...25 years of improvement


It has become increasingly clear during the last few decades that meeting the food needs of the world's growing population depends, to a large extent, on the conservation and use of the world's remaining plant genetic resources.

The conservation and use of genetic resources is as old as agriculture itself. For over 12,000 years farmers have conserved seed for future planting, domesticated wild plants, and selected and bred varieties to suit their specific needs and conditions. Over the millennia, hundreds of different plant species have been domesticated and within each species, human and natural selection have combined to produce thousands of different varieties.

Yet much of this plant genetic diversity has now been lost. Of the several thousand plant species used in the past for food, only about 150 are cultivated today and just three -- rice, wheat and maize -- supply nearly 60 percent of the calories and protein derived from plants. The most significant loss of diversity has taken place in recent decades. The country report prepared by China in preparation for the recent International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources found, for example, that of the approximately 10,000 wheat cultivars grown in that country in 1949, only about 1000 were still being grown in the 1970s (FAO, 1995).

In the past, genetic erosion was largely caused by natural processes, mainly as a result of climate changes. By contrast, the recent acceleration in the loss of plant diversity is mainly due to human action. Land clearing, overgrazing, the cutting and burning of forests, the indiscriminate use of fertilizers and pesticides, and war and civil strife have destroyed natural habitats and the diversity they contain. The main reason, however, for the reduction of crop genetic diversity has been the introduction of new, high yielding plant varieties which began on a large scale in the late 1950s and 1960s.

The wheat and rice varieties that gave rise to the Green Revolution in many cases led to spectacular increases in crop yields; they also led many farmers to abandon the age-old practice of planting a mix of traditional varieties and crops as insurance against adverse conditions. As a result, vast areas of farm land are now planted to a small number of high-yielding crop varieties, often requiring large inputs of fertilizer, pesticide and water. In India, for example, it has been predicted that ten rice varieties will soon cover three-quarters of the total rice area, replacing most of the 30,000 different varieties that were once grown there (Mooney 1985).

The concentration on a few varieties means that many of the world's most important food crops may now be more vulnerable to climate changes or attacks from pests and diseases. One example of this occurred in the USA in 1970 when the uniformity of the maize crop enabled a blight to destroy almost US$1,000 million of maize and reduced yields by as much as 50 percent; resistance to the blight was finally found in the genes of an African maize variety called Mayorbella (National Research Council, 1972). As development destroys habitats and farmers abandon traditional varieties in favor of modern uniform types, the resulting loss of diversity has serious implications for long-term food security.

The rise of the plant genetic resources conservation movement

Scientific interest in plant genetic resources is relatively recent. In the early part of this century, pioneers such as the Russian scientist, N.I. Vavilov, came to appreciate the importance of collecting and conserving germplasm and in 1936, a technical article by two scientists first brought to public attention the danger of genetic erosion (Harlan and Martini, 1936).

International recognition of the importance of genetic diversity and the increasing threat of genetic erosion grew significantly when FAO held the International Technical Conference on Exploration, Utilization and Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources in 1967. At this meeting, the term "plant genetic resources" was first used and the scientific principles which underlie strategies and methodologies for collecting, conserving, evaluating and documenting genetic resources were comprehensively addressed for the first time.

As countries became aware of the danger of genetic erosion and the need for conservation, greater priority was given to collecting plant genetic resources in the field and establishing ex situ genebanks. Initial efforts, however, were fairly modest. At the beginning of the 1970s, there were fewer than 10 long-term genebanks housing approximately half a million accessions in total.

In 1974, the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources (IBPGR) was established under the aegis of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), with a mandate to promote and coordinate an international effort to collect, conserve, document, evaluate and use plant genetic resources. IBPGR joined the 8 CGIAR Centers already in existence (IRRI, CIMMYT, CIAT, IITA, CIP, ICRISAT, ILRAD and ILCA). Most of the Centers had already started to amass large ex situ genetic resources collections, although these were largely to support their breeding programs rather than for conservation per se. In 1994, IPGRI became the legal successor to IBPGR.

In the 1980s, the environmental movement became increasingly influential, drawing public attention to the loss of biodiversity and calling for solutions -- primarily through in situ conservation. However, the movement was concerned primarily with the conservation of endangered animal species and threatened ecosystems, such as wetlands and areas of outstanding beauty. Little attention was given to th eneed to conserve genetic diversity within plant species.

In 1983, FAO began to develop a comprehensive Global System for the Conservation and Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The system which includes certain international bodies and agreements, plant germplasm collections, scientific networks and an early warning system. There are now 171 countries participating actively in the development of the major components of the Global System.

Among the core elements agreed to by the FAO Conference, which governs the organization, are the intergovernmental Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources. The Commission provides a global forum in which countries -- as donors and users of germplasm, funds and technologies -- can meet, on an equal footing, to discuss and reach consensus on matters related to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

The Undertaking - a non-binding legal framework -- contains provisions for exploration and collecting of genetic resources; conservation in situ and ex situ; international cooperation in conservation, exchange and plant breeding; coordination of gene bank collections and information systems; it also includes Farmers' Rights and mechanisms for related funding. The revision of the Undertaking - to harmonize it with the UN Convention on Biodiversity -- is currently under negotiation in the FAO Commission.

The scope of the environmental movement widened considerably in the 1990s, partly as a result of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. At the Conference, 150 countries signed the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The Convention, which came into force on 29 December 1993, sets the legal and policy framework for the Global System. It obligates all signatories to develop national strategies, plans or programs for the conservation and use of biological diversity and stresses the importance of regional and international cooperation.

As the 1990s draw to a close, it is clear that countries are serious in their commitment to the conservation of the earth's biological resource. According to the Report on the State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources (1996), the number of genebanks worldwide has now grown to more than 1300, containing over six million accessions.

The Leipzig Conference on Plant Genetic Resources

In June 1996, 150 countries reached an agreement on the 20 most urgent actions needed to protect the world's rapidly shrinking supply of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. The agreement, enshrined in the first Global Plan of Action for the conservation and use of plant genetic resources was negotiated and approved at the International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources, in Leipzig, Germany. It was the largest intergovernmental conference in histroy dedicated to this issue.

The key objective of the Global Plan of Action is to inform the practical development of the Global System. The Plan identifies 20 priority activities, covering in situ conservation and development, ex situ conservation, use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, and institution and capacity building.

The two-year preparatory process for the Leipzig Conference also resulted in the production of the first Report on the State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources, a unique survey compiled from data provided by 158 countries. The report, which lay the foundation for the Global Plan of Action, describes the current situation of plant genetic resources at the global level, and identifies gaps and actions that are needed to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

Preparations for the Conference were country-driven and highly participatory, an important reference to the requirement of the CBD that countries play the major role in developing strategies and actions for genetic resources conservation and use. In addition to the preparation of country status reports by governments, 12 sub-regional meetings were held, attended by governments and non-governmental organizations, where the country reports were presented and common problems and opportunities discussed.

Despite some difficult negotiations relative to political and financial issues at Leipzig, there was a very high degree of consensus among countries with regard to the technical elements of the Global Plan of Action, indicating that there exists a firm basis for the development of a true global effort that joins countries in partnership to meet common needs. As in the CBD, the role of international organizations in implementing the Global Plan takes second place to that of governments but it is significant nonetheless. The CGIAR Centers are mentioned throughout as key partners in carrying out the priority activities identified through the country-driven process. The Global Plan, like the CBD, also highlights the role of community groups and NGOs and gives considerable attention to on-farm and other forms of in situ conservation.


Ex situ Conservation

The conservation of genetic resources enables breeders to find the raw materials needed to develop new varieties and farmers to modify their crops in response to changing environments and markets. Conservation in ex situ genebanks ensures that the stored materials are readily accessible, can be well documented, characterized and evaluated, and are relatively safe from external threats.

The CGIAR Centers play a key role in the conservation and use of livestock, fish and plant genetic resources, including forestry and agroforestry species. Over the past three decades, the Centers have collectively assembled the world's largest international ex situ collection of the genetic resources of food and fodder crops of importance to developing countries. These comprise some 500 000 accessions, including wild species, landraces, improved varieties and genetic stocks, housed in modern genebank facilities.

The genetic resources collections housed in the genebanks of the CGIAR have been assembled with the participation of the countries providing the material, on the understanding that it will be made available to the research community world-wide. For this reason, and because the use of plant genetic resources is central to their crop improvement programs, the Centers have followed a policy of allowing unrestricted access to the plant genetic resources in their collections. The majority of the materials from the CGIAR collections are duplicated at national, regional and other international research institutes.

In 1994, the Centers concluded agreements with FAO to place the collections housed in their genebanks within the International Network of Ex Situ Base Collections. The agreements specify that the Centers do not claim ownership over the collections but hold them in trust for the benefit of the world community. The Centers are also responsible for ensuring that the materials are safely maintained and available without restriction to all who seek to use them.

The CGIAR Centers promote and facilitate the exchange of landraces, promising varieties and elite breeding lines with national agricultural research systems (NARS) and other partners for their evaluation and use in different ecosystems. Each year, nearly 150 000 germplasm accessions from the in-trust collections and 500 000 samples of improved material are distributed by the Centers, the large majority going to developing countries. Like the genetic resources themselves, all related information is available without restriction. When necessary, prebreeding or germplasm enhancement is carried out which involves the transfer or introgression of genes and gene combinations from unadapted sources into more useable breeding materials. This also serves to broaden the genetic base of breeding materials.

The ex situ conservation of genetic varieties in CGIAR collections also allows the reintroduction of crops in areas where they have been lost through environmental degradation, replacement or war. Such actions can help to rebuild a sustainable agricultural system and reduce the need for external aid.

Support to National Programs

The CGIAR promotes the development of sustainable agricultural systems through research and assistance to national programs. Many of the Centers assist NARS to develop their own programs for the conservation and use of plant genetic resources through joint collecting, evaluation, regeneration of accessions and storage of duplicates of NARS collections.

A primary objective of the CGIAR is to develop new products and technologies, including biotechnologies, and to make them, and related information, available without restriction to developing countries. For example, IITA currently maintains about 3 000 accessions of its vegetatively propagated mandate crops in vitro, including cassava, yam and plantain. The cultures are maintained under conditions of reduced growth storage and can be kept for up to 2 years, depending on the species. Embryo culture techniques have been successfully employed for the conservation and field evaluation of wild cassava and shoot tip culture has been used to eliminate viruses from selected accessions or breeding lines of material for distribution to national programs. The use of cryopreservation -- storage in liquid nitrogen -- for the long-term conservation of yam, cassava and plantain is under investigation. This will pave the way for transfer of these methods to national institutes around the world.

Restoration of Genetic Resources to War-torn Countries

In recent years, the CGIAR has supported efforts to restore agricultural production in war-torn areas by returning local seed to countries whose indigenous genetic resources have been lost. In 1986, IRRI helped reintroduce to Cambodia rice seeds that had disappeared during the civil war and IPGRI has spearheaded efforts to restore indigenous crop varieties to Somalia and Afghanistan. ICARDA has re-introduced native germplasm of barley, bread wheat and durum wheat to Eritrea after the losses it suffered in the long war. At present, plans are underway for a joint project between World Vision and ICRISAT to restore crop genetic diversity in Angola.

To date, the largest and most dramatic international effort to repatriate local seed took place in Rwanda, a country whose sustainable food production is completely dependent on agricultural biodiversity. Following the 1994 civil war in that country, a number of CGIAR Centers, donors, national programs, international relief agencies and non-governmental organizations launched "Seeds of Hope". Coordinated by CIAT, this project involved the reintroduction of seed and planting material adapted to Rwanda's unique environment. In addition to the duplication and restoration of Rwandan seed housed in CGIAR genebanks, the project provided technical advice and support in the identification of sources of adapted seed outside of the country.

The ambitious post-war recovery program --which started before fighting ceased -- was only possible because of the long history of collaboration between the Centers and national programs in the region. In this way, an unparalleled body of knowledge and expertise had been acquired on crop production and crop variety adaptation in Rwanda and neighboring countries.

By February 1996, more than 275 varieties of beans housed in CGIAR Centers and national genebanks in the region had been multiplied and replanted in Rwanda for further increase. In addition, 20 tons of potato, 7 tons of sorghum and 148 tons of maize seed were distributed by partner NGOs to Rwandan farmers as a first step in restoring the country's food security. Since all of this material had its origin in Rwanda or neighboring countries such as Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda and Kenya, it was adapted to the region's particular climatic conditions.

Other aspects of the project included assisting in rebuilding the scientific and technical capacity in the country, the restoration of the national agricultural research program, and assessing the impact of war on crop genetic diversity.

Training in genetic resources has become a pressing and highly visible issue following the entry into force of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Today, countries need trained professionals, not only to meet their obligations under the Convention but also to ensure that they benefit from their conservation activities.

Since 1971, the CGIAR Centers have trained approximately 30 000 developing-country scientists and technicians in genetic resources conservation and use and related topics. The CGIAR is currently developing an inter-Center training program for NARS in sub-Saharan Africa that draws on the expertise and facilities of the Centers. This is the first time that all Centers have come together to jointly plan, design and deliver training based on the priorities expressed by national program partners. Training in genetic resources -- identified as one of the priority activities of the Global Plan of Action -- will be an important focus of the inter-Center training program.

In situ conservation

In situ conservation enables species to be conserved under conditions that allow them to continue to evolve. For some species, such as many tropical tree species, it is the only feasible method of conservation. The main drawback is the difficulty in characterizing and evaluating the crop's genetic resources and susceptibility to hazards such as extreme weather conditions, pests and disease.

The science of in situ conservation is relatively new and has only recently become a priority for the CGIAR. Unlike ex situ conservation, effective programmes to support in situ methods must include the social as well as biological and physical aspects of conservation.

To formulate a strategy for system-wide action on in situ conservation, a meeting involving a number of CGIAR Centers and including FAO was held in Indonesia in 1995. The discussions highlighted the importance of a cross-sectorial approach to conservation and sustainable management, such as ICLARM's research activities on in situ conservation of fish genetic resources. These include the designation and management of protected areas, related population and ecosystem dynamics studies, genetic characterization and policy research.

Together, CIFOR and IPGRI are investigating the impact of human disturbance on the in situ conservation of forest genetic resources in Malaysia, Thailand, and India. Funded by SGRP, ODA, IPGRI and CIFOR, the project is assessing genetic diversity and socio-economic activities along gradients of disturbance at two sites in each country. For example, in and around the Huay Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary (a World Heritage Site in Thailand), disturbance factors include the collection of plants for medicinal uses and other local consumption, grazing, burning, and some illegal cutting of timber. Samples have been collected and analyzed for 8 species, including trees, shrubs and ground vegetation. The impact of disturbance on insect pollinators and seed predators is also being investigated.

Use of plant genetic resources

Conservation without use has little point; plant genetic resources are conserved for use by people as food, medicine, fuel, fodder and building materials. Conversely, use without conservation means neglecting the genetic base needed by farmers and breeders alike to increase productivity in the future. To be of use, material held in genebanks must be well documented. This entails maintaining: passport data, giving location, site characteristics, species, cultivar name, characterization data, recording highly heritable characteristics that can be used as a basis to distinguish one accession from another; and evaluation data, giving traits such as yield, quality, phenology, growth habit and reactions to pest, disease and abiotic stresses.

Information systems which improve access to data are becoming increasingly important. The International Crop Information System (ICIS) is a data management model and computer based information system developed by CIMMYT. The ICIS structure supports the shared development of tools for management and analyses of data on genealogy, nomenclature, evaluation, and characterization of genetic resources. Each individual ICIS database will support data for a particular crop. The CGIAR Centers are taking steps to coordinate their genetic resources documentation and information systems to ensure that databases operating in the various Centers are compatible and to provide international access to the information in them. The CGIAR is also cooperating with FAO in the development of the World Information and Early Warning System (WIEWS) on plant genetic resources.

If the material stored in international genebanks is to be used, it must be accessible. To this end, many CGIAR Centers and other holders of germplasm collections have established small subsets of collections, known as core collections, to facilitate research and use. These aim to include the maximum amount of diversity in a relatively small number of accessions, for example, a sub-set comprising 10percent of a collection is expected to contain at least 70percent of the total genetic diversity found in the whole collection. As many international collections are very large -- for example the rice collection held by IRRI contains more than 80,000 accessions -- establishing core collections to facilitate their use is of great importance. Some Centers have already begun to develop core collections, for example CIAT in Colombia, has core collections for Phaseolus and cassava.

Another important method of widening the use of plant genetic resources is through networks in which priorities are established and tasks shared. Networks bring together all those with an interest in crop genetic resources, whether germplasm collectors, curators, researchers, breeders or other users, and provide a means for identifying the genetic resources within a genepool and for taking collective action to conserve and use them. Today, about 150 countries are involved in some form of genetic resources networking, and many of the networks themselves have become world-wide fora for sharing resources, ideas, technologies and information. They have become an efficient mechanism for enabling countries to share the responsibilities and costs of training, conservation and technology development, and to promote the establishment of joint conservation strategies based on common interests and goals.

One of IPGRI's key objectives is to encourage and support the formation of networks. At present IPGRI is directly involved in about 12 crop networks which focus primarily on plant genetic resources of food crops -- such as wheat or rice -- that are important to developing countries. Regional networks, as the name suggests, are linked by geography. Agricultural ecologies do not recognize political borders, and countries participating in these networks are linked by similar ecological conditions, such as weather and soil type. One of the fastest growing and most successful regional networks is the West Asia and North Africa Network. Known as WANANET, it grew out of a regional project developed by IPGRI's WANA group, based at ICARDA in Aleppo, Syria.

The International Network for Genetic Evaluation of Rice (INGER)

About 1,000 scientists in 95 countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America and IRRI, WARDA, and CIAT are collaborating in rice germplasm exchange, evaluation, and use through INGER. The Network provides rice researchers worldwide with access to the promising varieties and elite breeding lines that have become the basis of unprecedented increases in rice productivity over two decades. Variety trials and observational nurseries for pest resistance and tolerance for soil and climatic stresses are conducted annually in more than 600 experiment stations around the world. The network targets varietal adaptation to favorable (irrigated) environments, and to less favorable (rainfed lowland, upland, drought-prone, and flood-prone) environments where hundreds of millions of the poorest of the poor live.

Impact of INGER

Genetic flows within and between continents. Since 1975, more than 40 000 entries have been evaluated through INGER. Of these, breeding lines originating from programs in 34 countries, as well as from CGIAR Centers have been released directly as 575 varieties in 62 countries.

Enhanced sustainability. Only 3 rice varieties released before 1965 had more than four ancestors. The 222 varieties released through INGER after 1976 can be traced to five or more ancestors, and 75 of these have more than 15 ancestors. In specific terms, most of the modern varieties have multiple resistances to insect pests and diseases, thereby reducing the need for chemical pesticides.

Increased production worldwide, particularly in less developed countries. About 65 million hectares are planted to improved varieties from INGER nurseries, accounting for an annual increase of about 100 million tons of unmilled rice. This has led to about a 60percent increase in rice production worldwide. Less developed countries, in particular, have greatly benefited from INGER. Out of 12 varieties released in Cambodia, 10 came directly through INGER. These varieties are cultivated on almost 100,000 hectares. In 1995, Cambodia became self-sufficient in rice production for the first time in 25 years.

Response of the CGIAR to the Emerging Global System

The CGIAR has come a great distance in adapting its policies and programs to meet the requirements of the emerging Global System for the conservation and use of plant genetic resources. In the area of policy, the 1994 Agreements bringing the CGIAR's in-trust collections under the auspices of FAO were a response to concerns that the collections were not covered by the Convention and were thus exempt from requirements as to benefit-sharing. Among other things, the Agreements specify that the Centers will not seek intellectual property rights over designated germplasm accessions or related information and will ensure that the recipients of designated germplasm are bound to the same conditions as the Centers regarding access and intellectual property Each shipment of material from the Centers is now accompanied by a statement explaining the rights and obligations of recipients, an order form which must be signed by the recipient and which represents his/her agreement to abide by these obligations, and a shipment notice which specifies the terms under which the materials are being sent. The Convention on Biological Diversity requires countries to play the central role in biodiversity conservation and stresses the need to promote international and regional cooperation. The process of renewal recently undertaken by the CGIAR has resulted in a system that is more responsive to the needs of national programs, and regular consultations with NARS facilitate partnerships and ensure greater transparency. There has also been a concerted effort to increase developing country membership in the CGIAR system, with encouraging results. Thirty percent of CGIAR member countries are from the developing world and that percentage is expected to grow to 50 percent within a few years. Since it is the members that set the research agenda for the CGIAR, the growth in developing countries members should facilitate the ability of the system to identify and respond to their needs. The Convention recognizes the efforts of NGOs and local communities and highlights the critical role of women in the management and use of diversity. The CGIAR has redoubled its efforts in recent years to forge new and stronger partnerships with these groups and to highlight gender concerns in the development of relevant program activities. The Convention's emphasis on in situ conservation has led the CGIAR to increase its involvement in this area as well.

The System-wide Genetic Resources Program (SGRP)

Realizing the benefits of greater inter-Center collaboration in genetic resources conservation and use, the CGIAR decided in 1994 to create a system-wide program (SGRP) comprising the genetic resources programs and related activities of the Centers. The establishment of the SGRP grew from the recognition that integrating Center activities would greatly enhance the impact of the System at a time when the benefits of international cooperation are receiving increased attention in the follow up to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. The SGRP is envisaged as a vehicle to move the CGIAR forward to meet the challenges posed by the Convention on Biological Diversity, Agenda 21, and the Global Plan of Action.

The SGRP's guiding principle is collaboration. It aims to consolidate existing Center genetic resources efforts and to harness collective strengths, with the ultimate goal of creating a system-wide effort that is greater than the sum of its parts. Both in situ and ex situ conservation activities are included and the Program covers crops and their wild relatives, forage, forestry and agroforestry species, livestock and aquatic genetic resources. Collaborative activities within SGRP create synergy among the Centers and with partners, allowing for greater efficiency and effectiveness, and stimulating initiatives in new areas. Collaboration is focused on four thematic areas, each guided by a strategy developed in consultation with key partners:

IPGRI acts as Convening Center for the SGRP and hosts a small Secretariat, led by the SGRP Program Coordinator. The Director General of IPGRI serves as Program Leader for SGRP with overall responsibility for the development, promotion and coordination of the Program. The Inter-Center Working Group on Genetic Resources includes representatives from all member Centers and FAO, and serves as the Steering Committee for SGRP with advisory and oversight responsibilities for the Program.


The exchange and dissemination of information is a critical aspect of the SGRP mandate. A System-wide Information Network for Genetic Resources (SINGER) was established in 1994 and has already begun to link the genetic resources databases managed by the Centers of the SGRP. The network aims to facilitate the management of information within the system; more importantly, it will make it easier for genetic resources workers outside the CGIAR to gain access to the materials and related information held by Center genebanks.

By linking the independent genetic resources databases managed by the Centers, SINGER will allow them to be searched simultaneously, in the same format and using the same basic data standards. In this way, the CGIAR will improve its ability to respond to its obligations as part of the FAO Global Network of Ex Situ Collections and to participate in the Clearing-House Mechanism of the Convention on Biological Diversity. In future, the SINGER model could provide a basis for developing a comprehensive approach to the management and dissemination of information by national programs and other genetic resources users globally.

External Review of Center Genebank Operations

In 1995, SGRP commissioned an external review of Center genebank operations to assess the technical, scientific and financial constraints and opportunities facing them. The Review examined the Centers' adherence to international genebank standards, their compliance with the 1994 Agreements with FAO, and the in-trust status of the collections. The Review should provide a firm basis for improving the quality of services offered by the CGIAR genebanks, and for enhancing partner and donor confidence.

Over a period of six months, the Review, involving 27 experts from national programs and other organizations worldwide, including FAO, visited 12 CGIAR genebanks. Livestock were not included in the review as the CGIAR is not involved in the conservation of livestock genetic resources per se, although it is involved in their characterization and other related activities. CIFOR does not hold forest genetic resources ex situ and therefore was not included in the review. ICLARM was included, as although it will not be developing an ex situ genebank on a scale comparable to that of the crop Centers, it does hold germplasm of Nile tilapia under a current research project and may conserve other species in the future.

The Review Panel paid particular attention to the general operations of the Center genebanks, the status of the collections, research related to germplasm conservation, linkages with partners, the status of off-site safety duplication and opportunities for restoring duplicate samples to countries of origin. In addition, it reviewed germplasm collecting and use, training and the legal status of the collections. Individual reports were prepared for each of the genebanks reviewed, giving specific recommendations for increasing the quality of their operations. In addition, the Review Panel produced a synthesis report with a number of overall recommendations. This report will be published shortly, together with the collective response of the Inter-Center Working Group on Genetic Resources. The individual Center recommendations and responses will also be published soon.

The Findings of the Review

The Review Panel reported the satisfactory operation of the Centers' genebanks and felt that they were well managed although underfunded. Where problems do exist, they were related to gaps in genebank operations and activities rather than to technical deficiencies. However, until additional funding becomes available, key areas in work on genetic resources at the Centers will remain below the level of activity needed to meet the Centers' objectives within a reasonable timeframe. One of the weakest and most variable of Centers' activities is the off-site duplication of accessions for safety purposes, although the Centers have intensified efforts to find appropriate sites for duplication. The Panel praised the extent of collaboration between CGIAR Centers and sister Centers, NARS, NGO's and regional/international networks. However, it recommended that there be a greater involvement of partners in the development of Center policies and strategies on genetic resources.

During 1996, the individual Centers and the SGRP will develop and implement plans of action to address the recommendations of the Review Panel. SGRP is currently developing a strategy to address system-wide issues related to conservation in genebanks.

The way forward

Much has been achieved in the past 25 years but there is no room for complacency. In the coming years, our reliance on biological resources can only increase. The Leipzig Conference has put into place a strong political commitment to the development and implementation of rational approaches to conservation aimed at maximum safety, cost-effectiveness and efficiency, as well as continuing accessibility of the materials for use. The Global Plan of Action will build on what has been achieved thus far and will help to put into operation a Global System based on the three main objectives of the CBD: improving the conservation and use of biological resources, and sharing the benefits derived from their use.

As we move into the final years of the 20th century, we face enormous challenges. A world population growth of 90 million people a year means that by the year 2025, food production will have to double to keep pace with new demand. The CGIAR's 25 years of experience give evidence that the system can play a significant role in implementing the Global Plan of Action and in constructing an effective international effort for the conservation and use of plant genetic resources in partnership with governments, NGOs and local communities.

Return to Table of Contents