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Crop Trust leadership visits CIMMYT

Securing biological diversity is a key mission for both organizations.

Maize under conservation agriculture (CA) in Malawi (Photo: T. Samson/CIMMYT)

With many stresses facing agricultural food systems, including climate change, disease epidemics, growing populations, there is not one solution that will answer all the challenges. However, a foundational part of any attempt to strengthen food systems is the effort to conserve crop diversity. Maintaining a robust set of plant varieties serves as a building block for developing favorable traits, like increased yield, increased disease resistance, and drought tolerance, among others.

Dedicated to conserving crop diversity, the Crop Trust is a non-profit international organization with the mission of making that diversity available for use globally, forever, for the benefit of everyone.

On April 3, 2023, Crop Trust’s Executive Director, Stefan Schmitz, and Director of Programs, Sarada Krishnan, visited the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) for the first time to examine CIMMYT’s maize and wheat genebanks, with the goal of establishing a set of standards for genebanks around the world. The parties also discussed future collaborations between the two institutions that will be best amplify each organization’s strengths.

A key part of the Crop Trust’s mission is support for collections of unique and valuable plant genetic resources for food and agriculture held in genebanks.

“CIMMYT is — and has been — one of the key partners in making sure crop diversity is safe and available for all of humanity,” said Schmitz. “Their maize and wheat genebanks serve a crucial role in assuring crop diversity, especially in Latin America.”

Maize seed samples, CIMMYT germplasm bank (Photo: Xochiquetzal Fonseca/CIMMYT)

CIMMYT manages the most diverse maize and wheat collections. CIMMYT’s germplasm bank, also known as a seed bank, is at the center of CIMMYT’s crop-breeding research. This remarkable, living catalog of genetic diversity comprises over 28,000 unique seed collections of maize and 123,000 of wheat.

“CIMMYT is honored to host the Crop Trust as any global solution requires global collaboration,” said CIMMYT Director General, Bram Govaerts.

Advances in genebank management

Representatives of the Crop Trust were eager to learn more about CIMMYT’s efforts in Digital sequence information (DSI). CIMMYT is using DSI to analyze structure, redundancies, and gaps within its own genebank and is now working to bring DSI tools to national genebanks in Latin America.

This visit builds on ongoing work, such as the third workshop of the Community of Practice for Latin America and the Caribbean on the use of genomic and digital tools for the conservation and use of Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (GRAA) held in November 2022.

Among CIMMYT led initiatives, the Mining Useful Alleles for Climate Change Adaptation from the CGIAR Genebanks project, is expanding the use of biodiversity held in the world’s genebanks to develop new climate-smart crop varieties for millions of small-scale farmers worldwide.

The doomsday vault

In 2020, CIMMYT was the largest contributor to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, providing 173,779 maize and wheat accessions from 131 countries.

The Seed Vault, managed by the Crop Trust, is a repository collection holding duplicates of seeds from over 1,700 genebanks around the world.

CIMMYT’s most recent donation to the Seed Vault was in October 2022.

Colleagues from CIMMYT’s germplasm bank prepare a delivery of 263 accessions of maize and 3,548 accession of wheat. (Photo: Francisco Alarcón/CIMMYT)

“All CIMMYT staff we met were passionate about their work and welcomed us kindly, generously sharing their knowledge and time with us. We look forward to continuing our collaboration, to strengthen it, and make sure that the crop collections held at the CIMMYT genebank are safe and available, forever,” said Schmitz.