Paula Bramel at the Gregor Mendel Foundation Event
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The Gregor Mendel Foundation Honors ICARDA

In a personal account of the event, our Deputy Executive Director Paula Bramel talks about the ceremony, which was held in Berlin on 19 March. 

Last month the Gregor Mendel Foundation awarded its Innovation Prize to Mahmoud Sohl, Director General of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), for securing the genetic resources of the genebank in Syria. The Crop Trust was invited to the award ceremony, and on behalf of our organization, I flew up to Berlin to attend the event.

It was a well-attended ceremony with very high-level representation from various Ministries and a number of members of the Parliament. It was good to see a genebank of such great importance get this award.

The introductory talks dealt with Syria and the risk conflicts had for heritage sites, including this ‘bank’ to store the heritage of farmers.

The Gregor Mendel Foundation wanted to use this award as an opportunity to underline the importance crop diversity has – and must have – for the world. The Foundation discussed the value of the collection, based not only on what it held but also on its use – for crop improvement and development. That is what ICARDA, and the other international genebank collections, are there for: to provide us with the necessary raw materials to better adapt our crops to current and future challenges.

The potential loss of ICARDA’s genebank during a conflict is one example, albeit an extreme one, of the many risks we as a global community face in safeguarding this global common good.

Speakers at the event highlighted the importance of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and how this situation clearly demonstrated why we need this backup collection.

Mahmoud Sohl recognized the work and the courage of his staff in Syria, the people who have actually kept the genebank operational and are responsible for securing it.

“We are entrusted with the genetic wealth from some 128 countries – a resource we cannot afford to lose as it ensures long-term public welfare,” he said.

ICARDA’s genebank stores perhaps the world’s biggest collection of barley, faba bean and lentil crops in the world, along with ancient varieties of durum and bread wheat.

Dr. Sohl discussed the degree of safety duplication and where these are kept, as well as the latest plans to move the collection for its safety. He also highlighted the partnership with the Crop Trust and our support for various activities, including the regeneration of the active collection.

I was asked to join a panel discussion; “Preserve biodiversity and use genetic resources- Conflict or not?” The panel members represented a wide diversity of views and experiences on biodiversity conservation and use. Participants included Dr. Sohl as well as Stephanie Franck (President of the German Plant Breeders Association) and Rudolf Vogel (Board of the Association for the Preservation and Re-Cultivation of Crop Plants in Brandenburg).

It was a very engaging panel discussion with good participation from the audience. The main topics were on securing long-term conservation and sustainable use.

I took the opportunity to discuss our endowment fund and the need to fund it. As I stated there and then and I repeat here:

The Crop Trust endowment fund is not that costly in term of its potential value in mitigating risk and enhancing production. The ICARDA genebank’s situation and the effective response is a clear demonstration of why there is a need for the endowment to secure long-term crop diversity conservation.

The award ceremony provided the Crop Trust with an unexpected but welcomed opportunity to emphasize its role in the global efforts to safeguard plant genetic resources. In this particular case, the ongoing support provided to the ICARDA genebank for the secure duplication, routine operations, and recovery (regeneration) of the active collection outside Syria.

In the name of the whole Crop Trust team, I applaud the relentless efforts of ICARDA’s management and genebank staff in Syria in conserving this crop biodiversity, and congratulate Mahmoud Solh and ICARDA for receiving this year’s Gregor Mendel Innovation Prize.

The Gregor Mendel Foundation has awarded the Innovation Award Gregor Mendel Dr. Mahmoud Solh for securing seed samples from the gene bank during the Syrian civil war on 19 March 2015 .

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