost (permanently frozen layer) conditions, the Svalbard Seed Vault has a natural temperature of minus 6 degree centigrade (-6 °C). The vault is further cooled to -18°C and is designed to provide ultimate secure protection against catastrophes to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

According to Dr William Dar, ICRISAT’s participation in the duplicate conservation of seeds in the vault adds a special significance to the project – it gives increased protection to global agriculture from climate change. The seeds of germplasm that will be transferred by ICRISAT are those of hardy dryland crops that can withstand climate change when it happens. These are the seeds of sorghum, pearl millet, chickpea, pigeonpea, groundnut and six small millets.

“Mandated to increase agricultural productivity in the drylands of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, our crops have the ability to withstand the perils of climate variability and change,” Dr Dar said. “Including our seeds to be stored in the Svalbard seed vault means that we are storing the seeds of hope for prosterity.”

Though a global disaster may or may not happen, seeds stored in genebanks (such as the one at ICRISAT) are routinely used to re-start agriculture in areas affected by natural disasters and civil strife. For instance, sorghum germplasm lost during civil wars in Ethiopia and Rwanda was replenished from the collection stored in the ICRISAT genebank. ICRISAT repatriated germplasm to several countries: Botswana (sorghum), Iran (chickpea), Nepal (chickpea), Kenya (pigeonpea), Sudan (sorghum), Zambia (sorghum, pearl millet, pigeonpea, groundnut and finger millet), and India (all crops).

ICRISAT will deposit seeds of 20,000 germplasm accessions in the first installment this year, which will be the first year of the 5-year schedule during which the Institute will transfer about 110,000 germplasm accessions. The Global Crop Diversity Trust, one of the agencies supporting the project and a partner of ICRISAT, is providing the financial support for the transfer of sample.

The samples being sent to Svalbard are duplicates of the collection at ICRISAT’s gene bank. Among the largest public-funded genebanks globally, the facility at ICRISAT’s headquarters at Patancheru, India, holds 118,882 accessions of various crops, along with their wild relatives, representing 144 countries.

ICRISAT’s collection has benefited the crop improvement efforts of many national agricultural research systems. Sixty-six germplasm accessions of various crops have been released directly as cultivars in 44 countries contributing to food security. In addition, a vast number of germplasm accessions distributed have been used as building blocks for numerous varieties and hybrids that are cultivated in many parts of the world. More than 75 national programs have released 602 varieties (as of December 2007) of ICRISAT mandate crops, using ICRISAT-supplied breeding material (developed from the germplasm).

The Nordic Gene Bank and the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT) invited ICRISAT to deposit its germplasm collections at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. ICRISAT accepted and signed the Standard Deposit Agreement with the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food in September 2007.

In December 2007, ICRISAT and GCDT also signed a partnership agreement to ensure the long-term availability of funds for the conservation, characterization and distribution of germplasm (seeds) in the ICRISAT’s Genebank for the benefit of agriculture and food security for mankind.

Under the agreement, the Trust will commit US$ 8 million and ICRISAT US$ 2 million, totaling an endowment of US$ 10 million. The proceeds from the endowment will be used for genetic resources conservation and management activities at ICRISAT. As per the agreement, the endowment’s support for the sorghum germplasm collection began in 2007, pearl millet will begin from 2008 and chickpea in 2009, to be followed by other ICRISAT mandate crops.

The aim is to raise at least US$ 450,000 per year from the endowment to meet critical operational needs such as regeneration, characterization, conservation, viability testing and supply of the crop collections held in trust at ICRISAT, thereby providing long-term conservation funds.

For further information, contact Dr CLL Gowda at , or Dr HD Upadhyaya at .

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