In the face of conflict and extreme weather, the Crop Trust and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (Plant Treaty) have pledged more than $100,000 (USD) to support at-risk genebanks in Laos and Sudan.
Drawn from the organizations’ jointly managed Emergency Reserve for Genebanks, the funding will help secure the future of food in both countries despite challenging local circumstances. Conflict in Sudan and the onset of the rainy season in Laos threaten the energy supply in both countries, a crucial factor in maintaining these important genebanks functional.
Clashes between armed groups across Sudan have resulted in profound difficulties in sustaining public services, including the country’s energy grid. Genebanks require a stable and reliable electricity supply to maintain the cold conditions needed to preserve seed samples for long periods. Power outages impact the longevity of the crop collections safeguarded in these national genebanks.
"Operating the standby generators has sometimes been difficult due to the unavailability or shortage of fuel, said Ali Babiker, Director of Research and International Cooperation at Sudan's Agricultural Plant Genetic Resources Conservation and Research Centre. "That is why we applied to the Emergency Fund."
The Emergency Reserve has pledged a total of $92,760 (USD) to buy a solar power system that would provide a more stable energy source to help safeguard the future of food in the country.
The crop collections conserved by the Agricultural Plant Genetic Resources Conservation and Research Centre (APGRC) in Sudan total more than 17,000 samples of different crops and wild plant species, including indigenous wild relatives for crops such as sorghum, pearl millet, sesame, and eggplant.
Unfortunately, only approximately 17% of these collections have been safely duplicated in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, meaning more than 80% are at risk of being lost forever without further support. Genebank staff are working to increase the level of safety duplication, but it will take some time, and in the meantime, unique crop diversity in the genebank is at risk.
Meanwhile, in Laos, $9,800 (USD) has been made available from the Emergency Reserve to the country’s Rice and Cash Crops Research Center, part of the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI). The funds were used to buy and install a new generator, which now provides the genebank with a much-needed backup source of energy.
"The genebank often experiences power outages due to heavy rains and typhoons," said Koukham Vilayheuang, Plant Genetic Resources Conservation Unit Head. "Power failures directly affect the functioning of the freezers and seed drying cabinets. That means our collections may lose viability – some to the point of dying."
The genebank in Laos safeguards nearly 15,000 seed samples, many of which are of crops that are key to Lao diets. For example, it houses important landraces of glutinous rice, or sticky rice, called khao niew locally, which is the base of every Laotian meal, and black rice, a highly nutritious variety from the northern part of the country, is often used in desserts.
Launched in June 2021, the Emergency Reserve responds to urgent requests from genebanks in low- and middle-income countries to prevent catastrophic loss of their collections. In late 2022, the Reserve provided $10,000 (USD) to help support the work of the national genebank in Yemen, also caught in the middle of a civil war.
National genebanks are a vital part of global efforts to conserve crop diversity under the International Plant Treaty, ensuring food security under climate change.
By alleviating a local emergency, the Crop Trust and Plant Treaty are helping to address a global one.
Stefan Schmitz, Executive Director of the Crop Trust, said: “Conflict and extreme weather can have devastating consequences on food security, both now and in the future. Through the Emergency Reserve, we are proud to support the vital work of genebanks around the world and hope the funds made available to genebanks in Sudan and Laos will help safeguard the future of food in both countries. In the face of enormous challenges, it has never been more important to provide these vital organizations with the support they need.”
Kent Nnadozie, Secretary of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, said: “We live in an interconnected world. Losing a unique collection of crop diversity in one country today means losing opportunities of breeding a plant variety tomorrow that will be adapted to changing environments and needs elsewhere.” Ali Zakaria Babiker, Director of Agricultural Plant Genetic Resources Conservation and Research Centre (APGRC), Agricultural Research Corporation (ARC), in Sudan, said:
“Crop diversity conservation is the bedrock of our country’s food security, and the Emergency Fund has enabled us to fulfill our obligations as keepers of this diversity. We are thankful for the support provided by the governments of Norway, Italy, and the United States and for the International Plant Treaty and Crop Trust for choosing to help us and our mission.”
Koukham Vilayheuang, Plant Genetic Resources Conservation Unit Head at the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI) in Laos, said: “My colleagues and I are deeply grateful for the support received from the International Plant Treaty and Crop Trust. I would also like to thank the governments of Norway, Italy, and the United States for the Emergency Fund, a life-saving instrument that allows Laos to safeguard, share, and benefit from the varieties that we have in our genebank.”