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Last Updated: Monday, 12 March 2007, 21:09 GMT
Deal gives rice diversity a boost
Scientist storing a rice sample (Image: AFP)
The deal secures the long-term future of thousands of rice samples
Two leading food crop research groups have signed a deal to ensure the long-term survival of the world's largest repository of rice varieties.

The Genetic Resources Center, based in the Philippines, houses 100,000 rice samples in a disaster-proof facility.

The Global Crop Diversity Trust and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) will provide the centre with $600,000 (311,000) each year.

An estimated three billion people depend upon rice as their main food.

"The agreement goes to the core of our mission, which is to guarantee the conservation of the world's crop diversity," said Cary Fowler, executive secretary of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

"And it is hard to imagine a more important crop for sustaining humanity than rice."

He said the alliance between the two groups would remain in force "indefinitely".

Rice diversity, like all crop diversity, is at risk for the want of relatively small amounts of money
Dr Robert Zeigler,
IRRI director-general

The money, Dr Fowler added, would go towards acquiring any rice varieties not currently housed in the IRRI-owned centre, and ensuring the storage systems were robust to withstand disasters such as earthquakes and fires.

Under the agreement, IRRI has pledged to invest $400,000 (207,000) each year, while the Trust has promised to provide a further $200,000 (104,000) in the form of an annual conservation grant.

Food security

"The rice genebank is not just a scientific exercise in seed genetics," said Robert Zeigler, director-general of the IRRI, "but a major hedge against disaster that ensures farmers throughout the world will always have the rice varieties they need to maintain food security."

For example, when waves swept ashore during the Asian tsunami in 2004, many rice crops were destroyed.

IRRI used its collection to provide farmers whose land had been contaminated with seawater with varieties able to grow in salty soils.

Dr Zeigler said securing long-term funding for the genebank was a welcomed exception in an uncertain world.

"Rice diversity, like all crop diversity, is at risk for the want of relatively small amounts of money," he observed.

Entrance to the seed vault (Image: Statsbygg)

"Given that we are talking about the biological base of the global food supply, it is extraordinary that the current situation is so precarious."

The Global Crop Diversity Trust, an international organisation with the responsibility of ensuring the "conservation of crop diversity in perpetuity", is also in the process of constructing a "doomsday vault" that will house samples of all the world's important food crops.

The vault, which is being built into a mountainside on a remote island within the Arctic Circle, is designed to safeguard crucial agricultural resources from future catastrophes such as nuclear war, asteroid strikes and climate change.




SEE ALSO
'Doomsday' vault design unveiled
09 Feb 07 |  Science/Nature
Waterproof rice gene identified
09 Aug 06 |  Science/Nature
Scientists complete rice genome
10 Aug 05 |  Science/Nature
Rice yields dip as planet warms
29 Jun 04 |  Science/Nature
World 'not saving wild plants'
06 Oct 03 |  Science/Nature
World 'losing battle against extinctions'
21 May 03 |  Science/Nature

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