A Look Back on 2016
10 January 2017
Marie Haga | Marie's Corner
In this "corner" we will take a look back at an exciting Crop Trust 2016 and welcome 2017 with some reflections on what we want to achieve.
The Big Picture
2016, the planet’s hottest year on record, brought unprecedented conditions and challenges to many regions of the globe.
Below the equator in Southern Africa, the year started with a dry summer that pushed a gathering drought to a crisis point, with the lowest rainfall totals that the region had seen in 35 years.
Globally, challenges continued with carbon dioxide levels in the air at the highest in 650,000 years.
These challenges, coupled with population growth, will continue to place unprecedented pressures on our ability to grow the food we require. Adapting agriculture to new conditions is therefore essential and couldn’t be more urgent.
Let’s hope that we as a global community can manage to curb global heating at + 2 degrees Celsius. Likely or not, even that is scary scenario for the world’s food production.
The trouble is fundamentally that the climate is changing faster than many of the plants that feed us are able to adapt. Even with + 1 degree Celsius for example some major rice varieties will reduce their yields by 10 percent.
Crop diversity is of course not the full answer, but as an essential prerequisite for crop improvement, it plays a crucial role. Too few people understand and realize how fundamental crop diversity is to a food secure world with healthy diets for everybody.
2017 is the year we will start a dedicated campaign to create awareness. Governments, businesses, foundations and NGOs have already committed to take part, and we will keep the campaign going until 2020 by which point all members of the United Nations have committed to safeguard and make available agro-biodiversity to scientists, breeders and farmers.
2017 is also the year when we will continue to build on our significant achievements in 2016 – technically, scientifically and financially.
From 2016 on to 2017
We basically do two things here at the Crop Trust. We work day and night to safeguard one of the world’s most important natural resources – crop diversity – and we work to develop and finance a global system to make this possible.
2016 has taken us big strides forward. We are confident that in 2017 further major steps will follow.
Collections in trust for the global community
2016 saw the conclusion of our five-year partnership with the CGIAR to manage and provide sustainable support for the international crop collections. With the beginning of 2017, we have now engaged in a new, even more ambitious, six-year program with the same partners, called ‘Genebank Platform’. We are thrilled to be able to continue with our work to support the international collections in this framework. The program will ensure funding and continued improvements for the most important crop collections globally – the so-called Article 15 collections - until 2022.
The new Genebank Platform:
- ensures that genebank operations are fully sustained and strengthened within a validated quality management framework;
- ensures that all collections are available, safety duplicated and documented according to performance targets;
- gains efficiencies in operations that result in reduction of costs, using a science based and rationalized approach;
- strengthens the capacity and management of germplasm health units;
- provides a global response to the threats affecting in situ crop diversity through targeted, multi-crop collecting in partnership with NARS;
- develops a totally new experience for the genebank user based on modernized and ideally visual, information search tools and much enriched data;
- changes the culture between genebank and user so that information flows more easily between them and adds value to the collections;
- ensures compliance across the CGIAR with international genetic resources policy.
Increasing useful germplasm diversity in crop collections for climate change adaption
We not only strive to make continuous improvements to safeguard the most important crop collections in the world, we also have a number of partners collecting wild relatives of crops (CWR) to conserve and make available from national genebanks. This is important because wild relatives may hold the keys to breakthroughs in breeding that the world so badly needs to feed itself.
As of today, we have collecting agreement with 24 countries, with Peru signing on a few days ago. We also have pre-breeding projects in place for 19 crops, where developing countries and developed countries work together to utilize crop wild relatives. 2017 saw the conclusion of some of the first pre-breeding projects we supported, such as the project on eggplant pre-breeding with partners in Spain, Cote D’Ivoire and Sri Lanka.
The collecting is being carried out by national partners, with technical backstopping provided by the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew and some of the CGIAR centres. I had a chance to experience myself the amount of enthusiasm and dedication that these national partners bring to their work, when I joined one of the collecting teams in Central America (ICTA Guatemala and Universidad De Costa Rica) as an observer. It was a challenging operation to reach the wild rice species we were looking for - among Zika, Dengue and scorpions – this having been of the ‘easier’ collecting missions, as I was told.
We are extremely grateful to the Government of Norway that funds the project, to our partners at national and international genebanks, institutes and universities, to our global partner the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew and to the Advisory Group of the Crop Wild Relatives Project for making this effort a success.
With the end of 2016, Phase 2 of the Project has come to an end and Phase 3 is now starting. This phase will focus on making sure that the outputs of the Project will be of maximum benefit to farmers around the world.
It doesn’t help, having the most perfect crop collections if no one knows what they contain. That is why information systems are so important. We’ve made important headway with our work on information systems in 2016.
With funding from the CGIAR Research Program, the Crop Trust for example organized a Barcoding Workshop in Berlin for CGIAR genebanks and additional participants, with the aim of linking the “experts” within the system with those who are just getting started. Together, they developed detailed plans for enhanced use of tablets, barcoding and other IT in genebank daily operations. As a result, barcoding equipment was provided to AfricaRice, ICARDA, ICRAF and IRRI.
The Federal Office for Agriculture and Food (BLE) in Germany kindly agreed to provide funding to establish a “Genesys catalog of phenotypic datasets”. The project aims to make life much easier for plant breeders by connecting a wealth of characterization and evaluation data to genebank accessions through the Genesys information portal.
New visual updates to the Genesys page have now gone live, including a new CWR project page with data on newly collected accessions and a CGIAR page with direct links to data from the CGIAR institutes. Additionally, new data from EURISCO, the Australian Pastures Genebank, the Australian Grains Genebank and CePaCT were added. Genesys now has records on 3,611,454 germplasm accessions.
The genebank database management tool called GRIN global is growing: with Chile, Tunisia and Colombia already online and many others, including Uruguay expressing interest in deploying GRIN-Global. The tool now allows for direct publishing of passport data on Genesys, facilitating data sharing. We have also supported two very well attended GRIN-Global workshops, the first in Prague (Czech Republic) and the second in Cali (Colombia) generously hosted by CIAT. Participants from a total of 19 countries took part.
Lastly in 2016, under the Crop Wild Relatives project, the Crop Trust set up 8 projects to upgrade IT in national genebanks in Kenya, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Philippines and Nigeria and supported ICARDA to upgrade information systems at 3 national genebanks in the NENA region (Azerbaijan, Lebanon, Morocco).
Svalbard Global Seed Vault
The largest agro-biodiversity collection in the world, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, got even larger over 2016, with four major seed deposits across the year, containing everything from forages for sheep to Guinea grass.
It was also heartwarming and exciting to see seeds, which came from the first-ever withdrawal from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in 2015, being sown and harvested in the fields this year at ICARDA’s new headquarters in Morocco and Lebanon. Eventually, every sample will be planted and grown at the new facilities to provide duplicate seeds, which will be used to re-establish the ICARDA active collection and also be returned to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault for safekeeping. Some may be returning as early as February 2017.
- yet another example that our work yields important results.
- and there is more to come in 2017.
The Crop Trust and its many, many partners get a lot done. We make important progress. But there is so much more to do!
We have finally got to the point where we can start working more systematically with national collections. This doesn’t mean we have not had broad cooperation and contributed to capacity building in national collections in the past, but we are now intensifying our efforts to a) identify which national collections contain the most unique material and b) what we can contribute more generally to capacity building in national collections.
Good will doesn’t do, we also need money… We have some promising fundraising ongoing for this purpose and hope to report good results in the next annual summary.
Although in a challenging environment, we held a successful Pledging Conference in Washington in April 2016, which lead the path towards a doubling of the endowment fund since the start of the new fundraising effort.
We are grateful to partners that have contributed in 2016:
- Australia: AUD 5 Million for the endowment over 3 years and about USD 200k for emergency repairs to the genebank in Fiji
- Germany: EUR 19.3 million for the endowment plus EUR 0.6 million for different project activities
- India: USD 100,000 for the endowment
- Ireland: EUR 50,000 for operational costs of genebanks
- Japan: USD 200,000 for a rice improvement project in Africa
- Netherlands: pledged EUR 6.2 million over 3 years for operational expenditures
- New Zealand: 2 Million NZD for the endowment over 2 years
- Norway: renewed its commitment to fully fund the USD 50 million Crop Wild Relatives Project through to its expected completion in 2020
- Switzerland: USD 730,000 for the endowment
- United States of America: USD 1.2 million for the endowment and operational expenditures
- CGIAR Fund Council: USD 24.5 million for operating costs of CG genebanks, with an agreement for continued funding under the new Genebank Platform (2017-2022)
- DuPont Pioneer: USD 1 million over 4 years for the endowment
- International Seed Federation: USD 50,000 for the endowment
- Concessional loan offer from Germany’s KfW of EUR 50 million over 15 years for the endowment
Our partners also contribute in other ways but through direct funding. Let us mention that the Australian Grains Genebank (AGG) generously hosted this year’s weeklong Annual Genebank Managers (AGM) meeting, which brought together scientists from across 18 countries to learn from each other and discuss all relevant aspects of genebank operations.
Some of the world’s leading experts on ex situ conservation converged at our headquarters in Bonn to explore ways to better understand the diversity that lies conserved in the world’s crop collections, how to identify where the most important gaps are and define strategies for gap filling. The event was co-organized by the German genebank, IPK Gatersleben.
The seed company KWS contributed to a luncheon with high-level representatives during the Green Week in Berlin, co-hosted by the German Government.
Looking ahead to 2017 we will diversify our fundraising efforts. We will work to a larger extent on crop-based fundraising, and aim to develop projects with institutions like KfW and the Green Climate Fund. We will also continue to work on an Investment Sharing Facility and attract concessional loans as well as focus on wealthy individuals and crowd-funding.
To sum up, let me quote Henry Ford, who once said:
“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”
It is obvious - without partners we don’t get far. I am very grateful to our amazing staff of 27 people in Bonn. But no matter how skillful (and they certainly are) and no matter how dedicated they are (I can tell you that they really are), we rely on our partners.
Thank you so much to all partners, including not the least to our encouraging Executive Board, for dedicated support, work and encouragement. We are looking forward to future cooperation in 2017 when we jointly will:
- Continue the doable task to develop a global system for conservation and use of crop diversity – one of the most important natural resources on the globe
- Starting the implementation of a strategy for supporting National Collections, including - hopefully - by embarking on a proposed major project with KfW and the Green Climate Fund
- Diversify our funding sources and systematically and creatively search for further innovative financial instruments
- Get a four-year awareness raising campaign off the ground to much increase the public understanding that crop diversity is a prerequisite for food and nutritional security
All the best for 2017,