Manila: The Rome-based Global Crop Diversity Trust and the International Rice Research Institute(IRRI) agreed, on 12 March to spend $600,000 a year in perpetuity to protect thousands of varieties of rice.
The agreement, described by Philippines-based IRRI as the first of its kind in the history of modern agricultural research, will benefit the IRRI-run Genetic Resources Center, which houses more than 100,000 samples of rice and is the biggest and most important such collection in the world.
The collection, located in the IRRI headquarters in Los Banos, “provides the last line of defence (against) possible famine, especially in times of war, natural disaster and attacks from pests and disease”, an IRRI statement said.
The grains are kept in a special, refrigerated, earthquake- and fire-proof facility.
Under the agreement, the IRRI pledged to designate a portion of its financial assets to generate 400,000 dollars in annual income to be invested in the “gene bank”, which will also receive 200,000 dollars from the Trust each year.
The agreement allows for inflationary increases and will remain in force “indefinitely” and go toward, among other things, acquiring any rice varieties not currently in the repository and making sure the storage systems for long-term conservation are up to international standards, the IRRI said.
“With almost half the world’s population depending on rice, we wanted to make sure IRRI’s gene bank was insulated from the whims of fluctuating funding,” said Cary Fowler, the trust’s executive secretary.
“The agreement goes to the core of the Trust’s mission, which is to guarantee the conservation of the world’s crop diversity, and it’s hard to imagine a more important crop for sustaining humanity than rice.”
The gene bank helped survivors of the December 2004 Asian tsunami, restart their farms that had floodedby providing them with varieties of rice capable of growing in salty soils.
Cambodia, East Timor, India, Nepal and the Philippines, among others, have also turned to the IRRI gene bank to restore native varieties of rice that, for a variety of reasons, had disappeared from domestic production.
“The rice gene bank is not just a scientific exercise in seed genetics, but a major hedge against disaster that ensures farmers throughout the world will always have the rice varieties they need to maintain food security,” said Robert Zeigler, the IRRI’s director general.