20 May 2022, Morocco: Dr. Mohamed Sadiki, Morocco’s Minister of Agriculture, officially inaugurated the new ICARDA Morocco Genebank in Rabat. The state-of-the-art facility – developed by ICARDA with the unwavering support of The Kingdom of Morocco, INRA, and the Global Crop Diversity Trust – safely stores one of the world’s most unique and extensive collections of wheat, barley, chickpea, faba bean, and lentil genetic material.
Those seeds constitute the vital building blocks that global researchers and breeding programs need to develop high-yielding, resilient, and climate-adapted crops able to be productive in increasingly hostile conditions, as well as sturdy domestic alternatives to the widely imported staple crops under pressure today.
Moroccan farmers are still reeling from the disastrous consequences of what is now labeled ‘the drought of the century’ on this year’s harvest. This, added to the ongoing conflict in Europe which has disrupted cereal imports for many highly import-dependent countries -including Morocco- is yet another proof that resilient food systems are urgently needed – and they start with genebanks like ICARDA’s.
The new genebank was inaugurated with great fanfare by His Excellency Dr. Mohamed Sadiki, Morocco’s Minister of Agriculture, Maritime Fisheries, Rural Development, and Water and Forests, together with Mr. Aly Abousabaa, CGIAR’s Regional Director of the Central and West Asia and North Africa Regional Office, and ICARDA’s Director-General.
Over 150 people attended the ceremony, including officials from the Moroccan government, senior representatives of CGIAR – the world’s largest publicly funded agricultural research partnership in the world, the Global Crop Diversity Trust and INRA, and key delegates from the region’s National Agriculture Research Systems, farming associations, and the private sector. Leading scientists in the field of genetics, agronomy, and breeding were also present throughout the event.
” A pillar of current and future food security, the ICARDA Morocco genebank conserves and researches an impressive collection of 95,000 accessions (groups of plant genetic resources) of self-pollinated crops such as wheat, barley, lentil, and chickpea collected from the region. These seeds hold the keys to climate-resilient traits that can help strengthen global crops in the face of stresses such as soaring temperatures, pests, and water scarcity – but only if investment in genebanks continues. And many of these plants are threatened in the wild.
“This new genebank is important in terms of the wealth of genetic diversity it holds. This diversity means that the probability of discovering genes of interest to breeders is higher, which is crucial to the development of climate-smart crops.” – Dr. Zakaria Kehel, Research Team Leader – Genetic Resources, conservation, characterization, and use (GRS), ICARDA.
This Genebank is the third that ICARDA has established since the research center was founded in 1977. In the storage rooms of the first genebank that opened in 1989 near Aleppo in Syria, ICARDA conserved a rich collection of 145,000 accessions of cultivated crops originating from the Fertile Crescent and the wider region.
By 2012, the nearing conflict urged ICARDA scientists to ship duplicates of the vast seed collection to the safety of other reliable genebanks’ vaults – the most well-known being the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. By then, ICARDA was already in the process of relocating its genebank system to Lebanon and Morocco.
“We chose Lebanon and Morocco to establish our new genebanks and rebuild our collection because of the willingness of the governments to support our endeavor, and the possibility to exchange germplasm with other countries. Today I am proud of what we have achieved.” – Dr. Ahmed Amri, Honorary Head of Genetic Resources Unit, ICARDA.
The two genebanks, embedded within the overall CGIAR genebank system, work in tandem to collect important plant specimens from the region and beyond. ICARDA’s Lebanon genebank specializes in conserving cultivated plant species from the area historically known as the ‘Fertile Crescent’ – where agriculture first emerged. Both genebanks work with crop breeders to evaluate and disseminate adapted crop varieties to farmers, global researchers, and breeding programs.
The new Morocco genebank is large enough to duplicate and safe keep ICARDA’s whole collection, carry out research with new or improved technology, and can significantly increase ICARDA’s output of plant genetic material for global research.
ICARDA’s seeds are International Public Goods accessible to all including breeders and researchers across the world. To this day, over 83,000 accessions are available to global breeding programs and researchers, with about 20,000 seed samples distributed every year.