ICARDA furthers aim to fortify global crops with a new genebank in Morocco

MOROCCO— The new International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) Morocco gene bank officially opened on May 18 in Rabat, Morocco.

The ICARDA Morocco genebank offers the key to climate-resilient traits that can help strengthen global crops in the face of stresses such as soaring temperatures, pests, and water scarcity.

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It conserves and researches an impressive collection of 95,000 accessions (groups of plant genetic resources) collected from the region, including wheat, barley, chickpea, faba bean, lentil, and forage genetic material.

This plant and seed matter are the ancestors of today’s crops that evolved in the wild, in the harsh environment of water scarcity and heat.

The new genebank has been designed with cold rooms large enough to conserve ICARDA’s entire genetic resource collection for up to 100 years before regeneration.

It also includes new, cutting-edge technology that allows for research on species within strictly controlled environmental conditions, essential to identifying useful traits in crops for climate adaptation.

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Attending the launch event in Rabat, Dr. Sonja Vermeulen, Global Director of Genetic Innovation at CGIAR, congratulated the Moroccan government on the addition of the new seed bank to its territory.

“We are sitting here today in a region which is the ancestral home of many of the cereals and legumes that are the basis of our global food security,” she said. “This region is also where the future sits, and I very much welcome these forward steps for Morocco and for ICARDA.”

The facility has been developed by ICARDA with support from The Kingdom of Morocco, INRA, and the Global Crop Diversity Trust, and supplements ICARDA’s existing genebanks at Svalbard in Sweden and Beirut in Lebanon.

This Genebank is the third that ICARDA has established since the research center was founded in 1977. In the storage rooms of the first genebank that opened in 1989 near Aleppo in Syria, ICARDA conserved a rich collection of 145,000 accessions of cultivated crops originating from the Fertile Crescent and the wider region.

By 2012, the looming conflict prompted ICARDA scientists to send duplicates of the vast seed collection to the safety of the vaults of other trusted genebanks, including the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway.

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ICARDA’s seeds are International Public Goods accessible to all including breeders and researchers across the world. To this day, over 83,000 accessions are available to global breeding programs and researchers, with about 20,000 seed samples distributed every year.

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