Brainfood: Conservation indicator, Asian diversity, Sorghum QTLs, Wheat & barley evolution, Nematode detection, Gut microbiome, IBPGR base collection, Speed breeding, Pigeonpeas double, Dingo genetics, Wild tea, Yam anthracnose, Global land use change, Tree breeding double

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  1. IBPGR Base Collections
    First a comment on the history of the original TAC network for collecting, conserving and distributing genetic resources.
    IBPGR was established in accord with recommendations of the TAC Beltsville meeting of 1972. It was to be a committee of ten leading scientists with a staff of three specialists located in FAO and charged with coordinating a proposed network of regional and crop specific centres (about 20 in all). It was to control a central fund “…allocated in response to requests from regional and other cooperating centres according to need.”
    The committee became IBPGR (later IPGRI and then Bioversity International). Sometime around 1978 IBPGR abandoned its original mandate of supporting the network of national and international genebanks. A GTZ team visiting IBPGR in Rome first heard of this informally in 1978. At the time the (West) German government were paying for two of the TAC-recommended Centres, CATIE in Costa Rica and the `International Genebank’ in Ethiopia.
    From 1975 to 1990 IBPGR/IPGRI had established the IBPGR network of base collections – an apparent replacement for the TAC-recommended system with a much wider geographic coverage. This network is the subject of the Thormann et al. paper
    I have concerns over the IBPGR RDC Network, partly as described in the Thormann et al. paper and partly over what is ignored by the paper.
    The first sentence of the Thormann et al. abstract claims that IBPGR: “… created the first internationally linked system of genebanks, known as the Registry of Base Collections (RBC)…”. This is not so: the first internationally linked system of genebanks was very obviously that of the CGIAR with five of their genebanks noted in the 1972 TAC report (ICRISAT, IRRI, IITA, CIMMYT and CIAT).
    There is an obvious error in the claim that the network of 52 RBC (Registry of Base Collections) genebanks contained a total of 144,000 accessions. This probably means only samples collected by IBPGR. The real total of stored collections is probably ten times that figure.
    Politically, this claim of IBPGR to ownership of the RBC turned out to be a disaster. FAO, as an intergovernmental organization, rightly claimed they should be responsible for any RBC `international’ network. The disaster worked itself out when all the CGIAR collections (of which only 38% were RBC – that is, from IBPGR collections) were entirely included in the FAO Network in 1994 and subsequently became the Article 15 collections of the ITPGRFA. A cynic (such as myself) would relate this as a direct response to the 1992 declaration of the CBD: “Article 15. Access to Genetic Resources 1. Recognizing the sovereign rights of States over their natural resources, the authority to determine access to genetic resources rests with the national governments and is subject to national legislation.”

    There seems to be some misunderstanding over the use of SMTAs for ITPGRFA non-Annex 1 samples in host nations. The Thormann et al. paper claims that the US NPGS system uses such SMTAs. My understanding is that SMTAs only applies to samples supplied to foreign institutes and plant breeders. A SMTA is not required for US plant breeders: it is an internal transaction not covered by the ITPGRFA. (An exception would be if the USA had accepted an SMTA on receiving samples from others and had to pass this on). Internal transfers without an SMTA no doubt places US plant breeders at a financial advantage over foreign users of USDA germplasm and also doubtless denies FAO of a significant source of funding.

    There was another unfortunate bias of the IBPGR’s RBC network. This got me a mention in the Fowler and Mooney book “Shattering” (p. 192). “The bias becoming evident has not only aroused the ire of the South. Dr. David Wood of International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) has also joined the clamor of protest. First in Ethiopia in 1986 at a conference we attended on genetic diversity-where he announced that CIAT would not be part of the IBPGR “network”-and then in an open letter to fellow IARC gene bank directors, Wood has called for a re-evaluation of the network approach. “There is a relation between the amount a country donates to IBPGR and the number of collections designated to that country by IBPGR,” Wood claimed in 1987.” I worked out the `relation’ while working for GTZ – an agent for the West German government. IBPGR was designating RBC – that is, `Base Collections’ – to IBPGR donors pro rata to donations. For example, a $64,000 (believe it) donation a year to IBPGR got a donor country one base collections. The USA had 15 RBC collections. The problem for West Germany was that they had not a single IPBGR RBC collection despite being a significant donor to IBPGR. Following representations to IBPGR, Germany subsequently received one regional and nine global collections.
    I then argued to fellow-CGIAR genebank leaders that we were doing all the work in collecting, conserving and distributing genetic resources and IBPGR was getting all the money. The obvious answer for CGIAR institutes was to leave the IBPGR `paper’ network and ask donors for all those $64,000s for the work we were doing.
    There is a weird footnote (No. 6) in the Thormann et al. paper on interdependency of countries for genetic resources. This gives five references post 1998. Not one of these posits the biological reason for independency: the damage suffered by local germplasm from local pests and disease, that is, introduced crops are better and therefore countries should not sit, `dog-in-the-manger’ on resources needed elsewhere (as is obviously happening now under the ITPGRFA). In contrast four (at least) crop introduction papers well before 1998 explain this key ecological and economic fact (Anderson 1954, Purseglove1968, Jennings and Cock 1977, Wood 1988, three of which are by botanists). These are simply ignored by Thormann et al.: weird indeed. If countries had been told the truth about crop introduction – that local crops are not `locally adapted’ but often locally severely constrained – then the ITPGRFA could have been unnecessary. Too late now.

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