Future Seeds: all of us are guardians of crop diversity

Semillas del Futuro: todos somos guardianes de la diversidad de los cultivos

It’s true: construction has started on “Future Seeds,” CIAT’s new germplasm bank, which will be the home for more than 67,000 varieties of beans, cassava, and tropical forages that CIAT currently safeguards (Read more…)

And last Friday, all the HQ staff received an invitation that promised to turn us into the “guardians of crop diversity.” The expectations were great and so was the attendance at the event. Kellogg auditorium was filled to capacity.


“I expect a spectacular presentation in order to understand why it is so important for this seed bank to be built at CIAT.”

Luz Adriana Guerrero



“I hope to learn even more. What will it be like? How will it work? and to see an idea that was once just a sketch come to life.”

John Jairo Hurtado



“I want to become familiar with the Project and be able to talk about it with ownership when they ask us about it.”

Janeth Bolaños


As an opener, a discussion group was held where the protagonists of this story: Joe Tohme, Leader of the Agrobiodiversity Program; Daniel Debouck, Researcher in CIAT’s Genetics Resources Program; Peter Wenzl, leader of CIAT’s Genetic Resources Program; and Guillermo Valencia, architect of the new Bank, answered the questions that Mónica Carvajal, Agbio researcher, and Julio Mario Fernández, Leader of the Communications team, had prepared for them:

How did the Project come about? What characteristics of the building make it so special? What are we protecting the seeds from? When did the idea come about and why should this ‘bank’ be in the Cauca Valley? What makes these seeds so special and why is it necessary to ‘deposit them’ in a bank and keep them for the future?

By way of summary…

  • The intent is to build the genebank of the future: environmentally sustainable, worker friendly, with digital components and training features, so that it can be used as a space to share experiences.
  • The structure must be iconic, something that represents CIAT’s values. Dr. Debouck selected an orchid from the South of Colombia as a model.
  • Alejandro Echeverri y Valencia Arquitectos are the ones who designed the Project.
  • The structure of the project was inspired by the concept of the shadows that the large trees project onto the landscape of monocultures in the Cauca valley.
  • It will have laboratories with high standards (for genomic methods, cryoconservation, in vitro conservation, etc.) and an important component of education concerning biodiversity.
  • It will be built in the Cauca Valley because it is a strategic point as regards the proximity of other research centers and universities.
  • Great challenges arise with the new Bank, among them training the new generation of scientists.
  • Many doors will be opened for collaboration with Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • The Seed Bank must not be a cement box, but an innovation for conserving, educating, and sharing information and technology.

The second part of the event was completely experiential. The participants had to take ownership of the four key concepts that will guide the project: PROTECT, EXPLORE, NOURISH, AND INTEGRATE, and to make it happen, they moved through each one of the rooms and listened to the presentations that the multidisciplinary teams of the Center’s three areas of research had prepared for them.

A representative sample of CIAT’s three collections (beans, cassava, and forages); diverse conservation techniques; DNA samples of some pests and diseases; the journeys that the seeds have taken in order to be repatriated; improved pastures that emit a smaller quantity of greenhouse gases; a culinary tasting of products made from cassava, and even an animated story where the potential for a seed to be improved was evaluated live—these are some examples of the enormous effort that the various ‘teams of the Germplasm Bank’ made to ‘translate’ their research projects into a language that all the participants could understand.


“A spectacular event with simple words and terms, reached all the audiences, integrating them with the entire scientific community of CIAT.”

Maritza Cuervo

Coordinator of the Sanitation laboratory

The responsibility for continuing to safeguard the planet’s crop diversity and recovering the biological capital before it is extinguished resides in our Center, and it is our responsibility to assume the role of “guardians of crop diversity.” Do we measure up to the challenge?

* Pictures: Lucelly Anaconas, CIAT, Communications