Marie's Corner

Quality Matters

The job of the Crop Trust is to safeguard one of the world’s most important natural resources – namely plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. It is a big and many faceted responsibility. Over the last slightly more than two years we have, among many other things, worked to develop an evidence-based quality management system (QMS) for genebanks.

A QMS has been one of the objectives of the CGIAR Genebank CRP. There are two reasons why I want to speak about this rather technical tool in this blog. Firstly, because we have gone quite far and do have the elements of a workable system in place. Secondly, because we have gotten to the point where the system can also be applied to national genebanks. We are humble but also proud that national genebanks in fact request our services.

An ‘evidence-based quality management system’ is quite a mouthful: what does it mean?

Firstly, a quality management system documents every procedure as it is carried out in an organization and verifies that the steps in the manual are actually carried out (that’s the evidence part). Secondly, the system we are building further aligns the genebanks’ procedures with the international standards published by FAO. In other words the QMS is tailored to the specific needs of the genebanks in terms of fulfilling what is expected of them by the global community.

Such a process can be imposed by an external body such as ISO. However, many of us have experienced that this can be expensive, time-consuming and it often ignores the peculiarities of the specific organization. For the Genebank QMS, which we started to work on in 2014 by bringing Dr Janny van Beem on board, we opted for a system that is defined and driven by the genebanks themselves. It is worth noting that Janny was previously instrumental in achieving ISO accreditation for part of International Potato Centre in Lima, Peru.

Janny has been working with each genebank to focus on five improvement goals to be achieved in the first eighteen months: 1) documenting procedures in a common format, 2) training national staff and emphasizing the need for succession planning, 3) identifying and mitigating risks, 4) barcoding all accessions across all procedures, and 5) securing genebank facilities with systems for controlling physical access.

We have made great progress. For example, some 82 “standard operating procedures” (SOPs) have been documented, and a total of 102 staff from all 11 CGIAR genebanks have attended “Genebank Operations and Advanced Learning” (GOAL) workshops to learn from each other and from other experts how they can improve their processes back home. In addition to CGIAR genebank staff, 27 participants from 22 national institutions have joined these training sessions. As for barcoding, I have reported in a previous blog on that.

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Most genebanks are on target to complete the proposed goals by the end of 2016, with 3 aiming for early 2017.

Looking ahead, the Genebank QMS will focus on creating and implementing tailored plans that lead to even better technical and operational performance. These plans will integrate audit findings, workshop action points, emerging technologies, new standards, reviewer recommendations, and corrective and preventive actions. Tweaks to processes will be incorporated into updates of the standard operating procedures. Learning and improving, never ends. The new Genebanks Platform will provide a framework for such continual improvement.

Janny tells me that she thinks the comradeship, spirit of partnership and positive mindset now present among CGIAR genebank staff as a community would not have come about without the Genebank CRP. I agree with her.

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The Crop Trust, as manager of the CRP, has helped to bring about a dramatic shift in outlook, underpinned by increased collaboration and the knowledge that there will be a stable flow of funds for basic genebank operations and their improvement.

– Briefly on science

Additionally on the science side, let me simply mention a few highlights from the month of August. On Crop Wild Relatives (CWR), we are grateful that negotiations with Peru have picked up again and we are hopeful that the final collecting agreement will be in place soon. Our information management system Genesys has a new page dedicated to data from the CWR project, currently featuring the 1200+ accessions collected thus far. We can also mention that IT equipment is being delivered to Bolivia and we are arranging for a donation to Cuba too.

On the CRP side, we are excited that we have set up contracts with Club Refrigeration (a South African company) to build cold rooms for the new genebank of Africa Rice in Cote d’Ivoire. This will mean a great improvement to their effectiveness and efficiency. We are also in full swing preparing for a very busy fall with meetings, which we will report on as they are implemented.

Visits, meetings and donations

We always enjoy having guests at the Crop Trust. We have had the privilege to host a joint meeting of our very important German partners – namely BMZ, GIZ and KfW. We have also had the pleasure to have visitors from the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) – including a two week Genesys training for their information specialist.

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We also enjoy having meetings with our partners in their home countries. In August we met with the authorities in Switzerland to review our past cooperation and future options. We are very grateful that we signed a USD 730,000 grant agreement with the Swiss Federal Office of Agriculture towards the Crop Trust Endowment. We see good scope for deepening our partnership with Swiss Development Cooperation in the years ahead.

We are also indeed grateful that we received a new contribution from the Agriculture Ministry of India in August to the Crop Trust endowment of USD 100 000, with prospects for further such annual contributions from India over the following years. Discussions with the Agriculture Ministry of Korea are ongoing about Korea’s first contribution to the endowment fund and a possible staff exchange.

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We also held bilateral discussions with the Norwegian authorities about further extending our long-standing partnership, and we met with the Minister of Agriculture in Egypt in conjunction with the 13th Dryland Conference. In Egypt we also held discussions with the National genebank which will lead to cooperation on an Egyptian deposit in Svalbard.

Communications

 The Communications team published the fourth image gallery under the #CropsInColor campaign, celebrating cassava diversity in Southern Africa, as well as a blogpost on the data management tool GRIN-Global, and Chickpea: Using Science to Make a Difference (on our Crop Wild Relatives website) — all have been well received.

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We are also excited to announce a new interactive story platform on the Crop Trust news center, which launches in the coming months, sharing important stories of crop diversity making an impact through compelling photos and video. Work continues on new Science blogs, Spotlights and new video content for both the Crop Trust and the Crop Wild Relatives Project, and preparations are underway for a number of upcoming events. I invite you to view the recently published #CropsInColor Slideshow, which highlights rice diversity in Madagascar.

and…

we are looking forward to receiving the Executive Board in Bonn at the end of October.

Best regards from all of us in Bonn,

Marie

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