Regional Genebank

Regional Genebanks

ICRISAT established three regional genebanks at Nairobi, Bulawayo and Niamey to conserve germplasm of regional importance, working collections and core and mini core collections representing the diversity in global collection, to meet the demand for mandate crops germplasm from African countries. Together, the three genebanks hold a total of 36,142 accessions of mandate crops. These centres are responsible for assembling/collecting, characterizing/evaluating and distributing germplasm to NARS in those regions.

Establishing ICRISAT regional genebanks in Africa

ICRISAT has long felt the need to establish regional genebanks for assembly/conservation, characterization and evaluation of germplasm collections to support crop improvement programs and provide support for skill development for efficient conservation and utilization of germplasm in crop improvement programs. The first regional genebanks in Africa was established at Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) in 1984, at Niamey (Niger) in 1991 and at Nairobi (Kenya) in 1998. The crops of importance in WCA region include groundnut, pearl millet and sorghum for conservation at Niamey; the crops in ESA region include chickpea, finger millet, groundnut, pearl millet, pigeonpea, and sorghum for conservation in Nairobi; and for conservation of finger millet, pearl millet and sorghum at Bulawayo regional genebanks. With the establishment of these regional genebanks, it has become now easy to collect/acquire new germplasm within the region and conserve, characterize, evaluate and make available these genetic resources for enhanced utilization in regional breeding programs. These genebanks are currently managed by CRP-supported scientists and support staff.

The regional genebank at Niamey also holds the safety back-up collection of 14,833 accessions representing pearl millet (5,205), groundnut (2,006) and six small millets (7,622) conserved at the global genebank.

Benefits of having regional genebanks in promoting conservation and utilization of genetic resources by NARS in Africa

The regional genebanks in Africa were established to meet the growing demand for germplasm of mandate crops from African countries, facilitate easy access to the germplasm collections of regional importance, and conserve and make available representative global and regional diversity for utilization in crop improvement programs in African countries. We see many advantages by continuing and further strengthening these regional genebanks for the benefit of countries in the region, as detailed herewith.

Easy access to new germplasm

Establishing regional banks facilitated easy access to collect/assemble new germplasm (not available at global genebank) for conservation and utilization among countries within the region in Africa.

Easy access to global diversity in the region

Forming crop specific representative subsets, in the form of core/mini core collections or genotype-based reference sets, representing diversity of the entire collection of a given species, is the ideal approach to discover new sources of variations and mine germplasm for allelic variations associated with agronomically beneficial traits.

Cost-effective conservation and utilization of on-farm crop diversity

It is our belief that once the germplasm from a given region are conserved at regional genebanks, there will be more opportunities for on-farm conservation and utilization of this diversity. For example, with support from BMZ/GTZ project, we provided sets of core/mini core collection of finger millet for on-farm evaluation in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. The on-farm evaluations provided farmer’s opportunities access/appreciate this diversity. Farmers in these countries showed preferences to cultivation and conservation of this diversity.

Overcoming issues related to meeting plant quarantine regulations

Often the seed dispatch from Patancheru, India are delayed due to bottlenecks associated with meeting plant quarantine regulations including seed health certification, restriction on seed quantities, seed treatments etc. All these issues can be easily overcome by strengthening regional genebanks to address the seed needs of member countries within the region.

Regional genebanks as catalyst for skill development

Lack of trained manpower in many developing countries, more specifically in Africa, is the critical support needed to upgrade technical manpower for effective management of genebanks in the region.

Facilitating germplasm distribution in the region

Regional genebanks facilitate easy access to sharing of genetic resources between member countries within the region, requiring shorter processing time, and can supply greater amount of seeds to users, if need be.

Facilitating conservation of NARS collections within region

It is a known fact that many countries in Africa are not equipped with enough trained manpower and appropriate infrastructure facilities for safe conservation of their national germplasm collections, while regional genebanks, if further strengthened, could easily and safely conserve NARS collections and repatriate to the donating countries, if need be arise.

Enriching collections by identifying gaps and procuring new germplasm

Gap analysis in the global genebank collection provide germplasm curators opportunities to identify regions within the country not represented in the collection and through regional genebanks collect new germplasm from the region to enrich global genebank collection of a given crop species. For example, gap analysis from the ESA region for ICRISAT mandate crops (sorghum, pearl millet, chickpea, pigeonpea, groundnut, and finger millet) revealed that crops germplasm from 5 districts in Ethiopia, 12 districts in Kenya, 37 districts in Tanzania, 30 districts in Uganda, 28 districts in Mozambique, 20 districts in Zambia, and 6 districts in Malawi are not represented either in global/regional genebanks. In WCA also, the gap analysis for pearl millet revealed, for example, germplasm of 49 districts in Burkina Faso are not represented in regional/global genebanks.

Based on the gap analysis work and local reports the regional genebanks in collaboration with NARS partners collected large numbers of germplasm samples representing and sorghum, pearl millet, pigeonpea, groundnut, finger millet and foxtail millet from Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.