The European Alliance on Agricultural knowledge for Development
ICARDA Lebanon Genebank Manager Mariana Yazbek says while
maintaining lockdown protocol, staff work in a rotation to conduct
essential tasks to manage field trials, traveling directly
from their homes to the field, and back home. Photo: ICARDA

13 May 2020. From the desk of Landscape News comes a series of live interviews with experts Tony Simons, director general of World Agroforestry (ICRAF), spoke about the relationship between COVID-19, genebanks and the conservation of seeds.with

  • Charlotte Lusty, head of programs and genebank platform coordinator at Crop Trust; 
  • Lava Kumar, virologist and head of germplasm health at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA); 
  • and Vania Azevedo, genebank head at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) 

examining the linkages between COVID-19 and climate change. (See the recording here)

The CGIAR’s genebanks are going through a difficult time at the moment, just like the rest of us. With social distancing and other restrictions on movement, genebank staff are scrambling to get harvests in before they’re lost; to tend to vulnerable plants in labs, greenhouses and fields; and to maintain other critical conservation measures that are keeping unique diversity alive. It’s an all-hands-on-deck crisis, but maintaining safety paradoxically means that help must also be limited.

Should a genebank lose samples, there are back-ups of many of them in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, thanks to the planning done by many people over many years for such eventualities. Genebanks can rebuild their collections from safety duplicated seeds, as the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) was able to do when it lost access to its facilities in Aleppo, Syria due to the civil war.

ICRISAT Head of Genebank Vania Azevedo says the pandemic
struck when all crops were in the field and harvest had just started.
While maintaining lockdown protocol, some staff
volunteered to remain and guarantee the harvest. Photo: ICRISAT

It’s less easy to be so sanguine about the genebanks of many developing countries. At times of crisis like this, cash-strapped governments are likely to push genebanks even further down than usual on their list of priorities. They need to resist that temptation. Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is making clear just how much we need genebanks now, and that we’ll need them even more in the future in the continuing face of climate change and outbreaks of new crop pests and diseases.


Source: PAEPARD FEED