Yemen Genebank Receives Emergency Funding
9 December 2022
The National Genetic Resources Center (NGRC) in Yemen is the first genebank to receive funds from the new Emergency Reserve for genebanks facing urgent threats to their precious collections of crop diversity.
The Emergency Reserve, the first such funding mechanism, was launched in November 2021 by the Crop Trust and the Secretariat of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (International Plant Treaty). The fund can respond rapidly whenever there is an imminent threat to genebanks.
The Emergency Reserve was made possible in part through financial support provided by the Government of Norway for the Crop Trust’s 10-year project, “Biodiversity for Opportunities, Livelihoods and Development” (BOLD). This project aims to strengthen food and nutritional security worldwide by supporting the conservation of crop diversity in genebanks and its use in farmers’ fields.
The NGRC, a long-time partner of the Crop Trust, has suffered badly from the combined effects of the long-running conflict in the country and the COVID-19 pandemic. Rampant inflation, cuts in operating funds and loss of staff have forced the genebank to cut back many of its operations.
But it was the frequent power cuts that were putting the safety of the genebank collection at immediate risk of loss.
“Without mains electricity, we rely on our solar panels to run the freezers where we store our germplasm collection,” said Dr. Maeen Aljarmouzi, manager of the genebank. “But the batteries that store the electricity generated during the day were reaching the end of their normal operating life.”
Replacing 24 specialist batteries doesn’t cost much in the great scheme of things, but it was more than the genebank could afford. “We were looking at a cost of USD 10,000 to replace them, and we could not get the funds from the government or any other source,” said Dr. Aljarmouzi. “Thankfully, our application to the Emergency Reserve was accepted.”
Using the funds, the genebank purchased the vital batteries on the local market and local technicians installed them.
Yemen, with its unique geographical location, diverse agro-ecological zones and long history of agricultural development, harbors a wealth of crop diversity. Farmers grow a wide range of cereals, legumes, fruit trees and vegetables and the country is home to a large number of local landraces of millets, sorghum, wheat, barley, lentils, alfalfa, and, famously, coffee. The NGRC genebank houses some 6,500 seed samples of more than 40 crops – more than 40% of them cereals.
“Before the Emergency Reserve, there was no ready source of funding to aid genebanks in their times of acute need,” said Stefan Schmitz, Executive Director of the Crop Trust. “We have stepped in on a number of occasions to help genebanks around the world facing emergency situations, but this puts it all on a more sure footing.”
Floods, fires and earthquakes have destroyed genebanks in the past. But it doesn’t take much for a crop collection to disappear. Lack of funds to pay the electric bill, or the malfunction of a cold room is enough for invaluable, sometimes unique, diversity to disappear – forever. “The Emergency Reserve gives us a better system for dealing with imminent threats, both big and small,” concludes Schmitz.
“Without the intervention of the Emergency Reserve, there was a great risk that the whole of the NGRC collection would have been lost,” said Kent Nnadozie, Secretary of the International Plant Treaty. “This demonstrates just how important it is to have such a responsive funding mechanism for dealing with crises like this that need urgent resolution.”
National genebanks like the NGRC are a vital part of the global network of genebanks, contributing under the International Plant Treaty to the global conservation of the crop diversity that we all need to ensure food security under climate change. By alleviating a local emergency, the Crop Trust and International Plant Treaty are helping to address a global one.