Bert Visser, director of the Centre for Genetic Resources, the Netherlands (CGN) has just sent the message below to colleagues in the European crop genebank network, and suggested that readers of this blog might also have an opinion. If you have, do leave it here as a comment.
Like so many genebanks, since a number of years CGN has been confronted with increasing costs and diminishing budgets for its core genebank tasks (collecting, regeneration, storage, evaluation, documentation, distribution). Moreover, CGN has observed a considerable increase in the number of distributed samples resulting in increased handling costs and accelerated exhaustion of our stocks with consequently higher yearly regeneration costs.
In order to manage a widening financial gap, in consultation with the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, CGN is considering a number of measures including a revision of seed viability testing protocols (based on recent findings regarding the storability of seeds under genebank conditions) and a much tighter planning of regeneration and acquisition activities. Furthermore, the private sector will be approached to discuss options for the sector’s continued involvement in regeneration of CGN germplasm.
In addition, we are considering a measure for which we seek your comments and advice. This measure regards the introduction of a handling fee for the distribution of CGN germplasm. The Treaty, in its Article 12, allows for a handling fee, whereas the distribution conditions under AEGIS do not exclude the possibility of such a fee. Globally, only few genebanks have introduced handling fees, notably NIAS (Japan) and AVRDC (global; vegetables). CGN handling fees would not apply to partners that carry out regeneration tasks for CGN, neither to NGOs.
CGN is considering handling fees that could amount up to € 50 per accession. Whereas we consider this a modest amount per accession, the request for large numbers of samples may be strongly discouraged. Therefore, discount fees for larger numbers of requested samples, or for pre-packed sets (core or elite collections) will be considered. In any case, a handling fee might encourage potential users to consider in more detail which accessions are really needed in planned research or breeding programmes, and may prevent poorly motivated requests or intended duplications of CGN germplasm in other collections.
We realise that any unilateral action of CGN may have an impact on you: users may shift from CGN to you assuming your distribution is still free, and you might be asked by your own government to introduce fees as well. There may be other consequences that we have not taken into account yet.
In any case, we do not wish to introduce a unilateral handling fee overnight and have not yet taken any definite decision, and this is why we are consulting you as our European colleagues to have your opinions and feed-back. In particular, we would be interested to hear of any other discussions on the introduction of a handling fee.