The international collections managed by the CGIAR centers have made a major contribution to crop improvement around the world.
However, because genebanks have long-term objectives and are remote from development outcomes, this has not always been recognized, and funding levels have been inconsistent and unpredictable. Article 15 of the International Treaty commits the CGIAR centers to making material in the international genebanks they manage available for the long term under the Multilateral System. The Crop Trust was established in 2004 as an independent international organization with the aim of guaranteeing stable, predictable and perpetual funding to the international genebanks through the mechanism of an endowment fund. This is recognized as an essential element of the funding strategy of the International Treaty.
The Genebank Platform, a six-year partnership (2017-2022) between the Crop Trust and CGIAR, provides funding which complements the endowment contribution and ensures that the genebanks of CGIAR are performing at agreed high standards and have the capacity to sustain essential operations in perpetuity. The commitment to stable, predictable and perpetual funding is necessary because collections will require constant management into the distant future, and disruptions or shortfalls in funding create not just inefficiencies, but also backlogs that can leave crop diversity at risk of permanent loss.
Prior to the Genebank Platform, the Crop Trust and CGIAR supported the 11 international Genebanks under the CGIAR Research Program (Genebanks CRP) from 2012-2016. Since the initial partnership began in 2012, the international genebanks have distributed more than 300,000 accessions to users in 156 countries; regenerated more than 80,000 accessions; sub-cultured more than 100,000 tissue-culture samples; and acquired more than 55,000 new accessions.
The Genebank Platform provides a centralized mechanism by which the activities of 11 CGIAR centers managing 850,000 accessions in 35 crop and tree collections are financed and monitored through the use of common performance targets, regular online reporting and a rigorous external review processes. In the past, genebanks competed poorly for funding within research programs, and numerous routine genebank activities were chronically under-resourced. Through the Crop Trust, both the Genebanks CRP and now the Genebank Platform has not only secured adequate funding for the essential operations of the genebanks, but is also allowing the Centers to make strategic investments in optimizing operations. The Crop Trust provides a long-term solution that is technically and financially credible to an urgent problem that, though often overlooked, is eminently soluble.
Aside from the individual achievements of the centers, the collaboration between the CGIAR genebanks over many years has brought about a number of globally significant outcomes, including:
- The use of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault as a long-term seed storage facility, built to stand the test of time and the challenges of natural and man-made disasters. The importance of the Vault was brought into sharp focus in September 2015 by the decision of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) genebank to retrieve its safety duplicates from Svalbard in order to re-establish its collection in Morocco, given the inaccessibility of its former facility in Aleppo, Syria.
- The development of the global online portal Genesys. This is fast becoming the main window through which users may access accession-level information not just from individual genebanks, but across genebanks, on genepools as a whole.
- The establishment of a quality management system tailored specifically to genebanks, based on a history of developing and sharing best practices, protocols and guidelines.