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ICBA, Crop Trust join forces to conserve plant genetic resources for marginal environments

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) and the Global Crop Diversity Trust, also known as the Crop Trust, have agreed to collaborate on enhancing the conservation of plant genetic resources for marginal environments - areas of the world most vulnerable to climate change, water scarcity and salinity, among other risks.

A memorandum of understanding to this effect was recently signed between ICBA and the Crop Trust, a global organization that supports key international genebanks worldwide, including the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

The collaboration focuses on raising funds for the Crop Trust's endowment mechanism to provide support for ICBA's genebank to reach performance standards and thus be eligible for long-term support to help conserve and use agrobiodiversity for sustainable agriculture and contribute to food security efforts in some of the world's most arid and saline regions.

Speaking of the partnership, Dr. Tarifa Alzaabi, Acting Director General of ICBA, said: "We are excited about working with the Crop Trust to serve humanity. Not only will this collaboration help improve ICBA's genebank but will also contribute to safeguarding some of the world's most important plant genetic resources with proven or potential salinity, heat and drought tolerance as public goods. The partnership will ultimately support smallholder farmers and scientists in developing and introducing new climate-resilient and nutritious crop varieties in marginal environments."

Dr. Stefan Schmitz, Executive Director of the Crop Trust, said: "We are delighted to join efforts with ICBA to improve the long-term resilience of our food systems. Agrobiodiversity is the insurance policy that protects us from future uncertainties, and we must all cherish and protect it if we want to have enough affordable and nutritious food, forever. As an international organization dedicated exclusively to conserving and making available crop diversity, the Crop Trust is excited to take this crucial mission one significant step forward through its partnership with ICBA."

Under the agreement, ICBA and the Crop Trust will work together to mobilize financial support to build the capacity of ICBA’s genebank to a level where it can be sustainably financed through the Crop Trust’s endowment mechanism in perpetuity. The collaboration envisages upgrades and strategic actions such as carrying out a costing study, improving the quality management system and documentation systems, conducting training, and setting up a performance monitoring system.

Furthermore, ICBA and the Crop Trust will conduct joint communication and public awareness activities such as training courses, conferences, and meetings, both in-person and virtual, around the world, with a specific focus on the countries of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, colloquially known as the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The agreement follows a visit to ICBA in 2019 by a Crop Trust delegation led by H.E. Mercedes Aráoz, the Vice-President of the Republic of Peru and Chair of the Food Forever Initiative, a global partnership initiated by the Crop Trust.

ICBA has a global network of partners and manages a significant collection of germplasm of drought-, heat- and salt-tolerant plant species. ICBA’s genebank is home to some 14,524 accessions of around 270 plant species from more than 150 countries and territories.

The genebank is also part of the Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing (MLS) within the framework of Article 15 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) - a global gene pool of plant genetic material available to farmers, plant breeders and scientists for the sustainable production of food from plants. The MLS currently comprises over 2.6 million samples of crop germplasm.

ICBA provides seed samples to different institutions around the world for research, breeding and introduction. Over the years, the center has distributed around 8,572 seed samples to partner organizations in 57 countries.