Global Crop Diversity Trust

A Foundation for Food Security

Emergency rescue

However well managed a genebank is, occasionally a disaster will strike. When it does, the Trust is ready to respond.

Take Typhoon Xangsane. It swept through the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand in September 2006, causing at least 279 deaths and over half a billion dollars in damage. At the Philippine National Plant Genetic Resources Laboratory (NPGRL), a two-metre high flood of water and mud inundated the facility, submerging equipment and destroying unique seed samples that were found nowehere else. The cold storage units, seed drying room, stand-by generators, air-conditioners, dehumidifiers, and vehicles, among other things, were rendered inoperable. It was critical that the infrastructure and equipment be repaired or replaced before unique local crop diversity held at the genebank was lost.

The Trust quickly funded the restoration of the genebank, in coordination with Bioversity International. Seed collections such as peanut, sorghum, and maize were repacked and sealed into air and water-tight aluminium foil envelopes. Collections were moved into temporary storage in neighbouring genebanks. A dehumidifier and two power saws were purchased; and two dehumidifiers, two screenhouses, the fruit crops nursery, air conditioning and compressors for the cold storage rooms, and a stand-by generator were repaired. Furthermore, the root crop, fruit crop, banana, taro, and sweet potato field collections were rescued and moved into safer locations.

Unfortunately, parts of the collection were not duplicated anywhere else, and consequently varieties which have evolved over centuries in response to the unique requirements of Philippine agriculture, and perhaps containing traits useful for agriculture elsewhere, have been lost. Timely rescue minimized the damage, but the disaster serves as yet another reminder of the importance of genebanks working together as part of a global system, in particular to secure safety back-up. The Trust is working to ensure that all collections have both a duplicate collection stored for safe-keeping in another genebank, and (in the case of orthodox seed crops) a third copy stored in the safest facility on the planet, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.