Endowing future harvests

the long-term costs of conserving genetic resources at the CGIAR centres

Philip G. Pardey, Bonwoo Koo, Brian D. Wright

The 11 CGIAR genebanks conserve over 660,000 accessions (plant or seed samples) of crops grown mainly by poor people (such as cassava, millet, sorghum and cowpea), staple food crops grown throughout the world (such as rice, wheat and maize), and tree species used in agroforestry systems. This collection accounts for a sizeable share, perhaps 30 to 40%, of the unique entries in genebank collections worldwide. Conserving germplasm is a very long-term, if not in perpetuity (i.e., from now to eternity), proposition, and so the mismatch between the mainly annual funding support for this conservation effort and its very long-term nature and intent is a serious concern. An endowment or trust fund, the earnings from which would assure a funding stream to conserve this genetic material for all future generations, would judiciously match the duration of the Our best estimate of the annual cost of conserving and distributing the genetic material. presently held in the CGIAR genebanks is US$ 5.7 million per year. A commitment to underwrite these core genebank services for the benefit of all future generations could be met by setting aside a fund of US$ 149 million (invested at a real rate of interest of 4% per annum). Of this US$61 million (40 % of the total) would underwrite the CGIAR’s current conservation activities in perpetuity and US$88 million (60 %) would maintain the distribution activities that provide germplasm to breeders, scientists, farmers and others worldwide....This funding is sufficient to support only core conservation and distribution activities currently undertaken by the CGIAR Centres. A key constraint to the effective use of genebank accessions for crop improvement and other purposes is the lack of information about the agronomic and genetic characteristics of the accessions. Although we have addressed the economics of this issue from a theoretical standpoint in another study, precise estimates of the costs are not available at this time. Nevertheless, a prudent strategy would be to complement the conservation fund costed here with comparable additional resources for characterizing the CGIAR collection to increase its value to plant breeding. [from Author's Abstract]