As it’s becoming increasingly clear that we will not succeed in holding back dangerous climate change, seed banks – which stockpile seeds breeders need to develop new varieties equipped for a warmer, dryer world – are becoming critical to our future survival.
The world’s largest rice collection is stored at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños /Philippines. In a partnership with IRRI Crop Trust will provide permanent funding for the conservation and sharing of 136,000 rice varieties. The agreement, which guarantees funding worth USD 1.4 million a year, in perpetuity, was signed on World Food Day, October 16th, during the 5th International Rice Congress in Singapore.
The USD 1.4 million per year will be paid from the Crop Trust’s endowment fund, which was established in 2004 to provide sustainable, long-term financial support to the world’s most important food and agriculture genebanks.
“This is a landmark moment for IRRI and for the Crop Trust,” said Marie Haga, Executive Director of the Crop Trust. “At a time when many donors have increasingly complex demands on their resources, it’s important that the world’s crop collections are safe and secure and the genebanks are functioning effectively.”
The IRRI genebank is one of eleven genebanks of CGIAR, a global research partnership dedicated to reducing poverty, enhancing food and nutrition security and improving natural resources and ecosystem services. The CGIAR genebanks conserve millions of crop seeds, distributing more than 100,000 samples to researchers and farmers around the world every year.
Scientists worldwide use the rice seeds stored at IRRI’s high-tech facility in Los Baños, Philippines to develop improved rice varieties that can withstand climate change impacts – such as severe flooding and drought – while keeping pace with the growing world population and changing consumer preferences.
By 2050, annual global rice consumption is estimated to rise from 450 million to 525 million tons. Asians eat more than 90 per cent of this rice; the region’s 515 million hungry are particularly dependent on the staple. This is in addition to demand for rice in Africa growing at almost 7 per cent per year.
Scientists at IRRI have used the rice samples stored in the bank to develop rice breakthroughs tailored to climate extremes like drought and flooding which are already threatening production in key rice-producing regions, including India, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Conserved in the IRRI genebank are the ancestors and descendants of IR8, the world’s first high-yielding rice. Developed by IRRI researchers, this “miracle rice” brought Asia back from the brink of famine during the so-called Green Revolution in the 1960s and 70s, when a series of farming innovations transformed agriculture in developing countries.
The first phase of Crop Trust funding will cover essential operations of the IRRI genebank from 2019-2023, including conservation, regeneration and distribution of its cultivated and wild seed collections. As part of the Long-term Partnership Agreement, IRRI will also provide expert advice to five national genebanks to help their crop conservation efforts.
The Agreement is envisaged to continue after 2023, with a second five-year phase allowing for any revisions in the genebank’s business plan and operational costs. IRRI is pioneering ways of improving efficiency, including using tailor-made robotics to automate seed sorting processes. The Agreement will be renewed into the future every five years.
Link to Crop Trust
Link to IRRI