Watch our latest video to learn what goes on behind the scenes to conserve of some of the world’s most diverse collections of beans, cassava, forages and bananas
From drought-resistant bananas to iron-rich beans, plant genetic diversity is a vital element of sustainable and healthy food systems. Whether carefully passed down by farmers for generations or allowed to adapt in the wild, diverse plants contain valuable traits that can provide climate adaptation, pest and disease resistance, and improved nutrition. But scientists estimate that 40% of plant species currently face extinction.
Genebanks provide a safe haven where at-risk seeds can be conserved for future use. With strategic locations around the world, the CGIAR’s eleven genebanks make up a network of guardians of plant biodiversity that collects plant genetic material, researches its potential, and distributes seeds to those in need. Come meet the Alliance’s genebanks:
Bananas: The International Musa Transit Center (ITC)
In Leuven, Belgium, the Alliance conserves over 1,600 banana accessions either as slowly growing in vitro plantlets, or seeds frozen at -196 degrees C via cryopreservation.
“1,000 different varieties of bananas exist, but still 50% of the global banana production depends on only one variety, the Cavendish, which is under serious threat.”
Nicolas Roux, Banana Program Leader, Genebank Manager, ITC
The massive collection contains all manner of sweet dessert bananas, plaintains, cooking bananas, and wild relatives from around the globe. As genebank curator Ines van den Houwe explains, tolerant and resistant varieties such as plantains and East African highland bananas hold potential clues to mitigate the disease Fusarium Wilt Race 4, which is currently devastating the conventional Cavendish breed. Learn more about the ITC here.
Beans, Cassava, and Forages: The Alliance’s Palmira Genebank
In Colombia, our genebank hosts the largest global collections of:
- Beans (37,000 accessions): staple sources of nutrition and income, especially for African smallholder farmers. Read more about our bean research with PABRA.
- Cassava (6,000 accessions): the hunger-fighting, soil-replenishing “Rambo root”. Read more in coverage by the World Economic Forum.
- and Tropical Forages (22,600 accessions): fodder that can reduce GHG emissions, boost livestock health, and create extra earnings for farmers. Read an example from Kenya’s Grass to Cash Project.
At laboratories and field stations, our team is able to determine optimal conditions for growth, conservation, and re-distribution of these samples that hail from around the world. Read more about the genebank here.
“The most important challenge we face within the genebank is to continue the legacy of maintaining the seeds in crop collections of importance for developing countries, such as beans, forages, and cassava, for 30, 40, 50 years…”Marcela Santaella, Genebank Operations and Quality Manager, Palmira
The Alliance is currently constructing a state-of-the-art genetic resources center that will elevate our capacity to protect, research, and distribute plant material to a new level. Featuring a digital knowledge bank informed by genomics and digital phenotyping, “Future Seeds” will also serve as a knowledge-sharing platform for scientists, students, and other stakeholders. Read more about Future Seeds here.
“There are many opportunities, new technologies, genomics that can be used to improve conservation and help genebank users identify the varieties that most suit their needs.”Peter Wenzl, Leader of Genetic Resources Program
Partnerships to safeguard global biodiversity
Our genebanks provide all plant materials free of charge to any individual or organization anywhere in the world for research, breeding, or training for food and agriculture, under the terms of the International Plant Treaty.
We also maintain connections with other backup sites including the Svalbard Seed Vault (Norway), CIMMYT (Mexico), IRD (France) and the International Potato Center: CIP (Peru).
We welcome any interested organizations or individuals to join us in the global effort to conserve our plant biodiversity.
For more information on our genebanks, please contact: