Rome. Ames. Arusha. Izmir. Horsham. Meise.
For the past six years, the managers of some of the world’s most important collections of crop biodiversity have met at annual meetings held in these distinct locations to discuss how to best conserve and use the genetic material that they safeguard. We call the event the Annual Genebanks Meeting (AGM) and it has gradually developed into one of the most important meetings in the world of genebanks.
The CGIAR Research Program for Managing and Sustaining Crop Collections (Genebanks CRP) held its first annual genebanks meeting in Rome in November of 2012. That provided a much-appreciated opportunity for genebank managers and key staff from 11 CGIAR genebanks to meet each other face to face and share information on their work and their challenges.
The Annual Genebank Meetings aim to:
- Provide guidance and decision-making in the management of the Genebanks program – now called a “Platform”;
- Develop plans and establish task forces for the advancement of specific initiatives and other shared objectives;
- Exchange opinions and experiences and consolidate common approaches; And last but not least:
- Involve national programs and institutions to strengthen existing partnerships or develop new ones.
This year’s AGM is particularly noteworthy as it is the first meeting of the new Genebank Platform. The Platform was launched earlier this year as a successor to the Genebanks CRP. The inaugural AGM of the Genebank Platform was held from 10-15 September at the Botanic Garden Meise. But it was no picnic in the garden for the participants.
At the AGMs, I am always impressed with the hard work, passion and dedication that this group shows. Over the past six years, they have really developed into a group that can produce impressive results. The meetings are truly hard work! The participants sit for six days and hammer out plans and discuss future paths for the Platform and plant genetic resources in general. It’s exhausting work and at the end of the day they are all ready for a bit of respite.
That respite comes in the most enjoyable manner. I have rarely seen a group of colleagues who appear to enjoy each other’s company so much. The group works so well since they really do enjoy to catch up not only professionally but socially. This kind of friendship is a great recipe for developing genuine collaborations.
The 2017 meeting was a marathon of ideas and issues. Participants discussed at length the plans for adopting DOIs (digital object identifiers) to accession data, ways to improve Genesys and to enrich data on collections by evaluating focal subsets and associate new data on traits. The science behind genebank management was of course not forgotten and participants discussed emerging issues around genomic technologies and big data and ‘dematerialization,’ which is the increasing trend for the information and knowledge content of genetic material to be extracted, processed and exchanged in its own right.
The participants of the new Platform and the former Genebank CRP are obviously on the right track. The recently released external review of the Genebank CRP by CGIAR’s Independent Evaluation Arrangement (IEA) indicates that the CRP was a success and offered good value for money. The genebanks of 2017 are in much better shape than they were in 2012. The evaluation showed that there was a high level of satisfaction with the performance of the Crop Trust in managing the CRP, and strong support for it to continue in that role in the new Genebank Platform. This is exciting as it means that now we can apply what we’ve learned from experiences in the CRP and improve still further in the Platform. We can also be better poised to look outwards to national partners for collaboration.
As the genebank managers and their staff head home after another successful AGM, I’m sure that they, like us at the Crop Trust, are looking forward to the next.
Let me in the end mention that I felt very honored to meet up with two of the legends of the plant genetic resources community – Daniel Debouck of CIAT and Jean Hanson of ILRI. They are both ‘retired’, but somehow I think we’ll still be seeing them in some form sharing their passion for crop diversity. Both Daniel and Jean kicked off this year’s AGM with keynote addresses. Daniel shared his reflections of a ‘has bean’ and discussed what he sees as the priorities for genebanks. Jean told the story of five decades in plant genetic resources management like no one else could tell it. Some of us can relate to her comments about how life was so different before the age of emails! Both Daniel and Jean are venerated in the community and at the Monday night dinner participants were lining up to get their photos taken with this dynamic duo. I believe they felt a bit like rock stars. Well deserved!
Best regards from all of us in Bonn,