This month was historic for the Crop Trust. For the first time, we agreed to fund a genebank with the longest possible time horizon – nothing less than forever.
The agreement with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, guarantees permanent funding of its genebank which, with around 136,000 different kinds of rice, is the largest and most important rice collection in the world. Many of these samples have already been used to help rice producers respond to the challenges of climate change, others hold promise for improving rice production over the coming decades.
Signed in Singapore on World Food Day, the agreement was great news for IRRI, which can continue its groundbreaking research with the assurance that it no longer needs to find funds for the essential operations of its genebank. With around 3.5 billion people around the world consuming rice each day, safeguarding such an important crop collection in perpetuity is an important step towards ensuring our food system is resilient
It was also great news for the Crop Trust, for several reasons. Firstly, it speaks to our work to lead the CGIAR Genebank Platform, which helped ensure the IRRI genebank reached and maintained the highest standards of excellence. These include making more than 90 percent of accessions freely available immediately to requesters, and ensuring they are safely backed up and properly documented.
Secondly, it means we have truly begun to deliver the vision of our founders – to safeguard crop diversity forever. It is proof that the Crop Trust endowment fund can be the mechanism for this. As our inimitable Director of Science, Luigi Guarino, put it in his latest blog, “genebanks are supposed to be forever.” Funding the IRRI genebank is an important step into the future of crop conservation. It’s a future we have always believed in – even when the going got tough.
Finally, providing permanent funding to a genebank is an important contribution by the Crop Trust to Target 2.5 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal on Zero Hunger. This seeks to safeguard “seeds, cultivated plants, farmed and domesticated animals and their wild species” by 2020, and is the focus of the Food Forever initiative.
It should go without saying that partnerships have been key to our agreement with IRRI. It would not have been possible without the donors that have contributed to our endowment fund. They recognize that a food-secure world depends on farmers and scientists having access to the widest possible range of crop diversity to breed the plants that an increasingly challenging environment requires.
It would also not have been possible without the diligence and dedication of staff at the IRRI genebank, and of course, the support of the IRRI leadership. IRRI is a part of CGIAR – a global research partnership whose 11 international genebanks play an essential role in global food security, conserving millions of crop seeds and distributing more than 100,000 samples to researchers and farmers around the world every year. We expect IRRI to be the first of several CGIAR genebanks to qualify for permanent funding in the coming years and, with time, we hope several key national genebanks will make the grade too.
I should also recognize the Crop Trust Science and Finance teams and the rest of our staff in Bonn, Germany, whose dedication is a daily source of inspiration to me. Indeed, as we made history in Singapore, our staff in Bonn marked the occasion by preparing a number of rice dishes as part of a celebratory lunch.
And while it clearly is a time to celebrate, fully delivering on the vision of our founders won’t be easy. It requires approximately USD$850 million in our endowment fund – almost three times its current level. But I believe more than ever that it can be achieved. Providing guaranteed, permanent funding the world’s largest and most important rice genebank is one giant leap for all of us.