This week in June I return from almost a week in midnight sun in Svalbard at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The Crop Trust received among others, the IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri for a short visit to the Vault, and for more substantial discussions the EU Chief Scientist Anne Glover and vice president in the World Bank Rachel Kyte. Both are keen and ready to support the Crop Trust. We are looking forward to working with them in the months to come.
The science team keeps busy. Let me give you a few highlights from the month of May. Activities related to three external reviews progressed in the context of the Genebank CRP. Firstly, the external review of AfricaRice was successfully conducted. Two external reviewers – Jan Engels and Chikelu Mba and Crop Trust staff have visited the genebank, interviewed relevant staff and consulted with centre breeders and other users, as well as collaborating genebanks. Secondly, Bioversity has received the external review report and is developing their Recommendation Action Plan. Thirdly, the Crop Trust received the report of the IITA external review.
In our endeavors to get the CGIAR gene banks up to the best in genebank standards, the reviews are essential. They are also highly appreciated by the CG centers.
The work of the DivSeek facilitation unit, which is hosted by the Crop Trust and jointly implemented by the Crop Trust and the Treaty Secretariat, has now gained pace. DivSeek will harness crop diversity to feed the future by enabling breeders and researchers to mobilize a vast range of plant genetic variation to accelerate the rate of crop improvement and furnish food and agricultural products to the growing human population. A landscaping survey that forms part of the Treaty Secretariat’s consultation process on a Global Information System for PGRFA is under development and has received inputs from several DivSeek experts in an effort to increase its relevance also to the DivSeek initiative. A meeting of the DivSeek governance and legal working group is also being prepared and will take place in mid-July at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Options for resource mobilization for the work of the DivSeek facilitation unit are also being discussed and coordinated with the Treaty Secretariat.
A small group of ‘DivSeek experts’ gathered in London to discuss the idea of a pilot project for DivSeek. Such a pilot project would aim to provide a framework for learning about the types of data that a DivSeek platform would ultimately have to link up and make available, the types of tools that could be developed and the types of standards and best practices that would be required. The participants agreed to focus such a “sandbox” on an 18-month period and a diverse set of focal crops. Since DivSeek is also of great potential significance for the outputs of the CWR projects, we are now in discussions with the government of Norway to see whether the 18-month pilot project could at least partly be supported under that project. We are developing a concept note together with potential partners and data providers.
In the Crop Wild Relatives Project we have received the signed 2nd phase agreement from Norway. Our 2013 donor report was effective, and we have reached agreement on the use of carry-over funds to improve the project website and possibly the DivSeek sandbox project as mentioned above. This is all in line with the recommendations of the technical review. Invites have gone out to African countries for a training course to be held in mid-August in Uganda. Don’t forget to watch our new video with our friend Ruth Eastwood of Kew Gardens.
Paul Smith – the head of the Millienium Seed Bank at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew– and I had the pleasure of visiting Turkey in mid May to discuss collecting arrangements for Crop Wild Relatives. Turkey is an important country in this context. It is decided that technical discussions will be held in the near future.
The Partnerships and Communications Team started the month of May by visiting the Finish authorities in Helsinki. Finland would become a new donor to the Crop Trust endowment. As in other donor capitals, counterparts came from the Ministries of Agriculture and of Foreign Affairs/ Development Cooperation as well as the national agricultural research institute. The discussions were positive and Finland is considering a contribution.
One week was spent in the US, first in Washington with our regular updates to staffers on Capital Hill and a meeting with CropLife America, then in New York where discussions took place with two foundations and the Clinton Development Initiative. We also met a large asset manager so as to further develop the proposed new Investment Sharing Facility (ISF). Under the ISF, institutional investors with social and/or environmental objectives would deposit funds in an investment pool that would share annual returns with the Crop Trust over a defined period of time. This could be backed up by a sovereign guarantee. Further meetings took place with several US seed companies.
In Tokyo, we held our first official discussions with the Ministries of Agriculture and Foreign Affairs, complemented by meetings with the Ministry of Finance, JICA (the bilateral aid agency of Japan) and with a Member of Parliament of Japan. A visit to Madrid confirmed the strong ongoing interest by Spain in our work. Spain provided initial funding to the endowment in 2008. There are also prospects for a possible future concessional loan contribution from Spain, while Swedish authorities indicated that further government funding through SIDA is unlikely over the near term. In London we met with the Wellcome Trust and other foundations, recognizing that sourcing funding from these private sources will take time and is not assured.
Right now the Communications team is working hard on finalizing the 2013 Annual Report for review and approval by the Executive Board. The Crop Trust is in the phase of selecting the developer of the new Crop Trust website, to be completed by end-2014. The new website will be essential to our efforts over the coming years.
In a few days we have a Chinese delegation visiting Bonn. We are all excited about signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In June we will be giving a presentation to the G20 agricultural chief scientists in Brisbane. This is a certainly exciting time at the Crop Trust and our efforts inch us closer to completing our mission every day. We will be holding two events in June:
10-Year Celebration Event in Bonn: 24 June
Best regards from the Bonn team,