Tropical forage diversity

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.

Forages encompass an extraordinary variety of herbaceous and woody plants selected mostly from undomesticated grass and legume species. CIAT safeguards one of the largest and diverse tropical forages collections, with more than 700 different species from 75 countries. More than half of the preserved germplasm was collected between 1977 and 1993 as part of 75 explorations. A total of 9,877 materials from 41 countries were received as donations.

The collection’s main emphasis is on legumes (more than 21,000 accessions), although almost 1,700 grasses are being conserved as well. The collection has been an important source of traits such as pest and disease resistance, biomass production, high nutritive value, and tolerance to infertile, acid soils, drought and water-logging.

In addition to feeding livestock for milk and meat production, forages can help reduce the environmental footprint of livestock production through carbon sequestration, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and restoration of degraded land.

Improved forages might in fact be one of agriculture’s most promising options for mitigating climate change. Well-managed pastures show great potential for carbon sequestration, second only to forests. Some Brachiaria grasses in particular have a remarkable ability to suppress nitrification, the microbial process responsible for emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than CO2.

Tropical forage accesions



Countries of origin

Forage diversity in photos

Farmers at a community plot testing different forages. Local livestock feed does not have the same nutritional value as improved varieties. Livestock farmers in the Tanga region of Tanzania are finding ways of boosting their production and lowering their environmental impact by planting improved forages.





A health crop of Brachiariagrowing at the green 40-hectare Karama research station at Rwanda’s national forage genebank. Germplasm, sourced from CIAT’s genebank and regional national programs are a vital stock of high-quality genetic material safeguarding farmers against risk.





Testing different forage varieties like Brachiaria for yield and drought resilience. Local livestock feed does not have the same nutritional value as improved varieties. Livestock farmers in the district of Lushoto, in the Tanga region of Tanzania, are finding ways of boosting their production and lowering their environmental impact by planting improved forages.





Silvopastoral livestock systems in Colombia’s southwestern Cauca Department. CIAT researchers are working with livestock farmers in the region to help increase adoption of silvopastoralism, which can improve the productivity and incomes, protect and restore soils, and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from livestock systems.




A farmer in Vietnam gathers cut forages she plants next to her house to feed her livestock. Since she started using improved forages and better livestock management techniques, such as improving her livestock pen, she has significantly boosted her income. She has also cut household costs – using biogas to provide electricity.






Forage germplasm distributed since 1980

13,692 accessions (90,624 samples) distributed to 110 countries

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Safety backup

Genebanks are vulnerable many risks, ranging from natural disasters or war to funding shortfalls. Something as mundane as an undetected breakdown of a seed vault can affect an entire collection. The loss of a crop collection would be as irreversible as the extinction of the dinosaurs. That’s why CIAT is producing and shipping duplicates (backups) of the entire tropical forages collection to two off-site storage facilities, one at the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard on a remote island halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, and another one at CIMMYT, our partner CGIAR Center in Mexico.

Chart by Visualizer


of CIAT's forages collection is backed-up in Svalbard


of CIAT's forages collection is backed-up at CIMMYT

Our impact

Varieties developed from the legume accession Stylosanthes guianensis CIAT 184 are being grown in tropical and subtropical China on several hundred thousand hectares as soil cover, forage for ruminant livestock and leaf meal for chicken and pigs.

Forages show potential to relieve Africa’s severe shortage of feed to sustain its livestock revolution. A recent CIAT study shows that 40% more milk and tens of millions of dollars in revenue are possible for African farmers adopting new drought-resistant pasture grasses.

Brachiaria humidicola suppresses the biological process that turns nitrogen from fertilizer into nitrous oxide and releases it into the atmosphere, resulting in a reduction of one of the most powerful greenhouse gases.