Overcoming the Napier grass disease threat to East African dairy farmers

Also called elephant grass, Napier grass is planted on farms across East Africa as a source of feed for dairy cows. Farmers cut the grass for their livestock, carrying it home for stall feeding.

It is the most important forage grass in the region, constituting 40 to 80% of forages used by smallholder dairy farmers. In Kenya, half a million smallholder dairy producers rely on Napier grass to feed their cows. In Uganda, 90% of farmers rely entirely on Napier grass as fodder for their improved dairy cattle.

The livelihoods of these farmers are threatened by outbreaks of stunt and smut diseases affecting the Napier grass. To tackle the threat, the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) funded a three-year project to determine the extent of the disease problem, to collect disease-resistant Napier grass clones identified by farmers, and to identify best management practices used by farmers to mitigate the impact of the diseases.

After three years researching the problem in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, project researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute, Rothamsted Research, the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute, the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Uganda) and the National Biological Control Programme (Tanzania) will meet with colleagues from the region to share results and recommendations, promote good practices and draw other scientists into the project.

The workshop will be held at ILRI Ethiopia from 1 to 3 June, 2010.

More information:

Project website

Project outputs

Project news item from Kenya

A woman in science: Jean Hanson

Jean  HansonJean Hanson leads the Forage Diversity team at the Ethiopia campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). Having worked in the fields of genebank management and conservation of forage genetic diversity for over 35 years, later this year she will ‘go on to the second phase’ of her career, as she puts it, when she retires from ILRI. ‘I want to concentrate on sharing the knowledge I gained throughout my career,’ she says. ‘I plan to work on building capacity and training students in my fields and working and learning from them, too.’ Early on, Hanson knew she was not going to follow the traditional path of women of her day. She did not feel like becoming a teacher or a nurse. ‘I was brought up in an age where women were not scientists. But raised on a farm, I was always interested in science,’ she says. ‘When I was 16, I thought women should have the same right to choose their career as men did, and I knew I was interested in science, so I went to university and first studied agriculture.’

After obtaining a PhD in seed physiology, she started a post-doctoral assignment with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, working with curating the maize genebank, in Mexico. She then worked in Indonesia for 5 years with the British Cooperation (DFiD) as a seed physiologist, establishing a legume genebank with a national research institute. Later, Hanson worked in Rome with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, among other organizations. Then, in 1986, she applied for and got a short-term contract with ILRI’s predecessor, the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA), based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and stayed for…25 years.

Azage Tegegne, an animal scientist colleague of hers, remembers her from those days. ‘In 1986, I was working around Zwai, where Jean had substantial research activities. I was looking at feed, she was working on forages. We then started a very good and long-lasting working relationship,’ he says. ‘She also became a very good friend of mine. I have never known a more hard-working, dedicated person. She also goes the extra mile to make people feel good,’ he adds. ‘And she is very loyal and committed to her work and this institute. If plants need watering at 5 a.m., she is there, always taking responsibility.’

Jean Hanson has been leading ILRI’s project on forage genetic resources since 1989. She was Interim Director of Institutional Planning from 1996 to 2001 before taking up the position of Senior Advisor on matters relating to strategies, technologies and operational procedures for conserving and managing plant genetic resources ex situ on a joint appointment with IPGRI (now known as Bioversity International) and ILRI from 2002–2004. ‘In the field of genetic resources, she is an expert,’ says Alexandra Jorge, Coordinator of the Global Public Goods Project for Bioversity International, who has been working with Jean for the past 7 years. ‘She is well known and respected at the international level and scientists really take her comments into consideration.’

‘I am a hard core genetic resources scientist,’ confirms Jean Hanson. ‘When I started, it was pure science, all about technical things. These days, since the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1994, issues such as access and benefit sharing or the ownership of genetic resources make it more political.’

If Jean is a renowned scientist whose work is recognized and appreciated by the international scientific community, she is also very well liked and colleagues unanimously comment on it. ‘If I have issues I want to discuss, I go to her for advice. She is always there, never says no and finds a way to have time to give,’ says Jorge.

‘Even in times of difficulties, she seems to handle everything so calmly,’ adds Janice Proud, coordinator of a Napier grass project of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA). ‘She sets high standards and I learned how to run a project thanks to her experience. I trust her judgment because she is good at dealing with the details as well as being able to see the big picture.’

Yeshi W/Mariam, research assistant and seed technologist, who has worked with Hanson for 18 years, confides, ‘We will miss her a lot. We are like a family here in the forage diversity team.’ According to Yeshi, ‘Gender is an important issue for Jean. Thanks to her, I am now taking a day leave per week to go back to university and study to obtain my BSc in biology. She is very encouraging because improving your career matters to her. But it is the freedom she gives me in my work that I appreciate most.’

Gender is indeed an important issue to Jean and she is involved in mentoring through the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development program to enhance the careers of women crop scientists in East Africa. ‘I believe women in science are capable and important. That’s why I agreed to be a mentor,’ she says. ‘You learn skills about how to be a better mentor. We learn from one another and provide support to the generation that will replace us.’  

Coming from that next generation is Esther Gacheru, research fellow and infosystems specialist. ‘She is inspiring people,’ says Gacheru. ‘Working with Jean has been a great start for me; she lets me do what I want to do and at the same time oversees my work to help me learn and progress. I don’t know if I will have that “space” or that type of work relationship later in life.’

About life and work, we will let the last words be from Jean Hanson herself. ‘If you are determined, anything is possible. Don’t give up when the going gets tough. Persevere. And you will end up where you want to be.’

As is said here in Ethiopia, where Jean has spent most of her life as a scientist, Yiqnash (‘May everything turn out to be good for you’), Jean Hanson!

Inauguration of a new forage diversity lab at the International Livestock Research Institute in Ethiopia

A new forage diversity lab was inaugurated yesterday afternoon, Monday 12th April 2010, at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in the presence of the ILRI board members, the forage diversity staff and guests. Jean Hanson, forage diversity leader, looked pleased at the result, and with emotion she spoke of the lab achievement. “It is an ILRI Ethiopia lab” she said, “it will give us and students much more space to work and has now allowed all the equipment that was previously scattered to be centralised. This will also help us and our National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) partners to be cost effective.” The construction work started in December 2008 and the building was actually ready for the board meeting which took place in Addis in November 2009. The finishing touches, supervised by Jean Hanson, were added and the spotless lab is now ready to use. Prior to the visit to the lab by participants of the inauguration, was a very symbolic planting of two Acacia Tortilis trees which will, in a few years, give shade to the molecular lab. The Chairman of the board, Knut Hove, put on his gardening gloves and efficiently planted this indigenous, dry land tree, commenting that it was “the best possible tree we could have for this lab”. Dr Hanson then emphasized that the genebank not only works on conservation of forage diversity but also on improved use of diversity for better forages which requires more molecular work with newer techniques. “The lab will allow us to work more with our sister centers of the CGIAR”, she stated, “and the nicest thing would be to bring a group of students together, who will energize the group, emulate each other, share and learn, because a major role of CG centers is capacity building.” According to Dr Ananda Ponniah, in charge of capacity strengthening at ILRI, “there is now space for more students and therefore we can also diversify students, have them coming from Ethiopia but other countries as well.” After the official cutting of the ribbon by Knut Hove and applause, the visit was led by Janice Proud, Project coordinator of the Napier grass smut and stunt resistance project, and Alexandra Jorge, Global Public Goods Project Coordinator (SGRP/CGIAR). Janice Proud explained how the new lab would help the work on Napier grass diseases, smut and stunt, which cause feed loss in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. “The new facility will allow us to use PCR techniques in real time. We also have some students looking at milk proteins. The beauty of a molecular lab is that you can use it for different projects”, she concluded. Alexandra Jorge talked about tissue culture and how the space would now allow the Centre “to have one dedicated area for tissue culture and therefore avoid contamination”. She also feels that the new lab will help to link better with ongoing projects such as the Napier grass project because “vegetatively-propagated crops like Napier grass can greatly benefit from production of clean plants and distribution of in vitro materials”. “We hope that a lot of publications will follow!” added the Chairman of the board. Mr Traoré, board member, also expressed that “the lab nicely complements BeCA (Biosciences eastern and central Africa) in Nairobi. Students in Ethiopia will be able to do the preliminaries here then go to BecA to make use of more sophisticated equipment.” As a final word, the board Chair summed up the achievement by stating that “the whole building smelled of a brand new lab which is exciting for new students to come and work, get their hands dirty and green!”

Improving the performance of crop-livestock systems

Last week, the CGIAR System-wide Livestock Programme (SLP) held its annual planning meeting in Addis Ababa.

In this short video, John McDermott, ILRI Deputy Director General for Research introduces the SLP. He argues that its focus on the intensification of crop-livestock systems is critical: More than a billion people in developing countries are involved in these smallholder systems.

The SLP brings together 12 CGIAR centers, and, he mentions, “one of the key things we’ve been struggling with is how to improve the performance of these [crop-livestock] systems” – so people can get more income and more benefits from them; also so the systems can be more sustainable.

Reflecting on the just-completed SLP meeting in Addis Ababa, he highlights one of the major issues under discussion: how the crop biomass from these systems can be used more effectively – as food, as animal feed, and as fuel. Furthermore, how the crop residues can be fed back into the soil.

“Now we are turning our attention more to this tradeoff between whether you actually feed these residues to animals or whether some of them should stay with the soil.”

Watch the video:

[blip.tv ?posts_id=2966773&dest=-1]

Feeding livestock, sustaining soils: Crop-livestock tradeoffs focus of SLP discussions

This week, ILRI Addis Ababa hosted a meeting of the Livestock Programme Group that steers the CGIAR’s Systemwide Livestock Programme (SLP). The Programme builds synergies between crop research and livestock research across the CGIAR.

A major discussion point at the meeting is the “pressure on biomass use in systems.”

Bruno Gerard, SLP Coordinator, explains that the group will look especially at tradeoffs in the use of crop residues – between feeding livestock or sustaining soils.

View his video:

[blip.tv ?posts_id=2967023&dest=-1]

Read more …

Sweet sorghum: Utilizing every ‘drop’

Poor livestock keepers in the drylands point to feed shortages as one of their biggest animal production constraints. Research in India is demonstrating that sweet sorghum's traditional use as a dual-purpose food and feed crop and its modern day use as a bio-fuel need not be mutually exclusive

Sweet sorghum: utilizing every 'drop'

Sweet sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench) is well adapted to the semi-arid regions of the tropics. One of its main advantages is that it is very water-use efficient  It has long been used by farmers as a multi-purpose crop from which they extract grain for human consumption and stover for livestock feed. Today, sweet sorghum is becoming increasingly used in industrial bio-fuel production in India. It is one of the most efficient dryland crops to convert atmospheric CO2 into sugar and is therefore a viable alternative for the production of ethanol.



Sweet sorghum’s role in India’s bio-fuel plans
‘All countries, including India, are grappling with the problem of meeting the ever-increasing demand for fuel within the constraints of international commitments, legal requirements, environmental concerns and limited resources. In this connection fuels of biological origin have drawn a great deal of attention during the last two decades.
‘India wishes to consider the use of bio-diesel and ethanol for blending with petro-diesel and petrol. Oil provides energy for 95% of transportation and the demand for transport fuel continues to rise. The extract from the third assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that global oil demand will rise by 1.68% from 75 million barrels per day (mb/d) in the year 2002 to 120 mb/d in 2030. Energy input in agriculture is also increasing. Part of this energy should come from bio-based fuel, which is short term renewable.
 ‘Ethanol is used as a fuel or as an oxygenate to gasoline. In India, raw material used for producing ethanol varies from sugar, cereals (sweet sorghum), sugar beet, and molasses. Brazil uses ethanol as 100% fuel in about 20% of vehicles. Use of a 5% ethanol gasoline blend is already approved by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and is in a progressive state of implementation in India.’

Excerpted from: ‘Development of Value Chain for Bio-fuel in India’, National Agricultural Innovation Project (NAIP). NAIP website: http://www.naip.icar.org.in


Win-win situation
Increasing industrial usage of sweet sorghum for ethanol production does, on one hand, provide important income for dryland farmers, but it can also divert biomass away from livestock, thus adding to the feed scarcity problem being faced by livestock keepers. However, scientists are demonstrating that full use of all parts of the sweet sorghum plant can meet both industrial and livestock feed needs.
Collaborative work between the International Crop Research Center for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the Rusni Distillery in Sanga Reddy Medak District, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research’s National Research Center for Sorghum (NRCS), in Hyderabad, and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is demonstrating the feasibility of manufacturing marketable sweet sorghum feed blocks using the stripped leaves and the crushed stalks (bagasse) remaining after juice extraction for ethanol. A bagasse-based feed block has been manufactured in collaboration with Miracle Fodder and Feeds in Hyderabad and is currently being tested with large and small ruminants with very promising results.Sweet sorghum: utilizing every 'drop'
Full utilization of crops and their by-products in the balanced production of food, feed and industrial products is likely to become increasingly important in developing countries. Total utilization of all parts of the sweet sorghum plant for use in the manufacturing and food industries would help compensate for fodder loss and provide an additional source of income for farmers.

Value-added products from by-products

Surveys of fodder markets in Hyderabad showed that stover from ordinary grain sorghum is widely traded as livestock fodder. This stover is sourced from several Indian States, transported over distances of more than 350 km and fetches retail prices that are about half the value of the sorghum grain. Higher quality stover fetches premium prices ranging from 3.1 to 3.9 Indian rupees per kilogram of dry stover.
  The fodder quality of feed blocks made from sweet sorghum leaf strippings and bagasse is similar to premium stover made from grain sorghum. Scientists estimate that this feed could fetch prices of 6 rupees per kg and more. The manufacturing of feed blocks could therefore offer attractive additional income along a sweet sorghum utilization chain. The feed blocks could be made more nutritious by adding sorghum grain distillery by-products—where the grain is used for biofuel production—and/or by targeted fortification with other supplements. The end product would be an attractive sweet sorghum by-product based feed block of good quality and with a high density, making

Genebank community wins science partnership award

Research centres are honoured for their work to preserve the diversity of the world’s key food and forage crops.

Twelve centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) recently won the CGIAR’s Outstanding Partnership Award for their management of genebanks and effective stewardship of plant genetic resources they hold in trust for the world community.

The Partnership’s genebanks are vital for achieving food security and protecting plant genetic diversity and represent the most important international effort to safeguard the world’s agricultural legacy. ILRI and the other 11 centres of the CGIAR hold more than 600,000 samples of crop-plant diversity. These include wild relatives and more than half of the global total of farmer-created varieties, which are a rich source of sought-after characteristics.

Base genebanks are used for long-term security storage of original germplasm collections. They act as a repository of materials that have been reasonably characterized and which may or may not have current interest or use by plant breeders. Collected materials are preserved until such time as there are enough resources available for them to be characterized and evaluated. Active genebanks are used for current research and distribution of seeds, with all seeds in active collections freely available in small quantities to all research workers and distributed both directly and through networks.

Jean Hanson, a plant geneticist working at the Addis Ababa campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), said, ‘This Outstanding Partnership Award recognizes almost 20 years of collaboration between staff of the CGIAR genebanks, first as an ad hoc working group and community of practice and later as the formal steering committee for the CGIAR System-wide Genetic Resources Programme.

‘Partnerships involving staff of 12 CGIAR centres are rare. This award recognizes an active and collegial partnership that has stood the test of time and changes in staffing and funding within the CGIAR genebank community.’

This Outstanding Partnership Award, announced at the CGIAR’s Annual General Meeting in Washington, DC, in December 2006, recognizes the teamwork that provided stewardship of global public goods central to the CGIAR’s work and also provided leadership to the whole plant genetic resources community. While discharging its duties as custodians of the CGIAR in-trust collections, the Partnership has advanced research in the many scientific disciplines providing leadership for germplasm conservation and use, raised awareness world-wide of the importance of genetic resources to development, and represented the CGIAR in important international fora, from the Earth Summit, held in Rio in 1992, to the first meeting of the Governing Body the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, in 2006.

Collective action by the Partnership generated common policies and practices with which to administer the CGIAR collections under legal agreements governing their in-trust status. Employing these common policies and practices has ensured the highest standards in germplasm conservation and dissemination of that germplasm and related information. Achieving these two objectives demanded combining conservation and information science with smart legal and policy know-how, skillful negotiation and tactful diplomacy.

To secure the in-trust collections, the Partnership took an open, self-critical approach to meet the highest international standards. The Centres continue their work to take conservation technology forward by convening meetings to explore methodologies; publishing guidelines on field and in vitro genebank management and regeneration and other topics; scoping new areas for action, such as research on underutilized species and holistic approaches to agricultural biodiversity; and tackling research bottlenecks such as difficulties in storing clonal material. The Partnership has also conducted upstream research, examining the application of molecular genetics to genebanking, which led to wider developments such as the CGIAR initiation of a Generation Challenge Program.

Pulling technical, economic, policy and information components together, this Partnership helped materialize a vision of a co-ordinated global system for the conservation and use of plant genetic resources. This Partnership is providing coherent leadership of a global genetic resources system underpinning food security for humanity into the future.
Last October, world leaders in agricultural research signed agreements to guarantee long-term access to some of the world’s most important collections of agricultural biodiversity by placing all their ex-situ genebank collections under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The agreements require commercial users to share benefits with the global community. Eleven centres belonging to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) were party to the agreements, which will allow breeders and other researchers to tap the collections for solutions to some of the world’s most pressing development problems, including drought, desertification and food and nutritional security. ‘World’s Most Diverse Forage Collection Comes under New Treaty’. (http://www.ilri.org/ilrinews/index.php/archives/452)ILRI maintains both an active and base genebank at its principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As part of its commitment to maintaining the collection as a global public good, ILRI claims no ownership nor seeks any intellectual property rights over the germplasm and related information. ILRI conserves its diverse forage collection to make it and relevant information freely available to scientists and the national agricultural research systems of developing and other countries.

CGIAR Genebank Community
The genebanks of the CGIAR Centres
01  International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Colombia (represented by Daniel Debouck)
02  International Potato Center (CIP), Peru (represented by Willy Roca)
03  International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Mexico (represented by Thomas Payne)
04  International Center for Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Syria (represented by Jan Valkoun)
05  World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Kenya (represented by Tony Simons)
06  International Centre for Research in the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), India (represented by CLL  Gowda)
07  International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Nigeria (represented by Dominique Dumet)
08  International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Kenya (represented by Jean Hanson)
09  Bioversity International, Italy (represented by Laura Snook)
10  International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines (represented by Ruaraidh Sackville Hamilton)
11  West African Rice Development Association (WARDA), Benin (represented by Ines Sanchez)

Related organizations
12  United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Italy (represented by Linda Collette)
13  International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Washington, DC (represented by Melinda Smale)
14  CGIAR Systemwide Genetic Resources Programme (SGRP) Secretariat, Italy, (represented by Jane Toll)

African animal feeds: Two decades of research now freely available on the web

The most comprehensive and authoritative web-based resource on the nutritional values of livestock feeds in African agriculture has just been launched.

This month sees the launch of the ‘Sub-Saharan Africa Feed Information System’. This new web-based resource provides free access to a comprehensive database providing the nutritional values of feedstuffs used by small-scale farmers in 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. SSA Feeds provides data on 14,571 samples of 459 livestock feeds, including herbaceous forages, fodder trees and shrubs, cereals and legumes, roots and tubers, other food crops, concentrate feeds and agro-industrial by-products, mineral supplements and other less common feeds. These feeds were analyzed in the animal nutrition laboratories of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and the information made available through an initiative of the Systemwide Livestock Programme (SLP) of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).


SSA Feeds: Authoritative, comprehensive and freely available online
This unique resource is the culmination of 26 years of extensive research and data collection. The newly launched product makes available twelve years of initial data collection that started in 1981. This resource is now being updated with thousands of additional entries encompassing 14 years of subsequent research. This makes SSA Feeds the Web’s most comprehensive and authoritative resource on the nutritional values of livestock feeds in African agriculture.

Salvador Fernández-Rivera, a Mexican livestock nutritionist based at ILRI’s principal campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, who coordinates SSA Feeds, is excited. ‘This is the first time that we have pulled together more than two decades of our research on animal feeds. SSA Feeds will be an invaluable resource for extension and development agents as well as livestock researchers. SSA Feeds will help them design optimal and scientifically based feeding systems for meat, dairy and draft animals. Better nourished and healthier livestock will enable Africa’s small-scale farmers improve their food and economic security.’

What the experts have to say about SSA Feeds
SSA Feeds was developed in conjunction with world experts in animal nutrition. These experts are already using the new resource and benefiting from having access to such depth and breadth of critical information on African animal feeds.

Adugna Tolera, an expert in animal nutrition and associate professor at the University of Hawassa, Ethiopia, advises his country’s feedlot industry on use of local feed resources. 

SSA Feeds is an important and rich source of information on the nutritive value of a wide range of sub-Saharan African feed resources. It is user-friendly for searching and summarizing the data on a given feed and enables the user to see the average value as well as the variability (range and standard deviation).

It would be useful if the database were further enriched by including similar data accumulated in many of the national agricultural research systems in this region of Africa.

—Dr Adugna Tolera

Hank Fitzhugh, former director general of ILRI and its Addis Ababa-based predecessor, the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA), is an animal geneticist and livestock production systems specialist. He is leading a project to improve meat and livestock exports from Ethiopia. The project, which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Texas A&M University, will fund the upgrading of the SSA Feeds database.

SSA Feeds demonstrates impacts from research.

This important database moves over 20 years of research off the shelf and into use by African livestock producers responding to the ‘livestock revolution—the huge increase in demand for meat and milk by consumers in developing countries.

— Dr Hank Fitzhugh

David Hutcheson is a worldwide expert on beef cattle nutrition, involved in projects in several countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. With a long and distinguished career in the university system and US beef industry, he also served on the Committee of the National Research Council (NRC) of the United States that established the current “Nutritional Requirements of Beef Cattle".


I have used SSA Feeds to develop a “Best Cost” ration concept for Ethiopia Feedlots. The database is user friendly and easily adapted to the “Best Cost” Excel program. The arrangement of the nutrient analyses and summary statistics allow for easy manipulation and export of the data into different programs, for applications in both research and producer situations.

— Dr David Hutcheson

Click on the graphic to visit the SSA Feeds website

World’s most diverse forage collection comes under new treaty

On Monday 16 October 2006, world leaders in agricultural research signed agreements that guarantee long-term access to some of the world's most important collections of agricultural biodiversity.

In a ceremony that took place on World Food Day, 11 centres belonging to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) placed all their ex-situ genebank collections under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, now ratified by 105 countries.

A livestock forage genebank maintained by one of these CGIAR centres, the Africa-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), conserves more than 18 thousand accessions of forages from over 1000 species. This is one of the most diverse collections of forage grasses, legumes and fodder tree species held in any genebank in the world and includes the world’s major collection of African grasses and tropical highland forages. In 1994, the germplasm collection held by ILRI was placed in trust under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as part of their international network of ex situ collections. Now, 12 years later, this trust collection comes under the purview of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture following the 16 October 2006 landmark agreement between CGIAR Centers and the governing body of the treaty.

As part of its commitment to maintaining the collection as a global public good, ILRI claims no ownership nor seeks any intellectual property rights over the germplasm and related information. Rather, ILRI conserves its diverse forage collection to make it and relevant information freely available to scientists and the national agricultural research systems of developing and other countries.

ILRI maintains both an active and base genebank at its site in Addis Ababa.

Active and base genebanks

The active genebank is used for current research and distribution of seeds. Seeds are dried in a dehumidified drying room and packed in laminated aluminium foil bags for storage in the active genebank at 8°C. All seeds in the active collection are freely available in small quantities to bona-fide forage research workers and distributed both directly and through networks.

The base genebank is used for long-term security storage of original germplasm collections. The base genebank acts as a repository of materials that have been reasonably characterized and which may or may not have current interest or use by plant breeders. Collected materials are preserved until such time as there are enough resources available for them to be characterized and evaluated. Materials are stored in the base genebank at -20°C.

Forage diversity activities at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

Forage diversity as a global public good

ILRI and the other centres of the CGIAR hold more than 600,000 samples of crop-plant diversity. This includes wild relatives and more than half of the global total of farmer-created varieties, which are such a rich source of sought-after characteristics, for example to meet the challenge of climate change.
‘This really is an investment in food security,’ said Emile Frison, Director General of International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), which is responsible for the world’s banana collection. ‘The genetic diversity created in the past by farmers and researchers is the foundation of improvements to meet the challenges of the future.”’

’Unless we can meet those challenges,’ Frison added, ‘there will be no food security.’
Mahmoud Solh, Director General of the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), said that the new agreements would ‘allow breeders and other researchers to tap the collections for solutions to the most pressing problems, such as drought, desertification, and food and nutritional security.’

Centre directors ‘warmly welcome’ the agreements and ‘commit themselves to supporting and implementing the Treaty’. A statement issued by the Alliance of CGIAR Centres sets out the centres’ common understanding of certain provisions of the agreements and indicates some actions that the centres will be taking to implement them.

Click here to view the statement of the CGIAR centres regarding implementation of the agreements between the centres and the governing body of the international treaty on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.