World crop capitals?

The post a couple of days back about horseradish got me thinking about the whole “Capital of the World” thing. And of course it turns out Wikipedia has a long list of cities that call themselves the world capital of something or other. Here are the ones for crops (and one domesticated animal):

You’ll notice something of a disagreement over horseradish! Anyway, unsurprisingly perhaps, most of these places are in the US, and indeed California. So I was thinking: what would be the real Avocado Capital of the World, for example? I would vote for Antigua in Guatemala, where a couple of important varieties originated. The California Avocado Society (I think) put a plaque in the central plaza some years back commemorating the contribution of the area to the California avocado industry. The famous plant explorer Wilson Popenoe had a house there. Here’s a history of the avocado. And here’s an interesting account of avocado collecting in Guatemala. Any other ideas? What would naming a city a world capital for a crop do for the conservation of that crop?

Housing genebanks

Related to the question of how genebanks are funded is that of where they are located, physically and institutionally. I would imagine the overwhelming preponderance of genebanks around the world will come under a ministry of agriculture, university, botanic garden or seed company. But some are found in private homes, such as the French castle with its national tomato collection mentioned a few posts ago. A few NGOs around the world have genebanks, of course. There is a Yam Conservatory in New Caledonia which comes directly under the jurisdiction of the Traditional Senate of the island’s indigenous Kanak people. And then there are genebanks on farms.

Yes, what of community-based genebanks? These always give me trouble. They don’t seem to fit comfortably into our typology of conservation. Are they ex situ or in situ? Time to jettison that over-worked dichotomy, I think. But that discussion is for a future post.

Funding genebanks

This piece about a genebank being established in New Zealand to conserve threatened wild native plants (to go along with an existing facility for crops) got me thinking about funding arrangements for genebanks. The funds for the new venture in NZ are coming from MWH New Zealand, a consultancy company which says it provides “smart engineering, environmental, management and technology solutions.” That is admirable (I don’t see Halliburton supporting ex situ conservation any time soon), but how unusual is it exactly? The FAO’s State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources gives one sort of answer in Fig. 3.1 on page 84: 83% of the 6 million accessions conserved around the world are in national genebanks, 11% in the 12 CGIAR genebanks, and only 1.3% in private genebanks. Table 3.3 gives a total of over 1,300 genebanks worldwide. That makes the average size of a non-CGIAR collection about 3,000 accessions, which means there are maybe 20 or so private genebanks considered in the SOTWPGR statistics. But that probably means genebanks in the hands of the private sector, basically seed companies, not privately-funded national genebanks: over 75% of accessions in these private genebanks are advanced cultivars. I can’t find in the SOTWPGR a discussion of where the funds for national collections are coming from. Something like the Millennium Seed Bank in the UK receives a mixture of public and private support, for example, but I doubt the Gene Bank of Kenya, say, gets much private sector funding, though I could be wrong. About 11% of the 1,500 or so botanical gardens around the world are privately owned, and probably about half of these hold germplasm collections, giving maybe 70 or so privately owned botanic garden germplasm collections. Bottom line: examples of a private company – especially a private company which is not a seed company – supporting a national genebank are probably extremely rare around the world, and it will be interesting to see how the support MWH New Zealand is intending to provide will evolve in time. It is also worth noting that the Global Crop Diversity Trust, as a public-private partnership dedicated to the support of ex situ collection, will make drastic changes to this landscape.