Crop conservation & use

Please note that as we move our germplasm collections to the new Future Seeds genebank, germplasm distribution remains suspended for the time being. We will provide an update as soon as distribution is restored. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

Few people have heard of plant genebanks or are aware of the role they play for agriculture and food production.

Genebanks are places where plants (as seeds or plantlets in test tubes) are catalogued, conserved for the long term, and made available for distribution. Genebanks are not just biodiversity repositories but assist breeders and researchers in the selection of appropriate materials for genetic improvement and research. They also directly provide seeds or planting materials to farmers.

CIAT’s genebank, one of the eleven international CGIAR genebanks, operates within the framework of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). It is largely funded through the Genebank Platform coordinated by the Crop Trust.

Inside CIAT’s genebank

CIAT's Gene Bank

Conserving the world’s largest collections of beans, cassava, and tropical forages

Plant genetic resources such as traditional varieties, modern cultivars and wild relatives provide a “genetic-insurance policy” against threats to global food security. CIAT’s genebank takes care of the globally largest collections of key crops underpinning the supply of carbohydrates and plant/animal proteins in tropical food systems, namely beans (Phaseolus species), cassava (Manihot species), and forages (legumes and grasses).

Bean accessions

Cassava accessions

Tropical forage accessions

Sharing crop diversity globally

CIAT provides all plant materials (as seeds or plantlets in test tubes) free of charge to any individual or organization anywhere in the world for the purposes of research, breeding, or training for food and agriculture under the terms of the ITPGRFA.

Since its inception, CIAT’s genebank has distributed more than half a million samples from 141 countries to requesters in more than 160 countries.

What we do: More than genetic resources guardians

  • Conserve and make available plant materials and associated information following procedures approved by the Governing Body of the ITPGRFA.
  • Improve conservation methodologies, so that the more than 66,000 plant samples (accessions; in the future DNA samples as well) are securely conserved in a cost-effective manner.
  • Increase the biological and social relevance of the collections, so that geneticists, breeders, physiologists, agronomists, and farmers can more easily identify accessions fitting their needs.
  • Train a new generation of scientists conversant in a broad range of genetic-resources sciences, including molecular techniques, with a particular emphasis on Latin American countries.
  • Optimize slow-growth methods for cassava in-vitro cultures.
  • Refine ultra-drying of bean and forage seeds to delay regeneration.
  • Conserve botanic seeds of wild Manihot species.
  • Document and improve best practices for ex situ conservation and the norms for the safe movement of accessions.
  • Regenerate bean and forage accessions in field stations covering environmental gradients and several soil types.
  • Create safety backups of the three collections in collaboration with CIMMYT, CIP, and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
  • Elaborate an integrated bean conservation strategy with partners in Mexico (CONABIO) and Costa Rica (INBio).
  • Illuminate the genetic structure of collections along space and time gradients, and identify genetic “duplicates” to reduce conservation costs.
  • Identify new Phaseolus species and elucidate the phylogeny, phylogeography, and domestication of Phaseolus taxa.
  • Develop molecular techniques for the early diagnosis of seed-borne diseases of quarantine importance.


Guidelines for the distribution of genetic materials

CIAT’s genebank is part of a network of international genebanks referred to under Article 15 of the ITPGRFA. All germplasm held in trust as part of the Multilateral System is distributed under the terms of the Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA) and must be used for conservation, research, breeding, production, and training for food and agriculture, but not for pharmaceutical or other non-food purposes.

Legal requirements

The recipient must approve the SMTA [link to PDF file on CIAT’s website] before materials can be transferred. This can be done in one of three ways: (1) electronic approval via our website (the most straightforward option), (2) physical signatures on a printed SMTA [link to PDF file on CIAT’s website] copy by authorized representatives of the germplasm recipient and CIAT’s genebank, (3) or acceptance by the germplasm recipient, who has been informed about the terms and conditions of the SMTA [link to PDF file on CIAT’s website], to not further share the germplasm.

Other requirements

To initiate germplasm transfer, a well-defined list of materials requested and the name and address of the recipient requesting the germplasm are required. To satisfy our reporting requirements vis-a-vis the Secretariat of the ITPGRFA, we also ask for a description of the purpose for which the germplasm will be used. Furthermore, phytosanitary regulations of Colombia and the recipient’s country, including import permit and phytosanitary certificate as applicable, must be followed.

Germplasm availability

As a matter of principle, any user can ask for any material held in trust. However, some materials may not be available immediately if too few seeds or propagules are available at the time of request or the phytosanitary conditions of the materials might represent a hazard for agriculture in the recipient’s country. Availability may also be limited in cases where there is a clearly identified risk to germplasm recipient, for example when a farmer requests a Lima bean landrace or a bitter cassava accession with high cyanogenic glycoside content. Requests of identical materials by the same user will only be processed three years after the initial request.

Number of accessions requested

Given the substantial costs of producing sufficient seeds and propagules for the more than 67,000 accessions conserved, we ask that the number of accessions requested is in line with their intended purpose. We usually distribute up to five accessions to individual users. Organizations working in extension can request up to 30 materials for field trials and related activities. Universities, research organizations, and other genebanks can request larger accessions numbers for experiments that are typically involve testing of larger germplasm sets. If more than 250 accessions are requested, materials may be delivered in more than one shipment. We may request feedback on study results involving large numbers of accessions.

Number of seeds or propagules per accession

We can only provide a limited number of seeds or propagules per accession as we are not a facility for the multiplication of germplasm for third parties. As an example, we usually provide farmers with twenty bean seeds or four cassava propagules as a starting material for multiplication. For justifiable research purposes, greater-than-usual numbers may be provided, and we would expect this would be acknowledged in resulting publications. If even larger quantities are required, it may be possible to enter a fully costed multiplication agreement.

CIAT information access agreement for data bases

This information access agreement (referred to hereafter as the “IAA”) governs the terms and conditions under which the Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (international organization funded by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a CGIAR Research Center, (and referred to hereafter as “CIAT”) is making available to the institution or the individual mentioned below (referred to hereafter as the “user”) information and data described in the forthcoming data base. “The Parties” refer to both CIAT and the user.

Terms and conditions

Article 1. This information access agreement is an agreement between one institution mentioned below through its legal representative or duly authorized agent and CIAT, or between an individual and CIAT. This agreement is uninominal, and not transferable. This IAA and the copyright of CIAT over the information and the data base shall last over the same duration as for any other copyrighted work in the country where the data base is accessed, according to the copyright law in this country.

Article 2. CIAT is making available the information and data found in the data base and copyrighted to CIAT for general information purposes of scientific research, or germplasm conservation and enhancement such as plant breeding, or technical training, or general education, or academic or personal use. Anytime the user consults the data base through CIAT web site, he/she shall be bound to the same obligations under this IAA. Should the user store the information and data for future use, or use them for research or training or informational purposes, or publish results of studies including the data or information, acknowledgement shall be given to CIAT.

Article 3. The user shall not claim legal ownership over the information and data found in the data base nor seek intellectual property protection under any form over these information, data and data base. The user shall not transfer the information and data found in the data base and referred to in this IAA, or any copy of them, to a third party without obtaining written authorization from CIAT beforehand. CIAT reserves the right to expressly authorize the transfer of the information and data to the third party, or deal separately with the third party as another user.

Article 4. The user shall not modify the information and data in any way. The user shall not use or distribute the information and data for profit, including commercial publication, reproduction, transmission, or storage in any form. The user can download or print part of the data base (not the totality) for his/her own personal use for the purposes as defined in Article 2. In printing part of the data base, the user should make sure that CIAT as copyright owner and the copyright sign and year appear in all copies.

Article 5. CIAT is making available these information and data with all pertinent checks to the extent possible. CIAT however does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness or correctness of the information and data. The information and data do not reflect at all any philosophical, political, or any other non-technical opinion by CIAT. The information and data do not reflect either any position or endorsement by CIAT about countries (namely their boundaries or parts), institutions, associations, and individuals. The information and data should not be construed as professional know-how or opinion. The casual mention of any method or product or trademark in the data base does not mean any recognition or promotion by CIAT or warranty of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. CIAT shall not be liable for damages resulting from the use of the information and data, or the misuse of them such as omission or deformation, or performance.

Article 6. No technical failure or mishap or delay in any presentation or transmission of the information and data and data base shall constitute a waiver of any right under this IAA. CIAT reserves the right to modify or update the information, data, and data base at any time in whatever way to better fulfil its mission; any modification or updating by CIAT shall not constitute a waiver of any right of the Parties under this IAA.

Article 7. This IAA shall terminate immediately upon the violation by the user of any of the terms and conditions. The user may terminate this IAA at any time. Upon termination, the user agrees to delete all copies of the information and data found in the data base and to cease all uses of them.

Article 8. User (signing on behalf of the institution, this being fully spelled, if appropriate), full names, position (if appropriate), place, date.

(1) This does not prevent the recipient from releasing or reproducing the seed for purposes of making it directly available to farmers or consumers for cultivation, provided that the other conditions set out in the MTA are complied with.


Future Seeds: The future of CIAT’s genebank

CIAT has embarked on an ambitious initiative called Future Seeds to build a state-of-the-art genetic resources center that not only ensures the conservation but also encourages the proactive use of the three collections.

The environmentally sustainable facility will use genomics, digital phenotyping and information technologies to gradually build a ‘knowledge bank’ that enables a more data-driven deployment of crop diversity. Future Seeds will also serve as a meeting platform for scientists promoting biodiversity as a driving force for innovation in agriculture.