Developing the international ex situ collections of the CGIAR centers, including the skills to manage, study, and make available their contents, has 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. At the same time, 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 (Halewood et al., 2013). The Crop Trust was established in 2004 as an independent international organization with the aim of guaranteeing stable, predictable and perpetual funding to the genebanks of CGIAR through the mechanism of an endowment fund. This is recognized as an essential element of the funding strategy of the International Treaty. A variety of external audits and reviews confirm that the Crop Trust has the necessary systems and capacities in place for sound technical and financial management (Box 7).
Through a partnership with the CGIAR Consortium Office called the Genebanks CGIAR Research Program (Genebanks CRP), funding from which complements the endowment contribution, the Crop Trust ensures that the genebanks of CGIAR are performing at agreed high standards and have the capacity to sustain essential operations in perpetuity (Crop Trust, 2015). 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. This work is “a vital safeguard against hunger” (The Economist, 2015).
Since the Genebanks CRP started in 2012, the international genebanks have distributed more than 300,000 accessions to users in 120 countries; regenerated more than 200,000 accessions; sub-cultured more than 100,000 tissue-culture samples; and acquired more than 30,000 new accessions. 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 fail-safe 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 relief 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 the Arctic in order to re-establish its collection in Morocco, given the inaccessibility of its former facility in Aleppo, Syria (Conlon, 2015).
- The development of the global online portal Genesys (www.genesys-pgr.org). 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 launch of DivSeek (www.divseek.org), an initiative that aims to enable breeders and researchers to leverage modern biotechnologies and bioinformatics to more effectively mobilize plant genetic variation in the service of crop improvement.
- The establishment of a quality management system tailored specifically to genebanks, based on a history of developing and sharing best practices, protocols and guidelines.
The Genebanks CRP 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, the Genebanks CRP 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.
Box 7. Financial transparency and efficiency of the Crop Trust
In 2015, the Crop Trust worked with various auditors who undertook reviews of its projects and activities, including PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), KfW and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD). Overall, the audits confirmed that the Crop Trust has the necessary systems and capacities in place for the sound financial management of the endowment fund and bilateral projects. Further audits to be conducted by CGIAR Internal Audit and the CGIAR Fund Office Independent Evaluation Arrangement (IEA) are planned for late 2015 and 2016.
The Crop Trust also conducted financial reviews of its largest partner in one of its major projects, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK, as well as CGIAR centre genebanks, in order to understand and monitor expenditures. In the process, it introduced new measures for greater transparency and accountability. In addition, the Crop Trust welcomed the opportunity to provide donors, particularly the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Gates Foundation and NORAD, with detailed operating expenditure analysis, as requested.