ILRI Genebank

ILRI Genebank

Forage diversity activities at ILRI are part of the Feed and Forage Development program. The main objective is to conserve, characterise and maximize the use of the diversity of forage genetic resources held in the genebank. These activities are part of a collaborative project financed through the CGIAR Genebank Platform and they also contribute to the feed and forage flagship of the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock.


Poor-quality and fluctuating feed supply, mainly associated with seasonal feed shortages, are major constraints to increasing livestock productivity in many tropical countries. Understanding and managing forage diversity is essential for the development of new forage genetic resources to alleviate these constraints and to maintain diversity in forage/pasture ecosystems. The knowledge generated from this work allows scientists to identify genotypes that have potential as livestock feed. It also allows them to conserve essential forage biodiversity for current and future generations as global public goods.

Forage collection

ILRI's genebank holds a diverse collection of forage accessions and related information. It makes this available as part of a global system of genetic resources conservation and sustainable use. The genebank in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia conserves approximately 19,000 accessions of over 1,000 species. This is one of the most diverse collections of forage grasses, legumes and fodder tree species held in any genebank in the world, it includes the world’s major collection of African grasses and tropical highland forages.

At the active and base genebank, seeds are stored in laminated aluminum foil packets at 5°C for medium-term storage, research and distribution of seeds and at -20° C for long-term storage. The quality of the collection is ensured through monitoring of germplasm viability and health.

ILRI also manages field genebanks for grasses that rarely produce seeds or whose seeds are short-lived in Sodo, Zwai and Bisohftu in Ethiopia. Seeds of ILRI’s collections are safety duplicated at the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (Alliance-CIAT) in Colombia and at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway.

In 1994, the germplasm held by ILRI was placed in trust under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as part of an international network of ex situ collections. ILRI claims no ownership nor seeks any intellectual property rights over the germplasm and related information. In October 2006, ILRI signed an agreement to include this material under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA).


The major research focus is to characterize the forage resources in terms of their agronomic performance and potential use as livestock feed. This involves assessing variation in phenotypic and nutritional traits, as well as for resistance to pests and diseases. Information generated from this research is used to identify superior accessions or ‘best-bets’ for further agronomic evaluation and utilization as part of sustainable farming systems. Genetic diversity is also studied using molecular techniques.

Beyond their uses as feeds for livestock, forages play a key role in enhancing natural assets. They have been shown to: improve soil fertility through nitrogen fixation/leaf drop; reduce erosion through increased ground cover, especially on slopes; help control insect pests; provide environmental services (such as enhanced biodiversity, carbon sequestration and water productivity) leading to improved system resilience. They are also an important land use strategy for marginal lands and steep slopes that are not suitable for crop production.

Distribution and training

Every year ILRI distributes, without charge, small quantities of seeds to requestors who agree to the terms of the standard material transfer agreement of the ITPGRFA, for evaluation and further development and use by smallholder farmers. ILRI also maintains the Herbage Seed Unit which focuses on providing a source of tropical forage seeds and planting material of selected best-bet accessions at the cost of production for use in establishing national forage seed production.

The ILRI laboratories in Ethiopia have the capabilities to support research in seed processing, germination, taxonomy, cytology, disease diagnostics, nutrition quality and molecular characterisation. These facilities are available on a cost recovery basis to other projects and partners.

The genebank also offers individual and group training for national program scientists and associates in germplasm management and seed production. Training manuals for forage seed production and seed handling in genebanks have been developed to support these activities.

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For any queries please contact Genebank Manager @