Particularly in the world’s tropics, grasspea and finger millet are prized for their nutritional value and ability to survive temperature extremes, drought and poor soil. Yet, they do not receive the research attention needed to improve productivity and respond to contemporary stresses.
This project, led by the Crop Trust and funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation, will connect breeders with the genetic diversity they need to continue their work improving grasspea and finger millet.
The Crop Trust – Templeton project builds on the world of the Crop Trust’s Crop Wild Relatives Project, which expanded available diversity by tapping into wild and ancient domesticated forms of the two crops. This project, by aiding pre-breeders in their research, will ultimately contribute to food security, human health, income for rural poor, while protecting the environment.
Work on grasspea will be spearheaded by researchers at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). Grasspea is commonly grown as an “insurance crop,” particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. This means it often survives where other crops fail because of its high heat and drought tolerance. Grasspea seeds are protein-rich and a good source of iron and zinc and can also serve as nutritious feed for cattle.
Unfortunately, grasspea contains a toxin that can cause paralysis if people eat too much of it as a food source. If breeders can breed toxin-free, climate-smart grasspea varieties using available crop diversity, they can directly contribute to improving nutritional and food security in areas where grasspea is an important crop.
Similarly, finger millet is also a highly-nutritious, drought-tolerant crop, but one that doesn’t get the research attention it deserves. Finger millet can survive in soils with low levels of nutrients and has a short growing season that requires few inputs. Even though it is an important subsistence crop for small-scale farmers, particularly women in East Africa, finger millet is one of the most under-researched and under-funded cereal crops in the world.
But finger millet yields are stagnating in part due to a sap-sucking plant parasite known as Striga and blast disease. To develop varieties of finger millet that are Striga-resistant, breeders need access to the crop’s natural crop diversity.
The Crop Trust – Templeton Project is built on a mutual goal to improve food security for some of the world’s most vulnerable smallholders in the context of a changing climate. In addition to supporting pre-breeding activities, the project aims to explore new, innovative avenues of funding to contribute to the further development of the Crop Trust’s Endowment Fund.
The Crop Trust is dedicated to ensuring the long-term conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security. This mission requires an endowment fund of USD 850 million in order to fund the operations of a global portfolio of national, regional and international collections for the ex situ conservation of crop diversity. A vast majority of Crop Trust funding has historically come from governments, however, reaching our long-term goal is becoming increasingly more difficult as Official Development Assistance (ODA) from government budgets is reduced and directed to more short-term needs. The Crop Trust recognizes that without a more diversified and sustainable funding base, this important funding goal will not be met. Innovative finance mechanisms would provide an opportunity for non-traditional donors, including the private sector, to play a larger role in financially supporting the conservation of crop diversity.
The aim of this project is to explore new, more diverse funding channels to achieve the current targets for the endowment fund to safeguard crop diversity by financially supporting the 11 international genebanks, regional and national genebanks holding collections of global significance. This support will also ensure that the genetic diversity which is essential for further work under the pre-breeding element of this project is maintained.
In order to identify innovative funding mechanisms that would substantially increase the value of the endowment fund, the 18th meeting of the Crop Trust Donors’ Council (held on 14-15 June in Bonn, Germany) agreed to establish an ad hoc Working Group on Innovative Finance to analyze and review potential innovative finance mechanisms in more depth. Initial mechanisms for the group to explore included a Food Security Bond, Crowd-sourcing Campaign, Crop-based fundraising, Investment Sharing Facility and co-funding opportunities. Additionally, the Innovative Finance Working Group was tasked with exploring the broader landscape of relevant innovative finance mechanisms for the Crop Trust.
This support from the Templeton World Charity Foundation allows for further exploration of the landscape of innovative finance, with the goal of producing a set of clear recommendations that will detail which mechanisms are the most promising. A prioritization exercise has been conducted by the Executive Board and the Innovative Finance Working Group to select the most promising innovative finance mechanisms and strategies currently under consideration by the Crop Trust. To date, the Innovative Finance Working Group, with approval from the Donors’ Council and Executive Board, has selected the following three mechanisms for further exploration:
- Member Country Loans (MCLs)
- Food Security Bond (FSB); and
- Crowdsourcing and crop-based fundraising.
Grasspea Pre-breeding at ICARDA
Finger Millet Pre-breeding